What is your Empathy Report Card?

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More often, brands and companies respond to larger cultural moments versus the traditional purchase moments or everyday occasions. Today, customer and brand experience is about human centricity versus customer/user-centricity, however this requires a proactive approach to genuinely add value. Identifying what type of empathy you and your team use through an empathy report card can be helpful.

What we’ll cover:

When we consider a customer experience empathetically, it’s still on a functional journey level. What does the customer/user want to achieve, and how are they feeling throughout the process. The fact that customer experience is being adopted on a wider scale across multiple industries is fantastic. My intent is to discuss the next wave of customer experience, which includes operationalised (if you will) empathy to make it more impactful to the function and overall brand journey.

Elevating to human-centricity

We are living in a post-functional era, where we expect more than services and experience to work. Beyond price and quality, 63% of individuals surveyed by Accenture look for a brand that has ethical values and demonstrates authenticity in everything it does. This is because what we find meaningful has been shaped by the chaotic cultural landscape within the last five years. Value-add is understanding the human experience - what we experience day-to-day or on a greater cultural and societal level.

When we think about brands that do this well, it’s usually ones rooted in overt human potential - Nike, Patagonia, Lego or Tesla. When working with Reckitt, an FMCG/CPG company, I was impressed by their construct where there is not only a purpose and vision, but fight as well. It means there is a clear call-to-action in terms of those higher level human needs. It was also the reason why I wanted to help with their professional business, after working in more illustrative industries such as streetwear, beauty or hospitality.

To better understand our audiences as humans, we need to look at feelings in a more structured way. Around each customer/user, or human, are three altitudes of feelings. There’s the higher level feelings toward societal and cultural shifts; the mid-level feelings around our day-to-day needs; and a closer level feelings around a functional journey. To engage customers/users today, we need to consider what relevant feelings exist in each of those empathy altitudes.

What is an empathy report card?

To get there, we need to turn empathy from a trait into a skill. This is where the idea of dimensionalising and operationalising empathy comes in. As humans, we’ve been practicing empathy since there were other humans. The idea of empathy as we know it today is still quite young, where there is potential to better structure empathy for different team members, stakeholders and companies. As the concept becomes more mature, so does the depth and sophistication of our tools.

When you want to turn your inclination for good public speaking into a skill, you go through a series of exercises. In terms of understanding someone’s feelings through a design thinking lens, there are five different types of empathy exercises we can do. These include:

Immerse: going into an audience/user’s environment
Connect: talking to audience/users 1:1 or in a group
Research: read articles and accounts
Imagine: project how an audience/user might react
Assess: did we apply our knowledge correctly

I’ve noticed businesses and teams are structured to be better at certain empathy types than others. While working at Converse as a footwear designer and being exposed to Nike and JD Sports, teams were very good at Immerse. People lived the streetwear culture, followed influencers, went to events, participated in athletics or transitioned from working in retail to corporate. Within Reckitt, Assess was quite important to see if our understanding translated properly into a design or service.

Creating your own empathy report card

To operationalise empathy, it’s about understanding its impact and how your business is using empathy. With an empathy report card, you can see what type of empathy your business or team does well, and what needs further exploration. The previous example being a footwear company versus FMCG/CPG. Furthermore, to see the value of empathy within an organisation, it’s important to connect feelings to actions. What our customer/users feel affects what they think, affects what they say and do.

This does not need to be complex. An empathy report card should include the following columns:

Empathy type, with the rows Immerse, Connect, Research, Imagine and Assess
Activities done, toward the specific empathy type
Effectiveness score, from 1-5 (5 being the best) on usage and usefulness
Things to improve, what conversations or studies need to done to increase usage
Status, use to track improvement whether ‘To do’, ‘In Progress’ and ‘Improved’

I started to look at my own work within B2B through this empathy report card structure. There I realised that my insights into our customers’ feelings were over-indexing on the last three categories, Research, Imagine and Assess. This meant I could be making assumptions leading going down the wrong path, and started exploring to see if I could take a more Immersive and Connect approach. An empathy report card can keep us on-track as we build our understanding of our customers, users and/or patrons. It should not be scary like a grade school report card, but informative much like a dashboard.


The customer/user journey today is changing, where value comes from the cumulative emotional journey with a brand or company. This means we need to shift from customer-centricity to human-centricity to speak to what us humans find valuable today. The foundation for this is understanding your customer/user, or human’s, altitudes of empathy, as well as evaluating what types of empathy your company or team uses with an empathy report card. Empathy has a great potential within businesses, and creating more structure and conventions can help it feel tangible, actionable and proactive as brands shift from helping customers to humans.

Let’s summarise

  • By operationalising empathy, we can make it more useful
  • There is shift from customer-centricity to human-centricity that requires better tools
  • An empathy report card breaks down empathy into five distinct empathy types
  • An empathy report card is simple with only five columns
  • Companies and teams are better at certain types of empathy than others