Empathy mapping to identify your customers’ needs

Empathy mapping to identify your customers' needs

Kedron recently had the opportunity to join Luminex, an organization that equips leaders to start and strengthen churches, for their weekly #whiteboardwednesday series. He shared the empathy mapping process we use to help strategy clients identify their customers’ needs and discover opportunities to provide more value.

Watch his 8-minute demonstration here:

To help you get started with empathy mapping, we’ve created a printable empathy map template as well as prompts to help you complete the template:

An empathy map is best done …

  • with sticky notes on a large surface (so you have plenty of space to brainstorm and can move things around),
  • with a team (to get multiple ideas and perspectives),
  • and using quotes and data from actual customer interviews (to avoid adding your own biases).

But if your organization is new to the idea of empathy mapping, this printable template is a great way to get a feel for the exercise and how you might use it to drive your organization’s strategy moving forward.


Hello! My name is Kedron Rhodes. I work at Agathon. I’m a Design Strategist with the team, and we primarily work with nonprofits and small businesses, helping them figure out what to do next, either through strategy or technology.

So today I thought it’d be fun to jump in and apply some of the work that we do in this context. And I think it might be helpful.

So quite often when we jump into a project or we’re brought into a project, it’s to solve a particular pain point. A customer or client might be having a problem or they might have a new initiative, and they’re not sure how to move forward. And it’s usually caused by something. 

So I’m going to unpack that with you a little bit today, and I hope that it’s helpful.

All organizations that we work with, whether they’re startups or nonprofits or churches, they all have at some level this common understanding that their organization has capabilities, and they’re trying to serve a particular group. We’ll just call this “those we serve.”

And where these capabilities and the needs of who we’re trying to serve overlap, that is the thing we in the business world call “value.” And I think that that is true whether we’re talking about nonprofits or churches or businesses. We’re trying to create more value.

So that’s quite often where we’re brought in. How can we help teams create more value? And this is typically how I’ve seen it kind of roll out.

These capabilities and needs are often aligned right at the get-go when an organization starts. But over time—and we’re just going to draw a timeline here. A little clock to kind of remind us this is time. If this is the organization’s capabilities, they often don’t change. But if they’re aligned initially with those who you’re trying to serve, with those needs, those needs are the things which change over time. And quite often there is this gap that begins to grow. And that’s often where we’re brought in. 

So quite often we have these moments of reflection within as that time goes on, and you’ll have—this is what I’ve personally been a part of and witnessed—is we get these moments of reflection, of “This feels off” or “We’re not quite meeting the needs we thought we were, but hey, maybe that’s just something we should ignore for a little bit.”

Time goes on and you have these other moments of, “Well, we feel like we need to change, but we’ve always done it this way, and change is hard,” realizing that that gap continues to grow between what you’re currently doing and those needs that you’re trying to service.

This gap isn’t necessarily an enemy. It’s the natural gravitational pull between organizations and those they serve.  And it’s influenced by things like culture. It’s influenced by technology. And we’ve witnessed this and  we’ve seen how technology changes the way that communication travels. It changes the way that services are delivered. 

So a tool that we often use in addressing that particular gap is called a persona. Now, I deal primarily in software, but I think this is a helpful tool to use in all organizations. And so it’s a tool to help understand what this gap is and why it exists.

As this gap grows, it becomes harder and harder to identify what those needs are that aren’t being met. 

So the first thing to do is just to step out of the office, to step out of the building and actually connect with those you’re trying to serve. And this seems a little scary maybe at first for some. But I’ll give you a framework for what to do in order to gather insights from connecting with these  people. 

In order to understand this group, first and foremost, we have to start with empathy. The way that I often describe empathy is—empathy isn’t imagining how you feel in someone else’s shoes; it’s imagining how they feel in their shoes. And that to me is the big difference. If we can start to imagine and connect with how someone else is experiencing a pain or a problem, then we can begin to internalize how we might be able to solve that.

So in order to build out this artifact that we call a persona, I often reach for what’s called empathy mapping. Here are the basics:

In order to understand the needs here—and  while we’re getting out of the building and talking to people, we’re looking for a handful of key indicators that will help build out this empathy map. 

When building a persona, the idea is that we want to make these artifacts as human as possible. So I will often find a photo or draw something that begins to represent the type of person that I’ve been connecting with. And then I’m looking for a few characteristics. As I’m talking to people, as I’m connecting with them, I’m looking for…

What do they see? What are the things that they’re exposed to on a daily basis? What are they observing? 

What do they hear? This is often influenced by things they’re experiencing in social media or online.

What do they think? 

And then, what do they feel?

As I’m talking to folks and getting a better understanding of this particular drift, I’m looking for these four things. And I’m just cataloging them. I want to get a better understanding of their world.

I follow this up with what I feel are often the key components of empathy mapping. And that is, specifically, what are their pains? And what are their gains? So specifically, what are the pain points that they’re experiencing that you might be able to solve. And what are their gains? What are they hoping for out of life?

And there’s one quick trick that we often use to get at these. And that is called the five why’s. The idea here is that if you ask someone why five times, you’re going to get to a pretty significant answer, maybe the root of the question. 

So we apply the five why’s in order to get to the pains and gains, and these really begin to flesh out this picture of who we’re trying to serve. 

That’s the basics of building a persona. We use an empathy map in order to do that. And then we allow that artifact to inform how we might close that gap between the organizational capabilities and the needs of those we serve.

I hope you find that helpful. Again, my name is Kedron Rhodes, and if you’d like to talk more about this, or this looks like a solution to a problem you might be having, feel free to reach us at agathongroup.com.

Thank you.

Empathy mapping to identify your customers' needs

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