Blog|3 min

Why Customer Empathy Matters (and What Is It Anyway?)

Kelly Kipkalov
BILL, Sr. Director, Product Marketing

The ability to deeply understand and empathize with your customers is one of the most important attributes of a product marketer. But what does that mean, and why is customer empathy important? And how do you build that muscle?

It’s impossible to build products that will make a meaningful difference for your customers without understanding the full context of their day-to-day life. The best products deliver on an unmet need, but finding those unmet needs requires getting close to customers to uncover them. They may not be able to tell you where or what the unmet needs are, but by observing customers ‘in the wild’ and working directly alongside them ... that’s when the magic happens.

There are a number of ways we at engage with customers across product, design, and product marketing teams to build and deliver on customer empathy. Here are some of the top methods:

1) In-person observation. This got a lot harder during Covid and we were anxiously waiting for a return to normalcy so we could resume this best practice. Going right to our customers— where they work—and observing how they run their businesses helps us identify opportunities to innovate. To deepen our customer empathy, we sit next to them and watch how they make money, pay customers, pay bills, manage their books and their tech stacks. At this phase of customer research, we are just gathering information, trying to get rich insights to power future product development and product marketing. We aren’t looking for solutions, we are looking for the problems.

2) In-depth interviews (IDIs). We don’t leave much to guesswork at If we have a more targeted hypothesis we’re exploring, or a solution we’re testing, we’ll recruit customers to hop on a Zoom call with us and then we’ll spend 45 minutes interviewing them. Unlike the in-person observations, with these discussions we are looking for specific feedback on our proposed solutions and how we position them in the market. Most product marketers are leading this type of research—at minimum—on a quarterly basis.

3) Experimentation. This last method is admittedly less about building customer empathy, and more about putting your empathy to the test. Did you get it right? Did your insights land on a solution that delivers on an unmet need? It’s common knowledge that what customers tell you they will do is frequently different from what they actually do. In the book The Lean Startup, the acclaimed author Eric Ries offers up several frameworks for building scrappy experiments and then testing with customers to see actual behavior. Sometimes that’s in the form of an email where we pitch an idea to gauge interest (measuring email response can be a great indicator of actual behavior), or a ‘painted door’ web test where we see if customers are willing to click a ‘learn more’ button. Both of these methods measure actual interest in our solution vs hypothetically answering a survey question.

Product marketers at learn to become experts in developing customer empathy and representing the voice of our customers across functions inside our company. This is one of the most important pillars of good product marketing craft both at as well as in companies inside and outside tech.

Interested in a role as a product marketer at Ping me here on LinkedIn.