I'm currently working on defining and improving the way my company handles customer feedback and, in particular, feature/improvement requests.

One challenge I have is that I don't empathise with our users - particularly the ones who are demanding/entitled with their feedback.

Beyond personas, what are some methods I can use to build empathy, and share it with the team?

[Edit] Just to clarify, I don't mean that our customers are angry or rude, just that some of them expect us to develop solutions to meet their every need. I'm trying to balance understanding/listening to users with making sure we stay focussed on our product, and knowing when to say no to new features.

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    This may need some self-reflection, but what did your company do for a normally civil and polite person to become an angry rude person. There have been products and services which have driven me mad on more the one occasion.
    – Pieter B
    Feb 11, 2015 at 13:45
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    @Pieter : Nothing a company does can "make" a person become angry and rude. That is purely a choice made by the person and the quality of their character. Annoyed, sure. Angry and rude is a choice.
    – Dunk
    Feb 11, 2015 at 17:08
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    I don't understand what you mean by "empathise with our users". What do their feelings have to do with how you handle customer feedback? What exactly do you want to improve? How to be less rude? How to be more understanding? How to share their pain in the same emotional way as them? How does a user "feel" when using our product? How to take their feelings into account on what features are important? What do you mean by demanding/entitled?
    – Dunk
    Feb 11, 2015 at 17:16
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    @Dunk wow that company lied to me, I'm so annoyed. That company billed me twice and hoped I wouldn't notice, I'm so annoyed. That company put a bad roof on my house and now I'm homeless, I'm so annoyed. Well, I guess then it's a philosophical edge that anger by definition is a choice. Also experiencing rudeness is by that standard a choice.
    – Pieter B
    Feb 11, 2015 at 18:33
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    Thanks for all the responses. It's not so much that customers are angry/rude, but that some who have feedback or feature requests expect to have their needs met by our development team automatically. I think this is partly because we are a small start up and have a very personal approach to support, they don't realise that this doesn't extend to developing bespoke features for them. I want to understand their needs and have more sympathy for the problems they face - I think I find it hard because they are small business owners, often in sectors that I have no experience with.
    – pubcat
    Feb 12, 2015 at 16:41

7 Answers 7


Understanding and sharing your users thoughts and pain points

Become an advocate! Key in this area is conducting frequent usability testing and inviting both users and business stakeholders to witness the process so all the relevant people can identify more forcefully and empathise with end users:

Usability testing is sometimes seen as an independent activity, something that’s done once or twice during a project lifecycle to ensure users “get it,” and done separately and in isolation from the team. It’s not part of development or design; it’s done to prove that a concept may be used. This results in the perception that users are "them" and ironically doesn't include them in the development process, although users are really the major stakeholder.

Source: Usability Testing Includes Users as Stakeholders

Representing your users needs, desires and pain-points

I think you should have a combination of tools rather than a unique tool to help you represent your users and build-up empathy for them at team level and in the company as whole.Its also important that your are able to disseminate and share this information efficiently.

As you have suggested "Personas" is the obvious answer but this says more about the user/customer background than their actual journey. I would suggest using a combination of Personas and User Journeys to highlight pain-points and frustrations as in the example below:

A Customer Journey Map (CJM) is a very helpful tool that represents the whole interaction with a product or service in a transparent manner. It clearly points out the strengths and weaknesses of each stage of the interaction – particularly those that affect the user experience. In addition to this, Customer Journey Maps also show the possibilities for improvement.


Source: Customer Journey Maps – A ‘Quick And Dirty’ Technique To Create Them

Meeting and collaborating with your users and team

Workshops are great way of gaining invaluable insights at the early stages of any project. This will be helpful both internally with your team as well as when getting direct involvement from your end-users.

Particularly the ones who are demanding/entitled with their feedback

Workshops will help in:

  1. Creating momentum.
  2. Producing a sense of shared purpose.
  3. Covering in one day what can take weeks or months of meetings to accomplish.
  4. Allowing everyone to collaborate on a solution

    Source: Don’t Have a Meeting, Throw a Workshop by Beth Koloski

If you are working on an enterprise solution as opposed to consumer facing product, then I would say that having these workshops is a must because your users... actually customers are particularly vulnerable; They don’t even have the freedom of choice of whether to use your product or not ( for example: Employees).

All the more reason to empathise with them!

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    Great overview and suggestions. I think the key is that you should always empathize with your users - if you're working on a product you stand behind. If their angry, entitled behavior annoys you, tell yourself: "I don't know the whole story". I'm sure you can think of the last time you got frustrated with product yourself and maybe only in the last moment decided not to send that angry email.
    – kslstn
    Feb 12, 2015 at 10:33
  • Thanks for this. It's not so much that they get angry or annoyed, just that I am trying to balance taking on board feedback vs becoming overly customer led in our design approach, and I don't know how to do that without appearing dismissive.
    – pubcat
    Feb 12, 2015 at 17:10

I've found cultivating empathy to be one of the most challenging things in life. When faced with emotional criticism, provocations, or outright hostility, the expectations are that your response will be tinged with insincerity, dismissive, or vindictive in some way, despite being paying customers.

In situations like this, you really must be the change that you wish to see grow within your community. Forgiveness, actual real forgiveness, is something that I must be willing to give in order to move beyond whatever nastiness is coming my way.

If you show a cordial front to the customer, but back at the office show contempt that your colleagues can see, this does not build empathy. It has to be real. I compare it to a fire, you have to warm the area around you, build up heat, before you can ignite the fire in someone else, and the stronger your fire, and the more fires, the more effectively it can spread.

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    Thanks, and you're right, I think the way we talk about customers in private is really important and that's a really nice suggestion for something I could help improve. I think I'm struggling to balance making sure that we don't go overboard meeting customers' whims and not seeming like I'm dismissing their suggestions.
    – pubcat
    Feb 12, 2015 at 16:46

You don't have to empathize. You just have to understand and be responsive.

Anger distorts judgment and causes the body stress. It's counterproductive to get angry yourself. And constant empathy can cause caregiver burnout.

"Anger is a choice" may sound great until you start pushing a person to extremes, and everyone has their limit. For you, it may be "You killed my father. Prepare to die." For others, it's "This has crashed 10 times today." or "I can't find this anywhere in the docs and support isn't answering the phone." Your product may not even be the real problem. Maybe their cat died before they logged on, and it was just the last straw.

Whichever, you don't need to personally identify with their anger limit/source. You just have to acknowledge them, find the source of frustration, then solve the problem professionally.

This sounds like a bigger problem with people skills. For people that aren't natural extroverts, role-playing workshops where you replay scenarios can help.

  • Thanks. The thing is, I think I'm quite an empathetic person in non-work scenarios, but I don't have much personal experience with the pain of doing admin for your own business (which is the problem we try to help solve).
    – pubcat
    Feb 12, 2015 at 17:09
  • Then perhaps what you're really looking for is someone to shadow... to add to your realm of experience. What they want and why won't be a guessing game anymore. It's hard to analyze what you've never experienced. That's on the service/sales/development side though. If you're on the product management side: How much $ is the project worth? When do they need it? How long will it take to implement? Will it negatively impact other deals? Again, you need to care enough to act, but don't let too much empathy erode your own priorities. Balance is key. Feb 14, 2015 at 5:42

Building empathy is not enough. It actually does little to the customer experience unless it is followed up with the right verbiage, tone and a sensible solution to the root cause.

As a customer once my initial dissatisfaction is addressed with empathy, I want the rep to provide a solution otherwise all the empathy in the world does me no good.

Moreover, you want to be careful not to force your reps to spend all their empathy bars on a client that will never be satisfied and who creates little value to your organization. Otherwise, when the next call comes in and there is truly an opportunity to use it to turn a customer around your rep's empathy resources may be spent.

  • Thanks, I like the idea that we have a limited amount of empathy to spend! Part of the problem comes when customers are telling me about tasks they want to complete or features they "need", that to me seem either very minor or not entirely related to the product we're building. It's hard to separate those out from the requests that stem from a genuine need.
    – pubcat
    Feb 12, 2015 at 17:12

It's human nature to not want to help people that you perceive as entitled or rude. You will clearly not do your most insightful and innovative work with the image of this user in your mind. Instead, strip this user's message to the core requirements and project them on to some imagined user - the persona as you mentioned. And put some depth into the persona - as much as you can. This is the person you really want to help.

If you are a team lead or manager, shield your team from the real users and the negatives so that your team can realize the best possible solutions. You don't want to deprive them of the sense of accomplishment that comes from creating something useful.

Finally, learn to say no. The downside of empathy is the difficulty in saying "No". Collaborate with your product owner and decide, "Is this the right thing for the product". Then let the product owner be the one to say no - this is their role. And if you are the product owner you'll need to develop this skill.


Ideally go talk to the customers and see what they want from your organisation.

However if you have customer facing people (customer support, sales) you can talk to them and ask them about what the customers want.


You don't have to always say yes to new features, nor empathize with them for what they want. Unless you are willing to pay for fully custom solutions, it's unreasonable to think that a company will bend to your will and implement everything for you.

Of course, as that company, you want to ensure your user feels listened to, so instead of saying no, you can say something like "Thats an interesting idea, I will add it to the feature request list for review.".

Many companies now also offer their users the option of voting up and down features that other users suggest. This can be very useful on multiple levels as you can avoid being the bad guy and you can find out what your users actually want (and might want things you never thought of adding).

Either way, you get to make the users feel like part of the team and that they are helping to contribute to the success of the app, if only in a minor way.

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