Digital Empathy – Why it is important and how to measure it

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Alexander Hahn
Professor für Emotional Artifical Intelligence and User Experience Research
#cx#digitalempathy#data#marketing#ux

Through digital empathy, companies can reliably and easily capture the experience their users have and then use it to enhance their digital products and services.

Key takeaways:

  • Digital empathy is critical to understanding the cognitive and emotional expectations and reactions of users of digital products;
  • Digital differentiation happens by way of the user experience – it goes beyond mere usability;
  • Digital empathy is becoming a core competency for digital product and services providers – while this measure is still new, it is simple and scalable.

What is digital empathy?

Users interact with companies and their brands across an increasing number of digital channels. There, they rate a company’s performance at various levels: from efficiency and effectiveness, i.e., usability, to positive or negative emotions and the business’s understanding of their issues.

Digital empathy aims to capture users’ thoughts and emotions while they interact with a company’s digital touchpoints. With this information, companies can design a user experience of highly functional, aesthetic and hedonistic quality.

This requires companies and employees to have emotional and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy describes the degree to which users’ moods and feelings are captured, understood and integrated into product design and service. Cognitive empathy describes the extent to which companies understand the users’ motivations and perspectives. It is also important for companies to understand which information and how much information users can and want to process during the various steps along the user journey.

Why is digital empathy important?

Many users consider the mere usability of digital products an expectation today. The daily use of smartphones has set new standards there.

Now, product differentiation happens by way of the emotional experience, called the user experience. The basic requirement for digital products is not to arouse any negative emotions: They should not be annoying, bothersome, disconcerting or disruptive. Top-notch apps manage to arouse positive emotions such as joyful anticipation, curiosity, flow or relaxation.

How can we (not) measure digital empathy?

User behavior – i.e., how exactly they use a product and what they do with the product – is quite easy to measure with log file data, especially when it comes to digital products.

The Why – a user’s emotions and thoughts – is more difficult to measure. Traditional surveys, focus groups or interviews provide rather distorted data due to, among other factors, social desirability bias or interviewer bias: Because users answer with what they think they should say, and interviewers influence this behavior consciously or subconsciously. Also, users only have a distorted memory of moods or emotions or none at all.

At the same time, objective measurement methods have made tremendous progress due to data availability and machine analysis methods (Hahn & Maier, 2018*). Following are some of them:

  • Eye-tracking – capturing cognitive attention via eye movement;
  • Facial coding – analyzing emotions via mimicry, i.e., facial expressions;
  • Sentiment analyses – evaluating emotions in texts and images, for example, from social media;
  • Biometry – capturing physiological arousal by ECG or with wearables, for instance.

These methods were very costly until a few short years ago, and UX researchers needed to have in-depth methodology experience. Today, simple, standardized and integrated software tools like iMotions are available that can measure the digital user experience quickly and efficiently and supply insight into user cognition and emotions.

For example, sentiment analyses can measure many user emotions in the field: Chatbots like Deutsche Telekom’s “Frag Magenta” try to adapt to the cognitive and emotional needs users have. Companies use voice analytics in their call centers to relieve call takers. Complex digital products such as analytics dashboards are assessed on their usability using eye-tracking.

Unlike traditional web analytics or survey studies, there is a much broader bandwidth of methods and KPIs available. Also, the methods are often used in an isolated manner, and there is no integrated framework of approaches and KPIs yet as there is in digital marketing, for instance.

An introduction to the Behavioral Studies and User Experience Laboratory – (BeLab). Here, scientists, students and practitioners research applied questions in user experience research, marketing research and human resources research.


How can I implement digital empathy simply and rapidly?

Despite these hurdles, getting started with digital empathy can be easy and comes with a low entry barrier. For example, solutions for remote user studies such as lookback.io are easy to use and scalable. They make it possible, after opting in, to observe users while they are in sessions using digital products. The analysis of only five such videos shows up to 75% of the relevant usability and UX insights. It requires neither complex methods of measurement nor technology.

The Technische Hochschule Nürnberg [TH Nürnberg; Nuremberg Tech] is available to share their expertise in user experience research. The team there supports companies with the design, implementation and evaluation of user experience research. Other options are keynotes and training classes about UX research methods and technologies, where they can be used and their limitations.


* References:

Hahn, A., Maier, M., 2018. Affective Computing - Potenziale für empathisches digitales Marketing, Marketing Review St. Gallen, 35(4), 52-65.


Did you know?

The BSI Customer Suite provides a platform for the implementation of digital empathy. The use cases described above, such as sentiment analyses, can be easily implemented with BI AI. Using Artificial Intelligence, BSI can automatically analyze your customers’ moods – whether in social media monitoring or complaint management.

Learn more



About the subject matter experts:

Dr. Alexander Hahn is a Research Professor for Emotional Artificial Intelligence and User Experience Research at TH Nürnberg. He studied and earned his Ph.D. at universities in Heidelberg, Mannheim, London and Auckland. Dr. Hahn has published in globally leading marketing and innovation journals like the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research (JMR), Journal of Product Innovation Management (JPIM) and Research Policy (RP). He has conducted projects with companies such as Adidas, Allianz, Audi, BASF, Bosch, Canon, Elsevier, Deutsche Telekom, HYVE, LEGO, Lufthansa, Porsche and Vodafone. He has founded and sold companies and advises founders and executives, particularly in digital industries.

Dr. Alexander Hahn


Dr. Katharina Klug is a Professor of Business Psychology, focusing on consumption and buyer psychology at the Hochschule Ansbach (Ansbach University of Applied Sciences). She studied and earned her Ph.D. at universities in Dresden, Kiel and Trento, Italy. Dr. Klug conducts research in affective computing and digital empathy, sustainable consumption and guerilla retail and has published in leading technical journals. She presents at national and international marketing conferences and advises companies in market research, strategic marketing management and communications.

Dr. Katharina Klug


Dr. Florian Riedmüller is a Professor of Marketing at TH Nürnberg. He studied and earned his Ph.D. at universities in Nuremberg, Munich, and Austin, Texas. His research focuses on technology-based market research, sports marketing management and sponsoring management, where he conducts projects jointly with global companies. Dr. Riedmüller, together with Prof. Dr. Jörg Koch, authored the reference book “Marktforschung” [Market Research], now in its eighth edition, and has published in leading technical journals.

Dr. Florian Riedmüller

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