Empathy gives us the ability to understand the wants, needs, and feelings of those around us, which enables us to connect with others by communicating with the right words and actions at the right time.

While not uniquely human, empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another — is so essential to our humanity that those lacking it stand out as unwell or dangerous or both.

But how can a brand, a non-human entity by definition, convey authentic empathy in each interaction? The answer, of course, is through the medium of those interactions, which in today’s digital age is often content.

Presenting on stage at Sitecore Experience 2020 held in London, UK, Forrester's Principal Analyst Ryan Skinner delved into how content, when executed correctly, has the power to scale empathy.

Your website — your empathy engine

Skinner kicked off the presentation by underlining the importance of a company’s website in the eyes of a consumer:

We asked consumers, regarding a recent purchase, which of the following company resources did you use? About 75% of respondents said that a manufacturer's website was the first, second, or third most used resource in making that [purchasing] decision,” said Skinner.

Forrester also asked business leaders in the UK and EU about what they want to accomplish with their website(s) in the coming twelve months. “Increasing revenue” and “improving the customer experience” were the first and second most popular responses.

In other words, European brands are seeking to craft a customer experience that’s good enough to not only generate sale but also engender loyalty.

Emotion and the customer experience

Skinner went on to break down the three factors that make up a website visitor’s experience.

  1. Was the experience effective? Does the customer feel like they're getting value from the experience in a timely manner?
  2. Was the experience easy? Was it easy or hard to get value out of the experience?
  3. How does the visitor feel about the experience? How do visitors feel about your brand, product, or service after their experience?

To help brands quantify their progress across these three factors, Skinner explained that “over the last 10 years, Forrester has been developing what we call the Customer Experience Index, a score that indicates whether a business is doing well or poorly when it comes to customer experience.”

Compared to laggards, the Index’s leaders boast 5 times more revenue and see their stocks and shares grow at 10 times the rate. “We also see that leaders are able to command a price premium,” Skinner added.

And Forrester’s research isn’t alone in revealing the value of emotions for brands. Other research finds that while both initial interactions and the final decision to leave are based on rational choices (such as price or promotions), everything in between, from purchases to loyalty, is based on emotion.

How content can nurture positive emotions

Content plays a crucial role in great customer experiences. However, your content can just as easily damage your visitor’s trust in your brand, or ruin their customer experience altogether. According to Skinner, here’s how to leverage content positively.

1. Bring clarity

Having empathy for your website visitors is the first step toward building an emotional rapport. Vagueness and uncertainty around your product, service, or brand will stop any emotional bond in its tracks. With content, brands can bring clarity and open channels of communication with end users.

“This is an industry-agnostic driver of positive customer experience,” Skinner said.

2. Make it accessible

Website visitors need help in all sorts of different ways. Some are differently abled, and some may be from other countries. By helping those that need it most, you end up helping everybody.

3. Remember context

People come onto the site in different ways. They have different contexts, backgrounds, and identities and are bringing all of these factors into their experience.

“If we do all of this really, really well, if we can align these experiences, if we can develop content that helps support it, you can arrive at a fantastic outcome of positive empathy, empathy that is felt by each visitor who comes to the site,” says Skinner.

Empathetic content in action

As these customer experience leaders demonstrate, empathetic content isn’t just a theory.

The Body Shop

“Looking at their site, I discovered this interesting description about how you might treat yourself with different products after different forms of exercise. Have you just finished in the gym? Completed a cardiovascular session, or been in the pool? The Body Shop has content for all these scenarios. They're trying to think about the context of their visitors,” Skinner said.


KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines makes for another interesting case. The airline recognized its customers may be feeling stressed and rushed when using their app on their way through a busy airport. They took this into account when developing the micro-copy for their app.


UK-based insurance company LV= considered the impact of Brexit on their customers — particularly when it came to price.

As a result, LV= alerted customers to content on the subject, “right up top on their homepage.”

“That’s not common, you don't find out on a lot of websites, but they were thinking that out of the box about the types of issues people might be having,” Skinner said.

Getting practical with empathy

This all brings us to one question:

How can a brand get more empathetic content on its website?

1. Make the business case

It all starts with making a business case for customer experience. Skinner talked about how they spend quite a bit of time quantifying the value of customer experience. “We went through a number of industries. From auto manufacturers to TV service providers and credit card issuers. Trying to determine — based upon those benefits, and a per-customer level, and based on a one-point index change in their customer experience index — what the benefit might be.” For each customer, a one-point improvement in their customer experience lead to a $50 marginal benefit.

Skinner went on, “You multiply by the number of customers, we arrived at around an $880 million incremental benefit for that business for a one-point improvement in their customer experience index. This is a tool that we've developed to help our clients make the kinds of arguments that can help support the resources to go into more of that and rebuilding efforts on the website to help open up a little bit more of the budget and funding to make that happen.”

2. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

“Spend some time with the empathy maps,” Skinner said. “Try to understand what our customers are hearing. For example, key points in the customer journey when they're in that particular moment of crisis — the KLM and passenger is trying to change flights. What does their experience actually look and feel like?”

This can be done with internal teams and actual customers to get some details from their perspective. Companies can also use hiring as another way of looking at things from a different perspective and bring that mindset to the digital experience.

3. Face tough questions

It also helps to talk to clients about their experiences. “What are the things that people are actually upset about? Screaming about? We need to actually be bringing things up and discussing them exclusively, drawing attention to these missing people,” Skinner mentioned. “We should also be talking about it if our customers are talking about it and it relates to us.”

Sometimes this may require clients to speak about things they aren’t good at. These aren’t things to hide but instead provide a way to improve products as well as creates a sense of relatability and credibility.

Level-up your customer experience with empathy

With all of the above still ringing in their ears, Skinner left delegates at Sitecore Experience 2020 with one message:

“Make your website, your CMS, your engine of empathy, and I think you'll see a lot of success.”

If you’re like most brands, your website isn’t yet the engine of empathy it could be. We developed our Digital Experience Maturity model to help you assess where you’re at in your journey and the next best steps to take.

Discover concrete guidance on the right approach in our e-book, “Plotting Your Path to Personalization with The Digital Experience Maturity Model.

Matt Krebsbach is the VP of Strategic Messaging and Communications at Sitecore. Follow him on LinkedIn.