Digital Empathy Brings Data to Life



Remember Counsellor Deanna Troi from Star Trek the Next Generation? In case the Next Generation was before your generation, Troi was the crew member Captain Picard consulted when he needed to understand an alien entity or settle a thorny dispute.

Troi was an empath, with the ability to experience the emotions of others as if they were her own. That skill was invaluable to the space travelers. It made the unknown more understandable and helped the crew to successfully navigate unexplored planets and galaxies.

Here on earth, empathy, or the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, is equally valuable, and becoming more precious the further we move into the digital era.

Recently, I’ve been writing about the importance of emotional intelligence for associations, particularly in their digital initiatives. Empathy is one of the five characteristics that define EI. A good case could be made for calling it the skill set’s most important business asset.

Empathy is what helps identify members’ needs and provide products and services that contribute to their well-being and professional success. But how do we put the human touch into interactions in a virtual landscape that doesn’t provide emotional cues?

By designing systems, products, and services from the perspective of their human users, we can compensate for, and even exceed, what might be accomplished in a person-to-person transaction.

Digital empathy brings soft skills like compassion, respect, thoughtfulness, and kindness into technology and the design process.

Jen Wong, Chief Design Officer at Canva, expresses the idea like this. “The best way to understand empathy in the digital age is to listen to and learn from users. We need to design technology around their needs and aspirations, not our own.” And, Hadi Partovi, Co-founder of said this. “It’s not enough to just build cool technology. We need to build technology that makes a difference in people’s lives. That’s where digital empathy comes in.”

Get the Emotional Advantage

Integrating empathy into technology gives you the emotional advantage.

There are multiple benefits to Integrating empathy into technology initiatives. These are several areas where you can promote growth and engagement.

Member community and customer relationships

  • Build trust and create meaningful connections by demonstrating that you are knowledgeable about audience preferences.
  • Improve communication and collaboration through more productive interactions.
  • Increase loyalty and engagement with thoughtfulness and concern.


Brand identity and recognition

  • Deliver red carpet service to differentiate your brand from the competition.
  • Increase customer satisfaction by providing what members want, when and where they need it.
  • Retain and attract customer-centric talent with a culture that values respect and consideration.


Innovation and problem solving

  • Utilize emotional drivers to achieve a deeper understanding of member needs.
  • Identify potential challenges by anticipating problems and mitigating conflict.
  • Deliver creative and impactful solutions by evaluating the emotional impact of strategies.


Move from Service to Experience

Empathy supports the transition from customer service to customer experience. If you haven’t made that leap, it’s past time to begin.

A service approach is a holdover from the analog era of engagement strategies. It is a one-dimensional attitude toward what should be a dynamic relationship. Service is a single point on a continuum of interactions that centers around communication and problem-solving. The focus is on the association and how it responds in specific situations.

Customer experience turns the tables. An experiential strategy gets the physics right. It puts members at the center of your universe, where they belong. Member needs become the force that directs organizational goals and objectives. Instead of looking at your relationship as a series of transactions, it becomes a holistic progression that is carefully orchestrated across all communications channels.

It’s ironic that technology makes meaningful interactions possible. Associations have always had more information about their members than most businesses can collect about their customers. That data turns what was once a narrow path into a two-way street. Digital transformation provides the systems and analytics to move beyond demographics and discover behavior. When we view data through the lens of empathy it becomes a powerful magnet for retention and growth.

Analyze With Feeling

You can’t have a three-dimensional view of your members without unified systems.

How do you put emotion into data? Brian Solis, Salesforce, Vice President, and Global Innovation Evangelist, explains it like this. “Data-driven empathy is about humanizing data: bringing personal insights to life in a way that allows you to know your customer beyond the incomplete information that populates traditional systems of records. It’s about the intent to seek these insights, aligning systems, operational models, and processes focused on unifying and analyzing customer data so that it’s insightful, actionable, and personal.”

As I said earlier, this humanistic approach begins with digital transformation. You can’t have a three-dimensional view of your members without the unified systems that make that holistic knowledge possible. Every person on your staff must have access to data and understand how to use it to improve member relationships. Employees should be able to see information across platforms and to analyze, report, and act on the behavior they discover.

After that seamless technology is in place, these are strategies that bring data to life. Solis’ advice sounds complex. But there are simple things you can do to give numbers and statistics the personality they need to be meaningful.

Listen Actively

Solicit feedback whenever and wherever possible. Pay attention to the voice of your customers and believe what they are telling you. This is something that successful entrepreneurs quickly learn.

Tracy King, Chief Learning Strategist at InspirED, offered advice from her early experiences building a business. “Risks I took revolved around prototypes that I tested, and the market returned a no. Each of those products was an elegant solution. They just weren’t packaged to resonate with my ideal client. I learned to fine-tune my listening skills to create solutions that I could iterate to scale. Every time I test the market, it’s an opportunity to discover a nugget that allows me to grow.”

Ask Questions

What’s the first advice that people give about networking? Have questions ready that will help you meet the people you need to know. The same idea applies to getting acquainted with members online. Questions like these will help you understand your audience and prune analytics to grow the data that is most significant:


How does your audience want to communicate?

What platforms are they using?

What content are they responding to?

Where are they seeking/finding value?

How are your interfaces enhancing or detracting from their experience?


Don’t make assumptions about what to ask. Consider your business and strategic objectives. Determine what you need to understand to reach your goals. Prioritize information that is actionable and will lead to specific outcomes. Move beyond superficial insight to discover unexpected correlations and relationships.

Consider Context

Context, or the circumstances surrounding the data, is a critical element of emotional analytics. Context is the color that makes facts a story.

For example, the price of a home is not an indicator of its value to every buyer. People need both relational and emotional information. They compare the cost and features with other property in the area and assess services such as schools, transportation, and services. In addition, related expenses such as taxes also have an impact. Understanding these details puts the picture in a frame. It provides the rationale and the wide-angle view of the issues—answering questions such as:

  • How was the data collected?
  • How do the numbers relate to each other?
  • When you look at the big picture do the results make sense?
  • How do the findings stack up against the needs?
  • What emotional biases may be influencing perceptions?

Train Employees and Give Them Agency to Act

When empathy is a cultural imperative, it can flow into every business interaction. Supporting EI in your organization encourages employees to understand and manage their own emotions. That’s a bridge toward helping everyone to approach their data and digital initiatives from a customer-centric perspective.

You don’t need to have the mind-reading skills of Counsellor Troi on your team. But you should have people who are eager to approach their work with a keen desire to understand your members and create experiences that make a positive impact on their professional lives.










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