Deploy Empathy Cheat Sheet

Last Updated: 21 September 2022


By Michele Hansen. Get it here.

Comparison to The Mom Test

The Mom Test focuses on unstructured and informal interviewing, primarily for the Discovery stage. It provides a bunch of great practical advice in the form of do's and don'ts.

Deploy Empathy is about more structured and formal interviewing: Asking people to sit in a call with you specifically for the purpose of research. It also covers a range of different cases where user research is important (Discovery, Churned customers, New Customers, etc). It provides a bunch of great practical advice in the form of scripts and templates to get started with the lowest effort required.

Part 1 - Using this Book

Why read this book:

If you're:

  • looking for new opportunities
  • wondering why people cancel
  • wondering how to get more people to buy
  • trying to figure out which features to add

1 - Empathy is a learnable skill

Example: Someone gets yelled at by their boss.

  • Sympathy: “I’m sorry that happened to you” (which creates distance between the original speaker and the person replying)
  • Solution response: “You should get a new job,” (which comes from a good place yet changes the subject away from the person’s experience).
  • Empathetic response: “Oh, that was really hurtful” (which encourages the person to expound on their experience).

Empathy is a competitive advantage you can use in your business.

2 - The Neuroscience of listening

"Most of us are so used to being ignored by companies that when we find one that listens to us—and genuinely listens to us—it’s startlingly refreshing. It makes people want to go out of their way to see that company succeed."

3 - Why I wrote this book

Why this book is special

It gives you: specific words, phrases, and scripts to use when talking to customers

Also: written for a team of one or small teams (instead of large organisations)

4 - What this book can help you do

  • Launch a product
  • See if people would pay for something
  • Understand why people are canceling
  • Know why people are buying, so you can find more customers
  • Determine which features to add next
  • Figure out how to keep customers and why people buy again

5 - How this book is structured

Go here if you need a map to navigate the book.

Part 2 - Key Frameworks

3 key frameworks

  • The core questions to answer in an interview
  • The three dimensions of a process: Functional, Social, and Emotional
  • How to assess an idea: Valuable, Usable, Viable, and Feasible

"People are more willing to pay to solve problems that are frequent, and people are more willing to pay to solve problems that are complex, time consuming, expensive to get wrong, or otherwise frustrating in some way."

7 - The Core Questions

The scripts build off a set of core questions:

  • What are they trying to do overall?
  • What are all of the steps in that process?
  • Where are they now?
  • Where does the problem you are solving fit in that process?
  • Where in that process do they spend a lot of time or money?
  • How often do they experience this problem?
  • What have they already tried?

8 - Functional, Social, Emotional

A framework for assessing a customer's problem - assess these 3 dimensions:

  • The functional purpose
  • The emotional dimension
  • The social dimension

To understand if there's a potential business around this problem, asses:

  • How often they experience it
  • What they’re currently paying to solve it
  • How long it takes them

9 - Valuable, Usable, Viable, Feasible

Assess a potential product through this framework:

  • Valuable: If the product isn’t something the customer needs, they won’t buy it.
  • Usable: If the customer can’t figure out how to use it, they won’t use it (even if the value is there).
  • Viable: If it doesn’t make money, the company will shut it down.
  • Feasible: If it isn’t possible for the company to build, it will never get off the ground.

Part 3 - Getting Started

10 - You - yes you - can do this

This chapter will help if you

  • have doubts about whether you can interview customers
  • find the prospect of talking to people scary, difficult, awkward, or just plain exhausting
  • tend to excitedly offer your own ideas

11 - Learn how to interview: A Step-by-step guide

Provides a plan and walks you through how to go from "never done an interview" to "I'm interviewing".

12 & 13 - Practice interviewing-no customers needed! & Practice interview script

Annecdotes on practicing and validation on why it's OK to be nervous and what practicing can help with.

Part 4 - When should you do interviews

14 - Interviews or Numbers

Qualitative research and quantitative research are both important. This chapter explains why.

15 - Project based research

Project-based research is for answering a specific question. It only lasts a limited time.

16 - How many people should you talk to?

Talk to 5 people. If you're not seeing consistent answers, either your question is too broad, or the topic is complex enough to need more interviews.

17 - Research Loops

Identify problems matching these criteria:

  • Frequent and painful
  • Underserved (e.g., people are doing things manually)
  • Commercially viable (people already pay for a solution)
  • Problems that lead to solutions that are feasible for you or your organization to create

18 - Ongoing Research

Tied in to various points of the customer journey (e.g. onboarding or churning). There are automated ways to collect data, and you can augment with interviews for even better understanding.

For surveys make the question as easy as possible for the customer to answer ("what product were you using before you switched to ours?" vs "why did you choose to switch to our product?")

Some examples

New user interviews

Goal: talk to people who are successfully using the product to find out why they started using it.Do them 1 - 3 months after the user joins (sooner and people will ask you how to set everything up)

Happy customer interviews

People that have been using the product for the longest are the most well served. Talk to them to work out how to find more people like them.

Part 5 - Recruiting Participants

Has guides for recruiting specifically on:

  • Social Media/ForumsReddit and forumsTwitterLinkedInFacebook groups and email lists
  • Reddit and forums
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook groups and email lists
  • Email
  • Surveys

Don't sell during these calls. Stick to getting good data so you later your sales will be better.

Recruiting should focus on people that have done the action you want recently (e.g. bought a car in the last month)

Part 6 - How to talk so people will talk,

this is the most important part of the book

Goal: "creating a bubble of suspended judgement where the person feels comfortable being open."

How to do it:

  1. Use a gentle tone of voice
  2. Validate
  3. Leave pauses for them to fill
  4. Mirror and summarize their words
  5. Don’t interrupt
  6. Use simple wording
  7. Ask for clarification, even when you don’t need it
  8. Don’t explain anything
  9. Don’t negate them in any way
  10. Let them be the expert
  11. Use their words and pronunciation
  12. Ask about time and money already spent

In a customer interview, you will do a lot of things that may not come naturally in an everyday conversation.

  • You pause for longer than is comfortable.
  • You purposefully deflect conversation away from yourself and your own opinions.
  • You use phrases that show understanding rather than sharing your own similar experiences.
  • Asking for clarification, even when you don't need clarification.

25 - Use a gentle tone of voice

Sound as harmless as possible: gentle, friendly tone of voice and genuine, judgment-free curiosity.

"Think of your customer as someone you respect and you can learn from."

26 - Validate them

Validate them, don't judge them:

❌ "You did it the right way."
✅ "I can see why you'd do it that way."

Position them as correct and the expert:

😥: "The process is complicated for you"
😑: "You feel the process is complicated"
😏: "You think the process is complicated"
🤩: "The process is complicated"

Validating statements:

  • That makes sense.
  • I can see why you’d do it that way.
  • I’m interested to hear more about how you came to doing it that way.
  • Would you be able to walk me through the context behind that?
  • I can see what you’re saying.
  • It sounds like that’s frustrating/time consuming/challenging.
  • It sounds like you think that could be improved.
  • Can you help me understand what went through your mind when [X]?
  • Can you tell me more about [X]?
  • It makes sense that you think that.
  • It makes sense that you do it that way.
  • It sounds like there are several steps involved. I’m curious, can you walk me through them?
  • It sounds like a lot goes into that.

27 - Leave pauses for them to fill

Learn to wait in silence. It will be uncomfortable for you initially.

Avoid prompting, e.g.:

  • Possible answers ("What do you want for dinner? ... Indian, Thai, burgers?")
  • Rephrasing ("How long have you been a customer? Have you been a customer for a long time?")

Pausing and giving them the floor puts the participant in the position of teacher & authority, which is exactly the goal.

28 - Mirror and summarize their words

People will elaborate if you summarise what they've just told you. Don't ask a question, don't offer an opinion.

29 - Don't interrupt

Don't interrupt.

30 - Use simple wording

Make it as easy as possible for the person - avoid "corporate speak".

❌ "What are your objectives?"
✅ "So, can you give me the big picture of what you're trying to do?""

Don't use jargon unless they do it first.

31 - Ask for clarification, even when you don't need it

Asking for clarification (even if you don't need it) is an effective way to get someone to say more about a topic.

32 - Don't explain anything or get defensive

It's easy to get defensive. You need to be on the lookout and check that feeling. Your goal here isn't to convince the person they're wrong, it's to understand why they've ended up thinking whatever they think.

  • Can you tell me how you expected it to work?
  • I'm curious, can you walk me through what you expected to happen?
  • What were you hoping to use this for?

33 - Build on what they say

Interviewing is like improv. You have to "yes, and" instead of "no, but".

Avoid sharing your own experiences, this can backfire by taking them out of the "expert" role.

  • "Yes, and"
  • "It sounds like that made you think ..."

34 - Let them be the expert

To make products that are delightful products your product needs to match the user's world view and expectations.To do that you have to understand everything from their perspective instead of yours.

Your goal here is to understand why they've ended up thinking whatever they think."everyone is the expert of their own experience, even if it isn't factually correct"

35 - Use their words and pronunciation

Even things like the pronunciation of a state ("nev-ah-dah" vs "nev-vay-da") can cause someone to burst out of the bubble of no-judgement.Even a brand or product name (even your product name). Don't correct them.

36 - Ask about past or current behavior

One of the most common way people stuff up user interviews: Asking "would you do [x]" - asking a hypothetical.

Also

  • Too-broad questions like: "what do you need", "what are your pain points", "what are your problems" (too much thinking required for the person to give you an accurate answer).
  • Potentially "insulting" questions like "what are you struggling with" (people don't want to feel like they're inept).

Instead: ask what they have done and symptoms of pain (e.g. tools used, money spent, time spent, products switched)

Time, manual solutions, multiple tools, and money are all signs of pain points. These are facts that are easy to answer.

Questions to ask how much they'll pay

e.g.

  • How long does it take to do [X]?
  • What was it like to get started with [X]?
  • Can you tell me more about the people you need to work with to get [X] done?
  • Compared to what you expected, how long did it take to (get started/integrate it/etc)?
  • Can you walk me through the different tools do you use to do [X]?
  • Thinking about the whole process to do [X] you've told me about, what takes the most time?

If they aren't spending money, and it doens't take them a long time, that's a bad sign.

Questions to ask about problems

Some of the questions you might ask to find problems without saying "problems" are:

  • Can you tell me about the last time you did [X thing your product would be part of solving]?
  • [For each step:] How long does that take you?
  • Who do you work with on (that)?
  • What tools do you use [for that purpose]?
  • How much do you pay for (those tools)?
  • What do you think of (those tools)?

You want to pay particular attention to:

  • What kind of tool they're using for something
  • What problem the tool solves for them, and which related problems they have that it doesn't solve
  • Whether they pay for it with money or time, and how much
  • What they think of that other tool, and how they'd change it if they could

If you already have a product, you might ask:

  • What do you have to do before [and after] you do (thing with our product)?
  • How long does that take you?
  • Do you use another tool for that? [How much do you pay for it?]
  • What do you think of [tool]?
  • If you had a magic wand and you could change anything about the [whole process/that particular] step, what would it be? [follow-up with why they would change that and what it would help them do]

Alternatives to "what do you need"?

Expect the customer to know what is "valuable" and "usable"Don't expect them to know what is "viable" or "feasible" - so don't include these topics in the interview with the customer

37 - Be a rubber duck

Don't offer solutions when a user is telling you about the issues they face. It will distract you both from learning more about their experience.

Part 7 - Interviews

General structure of the interview

  • What they're trying to do overall
  • The steps they take to do that
  • What they've already tried
  • Where they spend time and money throughout the entire process
  • How often they experience the problem
  • How long it takes them

Types of interview (scripts available at the website)

  • Discovery interviews: When you're exploring a new idea and are trying to understand a problem better
  • Switch interviews: To figure out why someone switched to your product and how you can market it better to get more customers
  • Long-time customer interviews: To figure out what makes people keep paying you, and what they are still missing from the product
  • Cancellation interviews: To figure out why they canceled
  • Interactive interviews: To test a prototype, wireframe, or live product with someone
  • Card sorting interviews: To help you understand which problems are high-pain and underserved

Scripts are in the Scripts notebook.

First half of the interview: Ask your questions."Thanks for your time. Anything else I should know?"Second half of the interview: Candid more casual talk.

First half builds rapport so second half is successful.

38 - Interview Preparation

Do audio only, no video (reduces the social pressure on the participant, you can't bias them when they look to you for feedback on what they're saying).

Set yourself up to focus (pee before, phone off, etc)

Record your interviews (but ask first).

Interview 5 people.

Repeat in cycles as needed.

90% of what you say should be validating them. Only a fraction should be questions.

Always write a thankyou note.

Do. Not. Sell. To. Them.

39 - How can I evaluate this idea?

You have a cool idea. Discovery interviews help find out if someone will pay you for your idea.

e.g:

  • Do people experience this problem I think I've noticed?
  • How frequently do they experience that problem/process?
  • How painful is that problem/process?
  • What have they tried to solve that problem/process?
  • How are they currently paying to solve that problem/process (money/time)?
  • Who else inside/outside their organization is involved with this process?

40 - Why did they buy?

Aka "switch interview" in JTBD lingo.

The goals of this interview:

  • What was the journey they went through?
  • How did they discover your product?
  • What prompted them to switch from one provider/tool/process to yours?
  • So far, are they satisfied with that decision?

41 - Why do they stick around?

Goals:

  • find the customers who are happy
  • figure out why they are happy so you can find more people with similar use cases that are well served by your product

42 - Why did they cancel?

Make sure you separate your defensive feelings ("they don't like my product") and leave them out of the interview.You need to focus on "what's this person's journey? What made it so this person was unsatisfied?"

43 - What do they think?

A prototype/concept/MVP/sketch can answer:

  • help identify unanticipated snags that might reduce conversions or successful use of the product
  • why people aren't buying on a landing page
  • understand difficulties people might have with using a tool
  • see why people keep emailing support about something
  • see them implement your service

Don't just ask about the product, ask about:

  • the decision process
  • the other stakeholders involved
  • what other complications might come up
  • the parts that have nothing to do with technology.

44 - What to prioritize?

Use card sorting to prioritise.

45 - The "Reaching for the Door" question

Use the first half to ask your questions. For the second half, ask

"Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I learned a lot from you today. (breath) Is there anything else you think I should know?"

They'll say no, so then you have to wait (don't prompt them).

46 - How to ask people how much they would pay

Ask about how much they're paying now (money and/or time).Be polite e.g.

Can I ask you how much you pay for that?

Also good to understand the value:

Just out of curiosity, if you can tell me, how much do these new events bring in in any given year?

  1. Can I ask what you're currently paying for that [tool] you mentioned?
  2. And can I ask how often you pay that?
  3. Could you tell me how long (particular step) takes you?
  4. Can I ask how often you have to do that?
  5. If you didn't do this [task], what would happen?

47 - Debugging interviews

Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes it's not your fault (e.g. they don't show up). Some of the things you can do to get back on track:

Interviews are shorter than expected

  • mirroring and summarising (e.g. repeat back what they've said)
  • "can you say more about that"
  • "mhmm"/"i see"

The person seems nervous

  • Use validating statements ("that makes sense", "I can see why you'd do it that way")
  • picture yourself as the rubber duck who is there to get more details (even if you already understand what they're doing)
  • For a screen share start the interview with "we're just testing the website. It's still in early development so we know there's a lot of snags with it. The more honest you can be, the more you'll help us find those things. You can't do anything wrong."

They're responding with short answers

  • start the interview with "is now still a good time?"
  • "From the way you're responding, I'm getting the sense you might be in a time crunch. would another time be better?"
  • Ask if there's someone else you should talk to. "I really appreciate you taking the time to talk. I'd like to learn about ... Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?"

The person is being cagey

  • Check in with them. When this happens, I find it helpful to step back and see what their intentions are. In a very casual and curious tone, say, "You know, just to step back for a moment, I'm just curious. What made you interested in talking to me today?"
  • If you get the sense that the evasiveness is because of privacy but could be overcome, ask if a nondisclosure agreement would help. "I understand this might be sensitive information. Would it be helpful if I signed an NDA?"

They just ask for feature requests

  • "What do you currently use for this?"
  • "How long does this currently take you to do this?"
  • "How much do you currently pay to get this done?"

They want product help

  • Be flexible. You hoped for one topic and got another. You may find it helpful to create an onboarding script for yourself as a back-up in case this happens. A good place to start is, "So tell me how it's going as you get started with [X]."
  • Like when they come in expecting to talk about feature requests, look at your recruiting copy and timing. From my experience, interviews are best scheduled at least a month out from when someone has started using a product. Anything sooner tends to get interpreted as onboarding.

Multiple people join the call

  • Check in with them first. If this happens, check in with them immediately. Say, "Wow, thank you so much everyone for taking the time to hop on this call. I had some things I was wondering about from my perspective, but let's start out with you all. I'm interested to hear more about what led you to want to jump on today.

They're talking about something unrelated

  • Check in with yourself. Is what they're talking about completely unrelated (you asked about invoices and ten minutes later they're talking about cats) or related in a helpful way (you asked about invoices and they're talking about difficulties with vendor coordination)? It could be that you've uncovered an even bigger problem for them.
  • Polite re-steering. "Thank you for telling me that. That makes sense. I'm wondering if we could go back to something you mentioned earlier. Could you tell me more about how you use [something on-topic]?"

They're mad about something

  • Listen. Listen, listen, listen. People who are angry first need to feel heard. Resist the urge to defend yourself or your product.
  • Establish your competence. "I can help you sort this out" is a helpful phrase to use here.
  • Solve their problem. If you can, do it while they're on the phone. Give them a refund, close their account. Angry former customers with unsolved problems are very expensive for a company that relies on word of mouth.
  • Solve your problem. Try to get to the root of where the misunderstanding came from.

Part 8 - Analyzing Interviews

Don't make changes after one interview. Do 5 and then assess.

48 - Drawing a simple customer journey map

Get your interviews transcribed.

With the transcript, pull out key parts and phrases. Pay attention to

  • the core questions
  • functional/social/emotional dimensions
  • tools/processes used
  • the specific phrasing and wording used to describe those steps and struggles

Draw simple customer journey map. For each step identify the functional/social/emotional elements (along with a relevant quote).

This can be any format, e.g. a drawing, or an example of a table:

49 - The Pain and Frequency Matrix

When assessing a pain point, or the steps within a pain point, plot them on a 2x2. "Pain" on one axis, "Frequency" on the other.You should look for high pain and high frequency things.

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