In his latest episode of CX Update, CX thought leader Steven Van Belleghem discusses the difference between empathy and compassion as applied to the customer experience. These concepts are originally defined in a recent Harvard Business Review article, with a focus on people leadership.

There’s a graph in the article that indicates a progression as one both becomes more focused on the other person rather than on themselves, and more inclined to act to support that other person. The progression moves from having pity, to feeling sympathy and empathy, and eventually to showing compassion. In other words, compassion is that state in which one is most focused on the other person, and most inclined to act to help them, rather than just understand their pain.

Differences Between Empathy and Compassion

Let’s focus on the notion of “empathy” for a second. It has definitely become a commonplace term, and that’s a positive development.

The HBR article points out that empathy is good, but in their definition, empathy does not include truly being helpful — that’s where compassion comes in. I might argue that, for me, empathy has always included a notion of being actionable, and helpful. In other words, empathy includes compassion.

We also see that user-centered approaches focus on providing solutions. For instance, the design thinking process includes an ideation phase focused on solutions for user needs, and the testing phase evaluates effectiveness and usefulness among other aspects.

Even so, compassion is such a key element in creating successful customer experiences that it certainly warrants calling it out to make sure brands focus on providing solutions to customers in addition to showing empathy. So if a new term is going to help us be more aware when designing products and experiences, count me in.

Related Article: Pandemic or Not, You Need Empathy-Driven Customer Experiences

Where Conversational AI Comes into Focus

In a customer service or support setting, compassion (or, “I’m here to help”) and a resolution are key factors. Customers may feel better with empathy, but you’re really going to turn it around if you help them out with the issue that they needed your empathy for in the first place.

As an example, we see this focus on compassion in customer service settings in conversational AI. We teach automated systems like chatbots and voicebots to show empathy.

We do this through the use of empathetic language as we craft the dialogue. Injecting the right level and type of empathy that is suitable to each context and adjusted to each individual customer is very difficult. Bots are actually better at focusing on compassion since their goal is to help the user complete a task. And if the bot is unable to do so, they help the user along their journey of completing the task in other ways, such as handovers or pointing the user to other channels.

In short, a good conversational application focuses on compassion, while making sure that we engage the customer and are suitably empathetic in our dialogue.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: What Is Conversational User Experience (UX)?

A Call to Action for Each One of Us

Testing for compassion is a responsibility we all carry.

If you are a customer experience professional, product owner, UX professional, or are involved in defining the experience, don’t stop at “empathy.” Make sure you think about compassion and driving to solutions.

If you are part of a company but not directly involved in product definition, take any chance you get to try out your company’s products and solutions and see whether they lead to compassion.

If you are a customer and user of products and services, think about whether you experience compassion as a user. If you don’t, speak up!

Today there are many ways to get in touch with brands, so share your feedback in a constructive manner. Brands that are invested in you will listen. That doesn’t mean that they are in a position to always implement your suggestions, and do so immediately, but brands today will be receptive and responsive to customer feedback.

After all, if you, as the user and customer, don’t provide the feedback, brands may not discover the pain points you experience on their own.