There is an essential difference between compassion and empathy. Compassion describes our tendency to react appropriately to the feelings of other people and to share these feelings. Empathy is the ability to recognise and interpret the personality traits of strangers. In our opening example, this means that you know the background that led to their distress. You understand the thoughts and motives, and are able to classify the values and convictions which guide that person.

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Empathy is a “process”

Empathy is first and foremost a personal characteristic. It can also be viewed as a method whose application can be learned. Over the past decades, numerous instruments have been developed which enable the structured elaboration of human patterns of thought and behaviour.

Empathy Toolkit

Human-Centered Design Toolkit

Although many companies talk about how they strive for customer orientation, they tend to stay on the surface when it comes to understanding customers. And this can indeed lead to tears, but tears of anger: when apps don’t work as expected, when you can’t find what you’re looking for on a website, when the chat bot doesn’t seem to even try to understand you, or even worse, when you end up at a digital service impasse with no chance of solving the problem.

Although many companies talk about how they strive for customer orientation, they tend to stay on the surface when it comes to understanding customers.

The more we digitalise and leave communication to machines, the more important our empathy becomes as a basis for designing technical systems. Because machines have no feelings and at present, they have only limited possibilities to understand human beings as a whole in all our complexity. We still have to patiently and painstakingly teach the machines empathy.

The closer technical devices come to us and the more they penetrate our everyday lives, the more important it becomes to prepare them for seemingly illogical behaviour and emotional reactions. The interfaces between human and machine must fit smoothly into well thought-out processes, leaving no room for annoyance during interaction. Input and output media should be intuitive to use and meet the expectations of the respective situation. Our film tip: HER.

This sounds plausible and simple at first, but it actually requires deep insights into your customers’ personalities and the realities of their lives.

03 dj-johnson-1235096-unsplash-squashed How can customers experience that companies really care about their well-being, not just their money?

Empathy is revealed in behaviour

The age of artificial intelligence has now begun, and machines will at least be able to delude us into believing that they understand us. You have probably heard of the famous Turing-Test, which intends to determine whether a computer has human capacity for thought and is no longer distinguishable from a human being by the person who is the test subject.

However, this has less to do with encyclopaedic knowledge and more to do with behaviour, as another entertaining experiment by Claude Shannon proves: The creative mathematician and founder of information theory not only built juggling machines, rocket-driven frisbees and an early chess computer, he also built the “Ultimate Machine”. It consists of nothing more than a wooden box with a small toggle switch. If the switch is set to “on”, a flap opens with a mechanical hand that moves the switch back to “off”.

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Leave me alone!

Although the machine has no intelligence whatsoever, this reaction seems human to us simply due to its rebellious behaviour. It contradicts our instructions and in return, we assign it “personality”.

EMMA, the empathy machine

On our website and in some of our publications you will likely come across EMMA more than once – EMMA is our EMpathy Machine, a wild, three-dimensional entity with all sorts of strange protuberances. EMMA can sniff, track, feel, scan, illuminate, record, analyse and process. She hovers over things, penetrates the surface with sound waves, can perceive sounds outside of our frequency range, plus she is also learning to talk.

motivieren EMMA has a fine ear ...

erkennen-und-erinnern ... looks closely ...

erspueren ... and thus feels exactly what to do.

EMMA’s essence is meant to seem human, and to remind us that there is still much to explore and discover in us humans before the perfect machine will see the light of day.

Until then, we all depend on understanding our species and its peculiarities, our communication habits and behaviour, our needs and desires, and on designing and offering the right interactions based on them.

Experiences that respect our humanness and let us feel “our humanity”. The more consistently we take this into account, the faster and easier it will be for us to react to future changes and operate successful long-term business models. This is not only true for the digital world, it applies to all of the points of contact a company has.

The basis of empathy is self-perception, the more open a person is to their own emotions, the better they can interpret the feelings of others. (

If you would like to find out more about EMMA, are planning a project that requires a great deal of intuition for your customers or would like to get to know our empathy-trained team, we look forward to a joint exchange. Get in touch.