How Can Customer Empathy Unveil Pain Points? — A Sample Scenario

Empathy is to be in the shoes of the customer to understand his emotions, passions, behaviour, the attitude in various situations.

To design the best experience for customers in any product/service, we need to become genuine users(Observe users in such a detail that we become them). Following is one of the sample user scenarios in a supermarket to understand pain points so that we can design a better experience. In italics, pain points are highlighted. Images shown are for representation purpose only.

Customer’s State Before Entering the System

7 pm. The traffic was moving slowly. I was tired(Cognitive tiredness and physical tiredness), after a long day at the office — now an hour of commuting. On the left side, I saw a board “CARE supermarket”. I remembered that I needed to buy some rice, wheat flour and other items.

Customer’s Pre-Entry Experience

I slowly steered the car to left and finally entered the parking space in front of the store — I cannot call it as parking space — The space is an empty ground — as shown in the image below.

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Bikes were parked in front of the store. I was confused where to park the car — in which direction should I keep the car. I finally parked behind the line of bikes, leaving enough space to take the bike out.

Customer’s Entry Process and Experience

The store was on the first floor like shown in the image. There was a rail in the centre of the stairs — maybe left side for going up and the other side for coming down. I started climbing up on the left side of the stairs — saw a woman with a wider body coming down the stairs and carrying shopping bags in both hands. I realised that width of stairs is not sufficient for two persons to cross. I turned and got down from the stairs. When I was about to climb the other side of stairs, I saw an old man coming down the staircase with shopping baggage. He was moving slowly. He would take more time than the lady. After a minute or so, I climbed up using the left side of the staircase and reached the entrance.

Customer’s Welcome Experience

The security guard opened the door and let me in. I smiled and thanked him — No response from him — Perhaps, he did not see me smiling and hear my words. He had a cold face and was in some deep thoughts I suppose — Maybe, he was not expecting people to wish him(Sorry, No judgement).

Customer’s Experience Immediately after Entry

As soon as I was inside, I saw a rack(height up to my shoulder level) filled with fruits and behind that another rack full of vegetables. These racks are kept parallel to the closed door. I could not see what lies behind the vegetable rack. On the left side, I saw Dhal Sacks stacked over one another. Behind that, there was a rack with bread packets, cookies and snacks. Billing counters are on the right side.

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Looks like I need to spend the time to explore and locate the items. I did not want to waste time, as I was already tired. I could not locate any helper. Two guys were busy in the billing counter — I didn’t want to disturb them, as they were serving the other customers. I’d be indirectly interfering with their buying process and delaying them. I was not comfortable doing that.

In-Store Movement and Experience

Should I move left or right? The way on the right side appeared zigzag, due to the arrangement of the freezer and a fridge. Too much cognitive load on a tiring day?

I moved to left and turned right. Saw stacked bags of rice on the floor — Stacked height maybe around 1.3m approximately.

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I saw random boards over the rice bags announcing discounts on different brands, different quantities of purchase. I’m not familiar with brand names — I did not want to strain my brain to understand what is written. I looked at the top rice bag of the first column. To my surprise, the front side graphics did not show the type of rice inside the sack. I wanted to buy 20kg “Raw Rice”.

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I had to lift the heavy bag, turned around to see what is written on the backside. After struggling for a couple of minutes, finally, I located the type of rice — Boiled Ponni. I looked at top bags in other columns of stacked bags too. Different rice varieties — No “Raw Rice” yet.

I had a doubt whether each column would be of mixed rice varieties rather than a single variety? I kept the first bag on the floor — Checked the second bag by turning around — Idli Rice — Kept the second bag down. Took the third back and turned around — “Raw Rice”. Vow! Finally, got the required rice. I kept the “Raw Rice” bag down. Oh! I needed to stack the other two bags back to the column. I kept those 20kg bags again in the same place.

I needed to buy 10kg wheat flour. Surprised and relieved to see that the wheat packet flour was nearby. I took it. Fortunately, graphics in the front communicated the type of wheat flour.

After taking rice and wheat flour, I realised that I needed a trolley to carry this and shop around. I was wondering why he did not take the trolley while entering the store? If I had seen the trolley near the door, I would have got reminded and took the trolley.

I looked around, but could not locate the trolley. I saw one store attendee, asked him about the trolley. He told me to collect from outside the entry gate. After thanking him, went out to collect the trolley. The trolley was kept in a hidden corner, which was not readily visible. Another customer too came out of the store to collect the trolley. I’ve got a company!

I went and tried to pull a trolley from the set of trolleys — Oh God! — The trolley was not coming out — I tried again — What to do? — God, Don’t embarrass me. After struggling for a couple of minutes, pushing & pulling with legs and hands, I managed to pull a trolley out from the group.

As security guard was occupied, it was challenging to open the door and take the trolley inside. The width of one door was not sufficient to let a user open the door with one hand and move freely with a trolley.

I reached the place where rice bags were kept — shocked to know the bags I’ve chosen are back to the stacks. Thanks, Guys! This time, it took less time, as the chosen sack was on top of one of the stacks, and also I had become familiar with the location of “Rice name”. I kept the rice bags in the trolley and tried to move — What now? I could not move the trolley properly. When I checked, a couple of wheels is not working under the load. Cursing myself at not checking properly before taking the trolley, I decided to adjust and move.

I moved behind the Vegetable rack and tried to enter one of the cross aisles. The aisles were narrow. In the first aisle, I saw a lady with a trolley and a kid. The aisle width was not sufficient for two trolleys to cross. I skipped the aisle and moved to next row. In the next aisle, a couple were standing and discussing what to be bought. It appeared that the discussion would not end soon. The guy was fat too. Really tough to move around with the trolley. Skipped that row and moved to next row.

In the next aisle, a shop attendee was standing on a ladder and stacking up items in the racks. There were boxes on the floor waiting to be stacked. No sufficient space. I skipped again and moved to another aisle — saw the items in the last row were not relevant to me. Being tired, and with this trolley, I did not want to shop further.

Pre-Exit Experience of User

I moved to the billing counter area. Only two counters were active, as it was a weekday and each counter had 3 customers in line. Which counter should I choose, as I have a bad misfortune of getting stuck in a line, which doesn’t move? I chose a counter and joined the line.

One of the customers in line had a big list of items to be billed. Waited patiently. When my turn came — I took bags from the trolley and kept it on the counter table. The guy at the counter tried to prepare the bill — Murphy’s law — Computer developed some technical error.

“Sir, can you bill the items in next counter. It will take some time to rectify this problem”

“Ok. Thank You”, I took the bags back and moved to another counter. After 5 minutes, my turn came. Billed the items. There was an issue with the card machine. After a couple of minutes, I was on the way back to the entrance. Both entrance and exit are through the same door.

Customer Exit Experience

It was a huge challenge to move this trolley through the door with one hand trying to open and hold the door. When I was almost through the door, the security guard saw and came back to help.

He asked me for the bill so that he could note it down. I could not recollect where was the bill. I realised that I was blocking the way for other customers to enter the store.

I signalled guard to wait and I pushed the trolley to a corner. I searched my pockets, purse — could not locate. I asked the security guard to wait for a couple of minutes — went inside the supermarket, and reached the counter where I billed the items.

The billing guy was busy with a customer — I waited for him to finish the billing of that customer, as any query would be disturbing the other customer. Once billing is completed, I asked him whether he gave me the bill, He searched around and saw a bill lying in one corner. Gave me the bill. It seems that I had forgotten to take the bill. Went back to the security guard and got the bill punched.

Then the mother of shocks — How would I move the trolley over the steps to reach my car? — at least 25 Steeper steps. I should have bought a couple of Kgs of rice and wheat flour. Why didn’t this strike me?

Cursing me, I took those combined 25 kgs of rice, wheat flour and Dhal, climbed down the steps. Walking through parked bikes with those heavy bags were painful than moving the trolley inside the store.

Reaching the car, I had to keep the bags on the floor — the floor is a wet sand. Do I have any other option? After opening the boot, I kept those sacks inside the boot and closed down.

After reaching home, I may have to make two trips from car to home which is on the first floor, as I had to carry sacks as well as my laptop bag, lunch bag and a couple of books. Too much for a tired body.

After closing the boot, I turned around and shocked to see the bikes and a car surrounding my car. How to take the car out? Do I have to wait? I was not sure how long I had to wait?

I looked around and saw that If I move those couple of bikes, I could take out my car. After 10 minutes of struggle(moving locked bikes, too many forward and reverse movements of the car), I was finally out and joined the traffic to move towards home. Slow moving traffic appears heavenly compared to the shop experience.

Written by

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

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