UX Research

What can others learn from your approach to promoting empathy for users?: 
The MailChimp approach to promoting empathy for users centers on awareness and ubiquity. 
In the course of creating archetypical MailChimp customers—or personas—our research team involved coworkers from all departments and levels, from recent hires to founders. By involving colleagues, we initiated a company-wide sense of inquiry into who our customers are, how they work, and how we could best serve them.
Our next step was to make our personas part of every conversation and design consideration. To do this, we created posters of our personas—we gave each a face, a name, and a list of attributes and descriptors. For instance, we describe an administrative assistant as busy and inefficient, which allows us to empathize with someone who doesn’t have the time or intrinsic motivation to learn a new software suite. We then started to refer to these personas as often as possible, in conversations, in emails, in presentations, and on and on.
By making these personas “real” and ubiquitous, our designers could add dimension to their projects by adding features geared to a specific type of user, and our support teams could tailor their offerings to different types of customers.
What research, data, and other information does your team use upfront, and how has that been effective in generating informed empathy?: 

We combine quantitative data from our application (analytics, feature use and behaviors) with qualitative data gathered through our support teams, feedback channels (email and social media), surveys, and more to see the big picture. All of this data then informs our decisions—we can point to our five personas and know how a change to our app might effect each, or how an iteration might serve an entire class of customers.

What does your team do to maintain and fine-tune its empathy for users on an ongoing basis during the course of a project?: 
We consistently question the data we receive, sussing it out to determine if it changes our perceptions of our customers or if it warrants changing the software we build.
We're also focusing more on task personas and jobs-to-be-done as other dimensions through which to foster empathy. By filtering our suggested app refinements through questions like, "Who would use this, when, and why?", we're able to assign a context and use case to our research and development.
We also use an internal newsletter to share research data and findings that inform the work of everyone at MailChimp. These newsletters provide qualitatative and quantitative data on which other teams can base decisions, and open a dialog about the meaning behind our findings.
Please describe one or more compelling examples of how empathy for users has positively affected your team’s successfulness.: 

When we launched the redesign of MailChimp in 2013, our CEO asked our research team to correlate customer feedback with persona types. He wanted to know who was struggling with our redesigned app, and why. By using our personas, we could identify common problems (the UI changed) with personas (our Administrative Assistant persona, Ada). The personas allowed us to ascribe a rationale to the struggles these customers reported: the Ada persona allots only a few minutes to using our app each week, as she has many other responsibilities. The changes we made to the app slowed Ada down, and forced her to learn new ways of doing routine things. With this knowledge, we were able to tweak our redesign a bit to make actions more intuitive, and we added clearer copy to our knowledge base. Knowing who we were working for allowed us to understand our customer motivations, contexts, and aspirations.

What do you do to ensure empathy for users permeates the team and appropriately influences decision-making on an ongoing basis?: 

With our persona posters prominently displayed, our different teams can discuss different archetypical customers as they apply to different scenarios. Our support team can say, “Most of our customers are like Ada [a persona], and she might have the training to script API calls.” Then they can tailor their advice to this customer more appropriately. Another example occurred when we redesigned MailChimp. Understanding that most of our personas expressed a need for a more mobile-friendly app gave our redesign direction and scope. We empathized with how our users wanted to work, and were able to provide a workable solution.