Thinking about customers with empathy

An empathic approach to users is an absolute must for every company, regardless of the industry. The correct understanding of the customer is one of the key components of successful business operations and an indicator of a strong competitive advantage.

How can you understand the user?

Understanding the customers’ needs is one of the key pillars of the Design Thinking methodology. This is a creative strategy which aims at using the designer's technique for working on issues that go beyond the classic design area. It is used for developing software, in business or marketing.

In a nutshell, Design Thinking is a multi-aspect, non-standard approach to problem-solving. The method was developed at Stanford University in the Silicon Valley and is used by the world's largest companies, such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc. Design Thinking wouldn’t be possible without empathy - perceiving and understanding the user's problems and focusing on finding the best, creative solutions.

"An empathic approach, based on looking at a service or product through someone else’s eyes, allows developing a solution that meets both conscious and hidden user needs. " - says Marcin Łasica , Associate Director, Experience Design at intive.

To gain a deep understanding of users, their objectives, and expectations, you can (and should) use the tools that have been applied by UX designers for years, such as:

  • empathy maps,

  • ethnographic interviews,

  • observations of users,

  • evaluation surveys.

Creation of an empathy map starts with choosing the most promising segment of customers for a specific product or service. The next step is a description of a representative of the selected group, taking into account different aspects, such as age, salary, social status, friendships, etc.

So-called "yellow post-it notes” can be used for filling of the empathy map – although this method is frequently perceived as a game, it might be very helpful as it inspires a lot of ideas and gives people the freedom to make mistakes. Post-it notes also help later in selecting the most important and significant elements of the empathy map, which are to be considered in the offer.

Ethnographic interviews, observations, and surveys are other important UX-related tools, which help obtain specific information as well as carry out better analysis and interpretation. The objective here is to get as close to customers as possible and track their behavior, habits, and emotions.

A very important part of observations and interviews is our ability to be sensitive. The surveys should be carried out without influencing the behavior of the examined individuals so that the reliability of the results is not disturbed.

The "amateur" approach of the customers can frequently inspire new solutions. For instance, we might find out that the real desire of people who buy cosmetics is to be able to accept their bodies. Such a conclusion, based on an empathic approach, has been successfully used by the Dove brand in their campaigns for years.

The other side of the coin - empathy in business

Empathizing with the target user is only one side of the coin. The very same tools can and should be used for understanding the business side better. A product or service, even if it meets the customer's needs, is not worth much if it does not help you attain your business goals.

Each project can usually be divided into three main components:

  • Purpose - the examination of both the user and business needs.

  • Feasibility - choosing the appropriate methods and technologies.

  • Profitability – analyzing whether a project is likely to bring the expected profit.

We should also remember that by rendering a service to a third party - whether it is designing a mobile application or a marketing campaign - we always assume the role of an intermediary between the business and the customer. In that case, you need to be transparent and help the business in empathizing with the customer.

"While designing digital solutions, it’s important to create a "bridge of understanding" between all participants of the project. Success requires not only full awareness of the needs and objectives of the business and the target group but also balancing them in the right way." - comments Sebastian Palus , Director, Business Design at intive.

An appropriate team of cooperating individuals is also necessary. A team is the foundation from which projects emerge. The presence of various specialists, frequently coming from various generations, provides a multi-perspective outlook on the problem and allows for a constructive discussion.

If you combine multiple aspects and various perspectives and keep asking yourself the question "why are we doing this, and who are we doing it for?" - you will be able to provide the best and most effective solutions.

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