Developing Customer Empathy
Customer empathy is the foundation on which product innovation should begin. This is where a lot of engineering teams get it wrong. They place too much focus on technical and functional solutions and forget that their customers are humans with emotions. Empathy in this context is to understand your product from the user’s perspective and the first step towards that is to understand your users.
What follows are concepts and steps that you can introduce to maintain focus on your end users as you design your products:
Customer before product
Understand your customers’ underlying needs. Instead of functions and features, think of what problems they are trying to solve. Listen to their articulated and functional needs but also look for their unarticulated and unmet needs. This is where you can get the biggest “wow factor”. Journey Mapping is a good tool to use for this purpose as it lets your product owners get into the mind of the customer and helps develop deep empathy for the user.
Reframe the problem
There is a famous quote by Albert Einstein – “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Depending on what questions you ask, you could get a completely different perspective on the problem you are trying to solve leading to very different solutions. Instead of asking “What do our users want?”, ask “What are our users trying to accomplish by using our product?”
This is a shockingly simple tool that can uncover the ultimate desired outcome of your user. It reframes their needs into what job they are trying to get done using your product. There are two components to this tool: a functional one and an emotional one. The latter being key to innovation. Usually teams focus on just the functional needs and ignore the emotional ones. Functional JTBD asks about what tasks are to be completed whereas Emotional JTBD digs into how the user would like to feel or what they would like to experience while using your product.
Similar to how marketing teams create buyer personas to empathize with their target buyers, create user personas and give them life so you can use them in your product development process. These personas will help surface more specific sets of needs for the different user types.
Co-created solutions have a much higher chance of success. Identify a diverse group of users of your product who are willing to contribute and provide feedback on early iterations of new features. Develop prototypes, get feedback from these groups of users, and iterate to refine the solution before you fully engage the engineering team to develop it. This will eliminate a lot of guess work and lead to a much more user-centric product when it rolls out.
Tools to observe user behavior and interactions in the live product
User testing is not always possible and that’s when these tools come in handy. There are many tools available that generate heat maps, form interactions, navigation patterns within live product. These tools help product teams identify areas where the users struggle or are finding the application non-intuitive. They can also help create A/B tests when introducing new features to the product.
Our innovation journey continues. It is an iterative process and by introducing some of these tools and techniques, our product development process is definitely more collaborative and exciting. Some of the tools described in this two-part blog series were instrumental in shaping some of our most recent product innovations.
As the CTO at TalentQuest, Niranjan leads Product Management, Software Development and Infrastructure. He is also responsible for the company’s information security policies and compliance. Niranjan joined TalentQuest in 2007 and has more than 25 years of experience leading and managing small and large-scale software teams in several countries. He has an extensive background in software engineering, product design and agile product development across many business verticals, including manufacturing, financial services, and human capital management (HCM).