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7 ideas for teams to develop customer empathy

develop customer empathy

As we are dedicating the month to the Agile Principle #1, Customer satisfaction through value, I’m answering the question from one of my subscribers:

“How to make your team understand how clients use the product?”

And I find it a great question because we see a lot of mentions on design thinking and HCD about customer research and customer journeys and all of that is very useful. But what I found is that very often the developers, the makers of the product, are a little bit more alienated from the actual empathy, which can only come once you truly see how stuff is being used.

They will have crazy ideas, usually derived from a technological standpoint: they want to do what technology allows, even if it might be less useful or even cumbersome for the customer. They think about what is feasible or technically possible. What we want is to help our teams gain consciousness on desirability or what is desired, what the customer wants, and viability, a suitable and interesting business model, and what the customer is willing to pay for.

So, to consider desirability, and what the customer wants, here are 7 ideas for teams to develop customer empathy. You can watch the Youtube video or continue reading this post.

I have tried these seven ideas myself from when I was a software developer dedicated to XP (eXtreme Programming) all the way to now, as a coach and owner of my own business. I separate them into 3 categories: Ask, Observe and Do.

ASK the customer

First, there are things you can ask you customer directly. Sure, you can ask Marketing for surveys and their market research. But these ideas 3 ideas below are something your team can do by themselves:

1. Ask the customers on social media. A quick simple shout out on Facebook or Instagram, even in their own personal accounts, as individuals. People do love to engage with their brands and products, but they also love to be real and talk to other users. People’s natural state is to be helpful and converse. You and get many good insights from social if you are willing to try.

2. Invite the customer to come directly to your demo. And have the team and customers interact with each other and the product. Now, some teams mention how inaccessible the customer is from them sometimes. I think this is only partially true. There is almost always some way of gathering customer insights on a personal level and if you don’t believe it, wait for number 7.

3. Ask the customer to tell a story of a problem they solve with the product. Let me give you an example:

HelloFresh is a company that offers easy-to-make, fresh meals, with a menu and ingredients delivered to you in a box. There is no affiliation here, I just like their products! Most importantly, I hate grocery shopping! Yet, for myself, using their services is not just about cutting on the grocery shopping time. It’s more than that. Quite honestly, my days are so full of work and personal life that sometimes I don’t have time to think. You know: stop, think of a delish meal, then figure out what ingredients are needed? That to me is precious time! So, I pick up one of the bags and there they are, all the ingredients at once, a detailed menu. I read and I execute! Saving brainpower for later!

When HelloFresh asked people, they were able to create diet-type packages, such as keto or vegetarian, but also what they call Flash menus, which are 20 minutes prep time, as opposed to the usual 30 to 35 minutes. They noticed there were many customers who literally bought their packages for saving time: for those whose main problem is time. Specific problems help you connect with and understand VALUE for your customer.

OBSERVE the customer

There’s a lot we can do with what people say, but there’s value in considering that sometimes people don’t know logically what they would do. That would come out naturally if they were actually using the product. There is also the case where they say something but DO something else. So, it is interesting to observe the customer in action:

4. The first way is through observing people using the product. If it’s a physical product you can go to a store to see how people handle it. If it’s an online product, ask them to use it in front of you. Let them do their thing, don’t interrupt, or ask questions. Take notes. And only ask once the customers once they are done to avoid interfering with their experience.

5. Then there is the world of technology to help. The first is analytics, which is available to software products and all sorts of apps. There are many legal and ethical ways of detecting decision-making and patterns in the utilization of a product through click and mouse movements. And once you start slowly introducing those in the back-end of your product it is actually simple and it can be part of the normal workflow of development, just like reviews and testing. The key is to start and just focus on areas of your product, especially those features you want to understand better.

6. A/B testing is a technique that started in marketing, not in technology. And it is simple: create alternate ways of solving one problem and make them both available to a different random selection of customers and see how they respond. Do people prefer to click the button on the top of the screen or swipe left? Do people really prefer a video or a picture real on your menu? Just ask the question and collect the answers. The one with more engagement is the one that should stay.

DO. Be the customer

Finally, and that’s super important, most of us can be users of our own products. Are your team members using it?

7. Be a customer: use the product. Great ideas can come from that because living it is visceral. That great idea for a menu might now feel like rubbish when using it many times a day. If what your team develops is too complicated a product or you need clearance, you still can do it. Select some team members to live with the product for a week or at least a full day and collect all sorts of notes such as pain points, great moments, and a wish list of improvements.

What do you think?

So there you have it: 7 ways for the team to understand how clients use the product. Hopefully, you can take one or two and really have your team develop empathy for the customers and think like them when working on what’s next for the product.

Which of the seven ways do you think is accessible and interesting for your team to try right now? Is there another one you would think should have made the cut for this list?

Note: I have no affiliation or sponsorship with HelloFresh, I’m just a customer.

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