“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing— building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.” –David M. Kelley
An insurance provider that caters to senior citizens was revamping its identification-card system. The thirty-something who oversaw the technical aspects of the project presented a new software system that integrated ordering physical cards with electronic card maintenance on a new smartphone app. Amidst the talk of efficiencies and cost savings, a customer service representative noticed that a function to order multiple physical cards had been dropped from the new software. When questioned, the project manager didn’t understand why anyone would want multiple physical cards. The customer service representative explained that many of their policyholders had multiple caregivers who rotated taking the policyholders to the doctor’s appointments. Multiple cards were ordered for emergency situations or as a convenience for each caregiver. The lack of a quantity order function would create inefficiencies for frontline staff and customers alike.
The project manager incredulously replied that “I’d just use the app,” and quashed bringing back the feature. Many seniors are wary of technology, and giving caregivers passwords to accounts that contain financial information is not always a safe alternative. While the new integrated card system was implemented per specifications, was the project manager successful? One could argue that in the efficient execution of her task, she had met her goal. However, the project manager was not guided by either the company’s core values or customer’s needs. In that respect, and certainly in my mind, the project manager underachieved. Empathetic design considers the users and customers and builds their natural inclinations, wishes, and desires into the design of the product or service.
How often do we lose touch with our end users or customers in a rush to achieve our goals? The next time you have a project, work backward from the end user’s perspective. Begin by asking, “How can this project or innovation enhance our customer’s experience?” and then merge your project’s goals with those answers. With the customers’ interests at heart, there’s really no way to lose.
Empathetic Design: Accelerators
- What assumptions have you made about your customers’ or stakeholders’ needs, wants, or natural inclinations?
- How might you go about validating or invalidating those assumptions? (Research the terms “Customer Discovery” or “Talking to Humans” for some ideas in this regard.)
- In what three areas might the process of “Customer Discovery” help you right now?
- Create a process and an action plan to test these three most significant assumptions under which you, your business, and/or your team have been operating.
Dr. Jeff D. Standridge is the best-selling author of “The Innovator’s Field Guide” and “The Top Performer’s Field Guide.” He serves as Managing Director for the Conductor and Innovation Junkie, and teaches in the College of Business at the University of Central Arkansas. Jeff helps organizations and their leaders generate sustained results in the areas of innovation, strategy, profit growth, organizational effectiveness and leadership. Learn more at InnovationJunkie.com.