Use Empathy During Product and Service Design to Solve Your Customers’ Actual Problems

May 16, 2019 | Marketing Services

Simple, beautiful, natural, and purposeful are commonalities shared among great products and services—what about empathy?

You may have several of the aforementioned great products or services. However, what do you do when your best ideas fail? You created an excellent product or service, and it worked for a while, but you didn’t plan for failure. Was your product or service too expensive? Maybe you didn’t innovate enough? Most importantly, did you fail to listen to your customers?

It may seem like your product or service has been misaligned with what customers want, and that’s where the power of empathy shines. With empathy, brands can get insight and inspiration to solve the real problems their customers face.

What is Empathy in Product or Service Design?

Empathy in product development is when brands gain data on the customer’s journey, connect with the end user of their products or services, and genuinely feel their dissatisfaction or joy. When you can see yourself through the eyes of your customers, you can understand their actual needs. After all, you are designing products/services that solve real problems.

At One10, during the empathy stage (and the design process as a whole), our focus is on asking questions instead of making assumptions about why things are the way they are. During this discovery phase, we seek to understand what the actual problem to solve is — and that your solution is solving it for the right users. We do this through multiple techniques and tactics, but the five steps below are where you can start in establishing the real problem—and then the perfect solution.

1. Observe and listen in context

Watch a customer interact with your product or service in their natural environment. Ask a person with arthritis to open a pill bottle. Watch their interactions and struggles, and record their verbal responses. Watching an individual in their environment can fill in the gaps where your product or service is lacking.

2. Look toward the extremes

Connect with your super users and nonusers. Ask why and how you can make the experiences better for them. Ask the super users why they are passionate about your product. Ask the naysayers why they don’t use your product. It could be a bad experience has jaded them and that is your opportunity to solve a real problem.

3. Explore similar experiences

Sometimes looking at similar experiences can change the perspective. How are self-driving cars different than tandem bicycles? We can clearly say that one has a motor and the other has two individuals pedaling together, but maybe there is more. With tandem bicycles, the rider in front’s role is to watch for obstacles and call out safety responses for dangers. The rear rider is in charge of safety and communication for threats behind the bicycle. The two ends need to communicate and continuously be cautious, just like a self-driving car.

4. Immerse yourself

Take firsthand notes and record your experiences with your product or service. Maybe your customer service is getting negative reviews, so try putting yourself into the problem. Record your interactions with the service agent and, perhaps, you can personally experience the trouble and find an opportunity to correct the issue.

5. Observe your surroundings

Sometimes we don’t need to search out problems that exist; but instead, try looking around your environment and see what already exists. Maybe customers struggle because your retail or digital store layout is confusing. Perhaps the prices on your products are not clearly labeled. Sometimes the problem has been right in front of you the whole time.
After observing, listening, and researching your customer, it is time to integrate your findings and define your problem statement. You can do this by comparing your findings against each other and distinguishing contrasts in your results. Abstract those contrasts and critically evaluate and interpret them so you can create conclusions about your product or service.

Now that we’ve broken down your findings, we can form your problem statement. Your problem statement should be action-oriented and create a sense of possibility, optimism, and serve as a base for your team members to spark ideas off in an ideation session.

If you are struggling to create a problem statement, try a simple point of view framework. Imagine your task is changing the experience children have during an airplane safety talk.

Empathy in Product Design

Children on airplanes need to be entertained during the airline’s safety speech because studies have found that gamification and engaging users lead to higher retention of information in children.

The final step to correctly solve your real problems is to open up your problem statement to allow for ideas. Using the How Might We (HMW) questions will enable us to provide a wide range of solutions but is still narrow enough that you can create specific answers. Your How Might We questions should develop from the observations you made in your empathy stage. We can use our problem statement example to create some How Might We questions.

  • How Might We separate children from the standard airline safety speech?
  • How Might We integrate technology with a child when learning about safety on a flight?
  • How Might We make the airline’s safety speech the most exciting part of a child’s airplane ride?

Now that you have begun to truly understand your customer and have drafted your problem statement, you are ready to start generating ideas to solve for the real problems. If your business struggles to identify the right issues or you want more information on the importance of empathy and how it can lead to marketing success, contact One10 today.

Jason Lenard

Jason Lenard

Jason has more than 22 years of marketing experience – with 20 years at One10 or its prior iterations. Currently the Senior Director of Strategy at One10, his past includes leadership roles from Account Director to Associate Creative Director, which allows him to provide a unique, comprehensive perspective on business challenges. He is responsible for unlocking customer insights, facilitating ideation and driving innovation at One10 and with clients.