Client Needs Should Spur Better Product Design and Services, by STANLEY GICHOBI

Posted in Research & Innovation

I was recently running late for a meeting, and did not have enough time for breakfast. I opted for a take away hot drink from a coffee shop in the CBD.

I went to a decent looking restaurant and bought a cup of coffee that was served in a paper cup. The beverage came very hot and when I held it, I burned my hands.

As I walked, I kept on moving the cup from one hand to another. Further, the lid could not cover the cup well. The coffee spilled on my hands and white canvas shoes. It was a horrible experience and I will never order takeaway food or beverages from that restaurant again.

I will also make sure I am always early enough to enjoy my breakfast at home.

The restaurant needed to utilise design thinking to determine their client's experience. Design thinking is one of the best processes that lead to innovation and creativity. It attempts to solve complex problems, resulting in better processes, products and services.

In my article last week in the Business Daily, "Focus on clients key to making quality products", I mentioned the three stages of the design thinking process that would ensure creation of better products or services accompanied with superior user experiences: empathy, experimentation, and launch.

This week let us dig deeper and uncover how the first stage— empathy—provides crucial clues on creating better products.

Empathy entails the ability to experience and relate to emotions, thoughts, and experience of others. It involves putting oneself in the other person's or people's shoes and viewing their world from their lenses. A powerful tool, empathy is used to draw real-world experiences to inform the solutions that are appropriate.

It was clear that the coffee shop did not see the world from my point of view. Their offering did not consider that their product was hot and that it could burn my hands.

In short, they lacked empathy.

Empathy leads to innovation

Extraordinary things can happen to an organisation when empathy for clients plays a key role in product design. If companies allow deep emotional understanding of people's needs, creative capacity for innovation is unlocked.

Empathic product design is a process that involves observation, data collection, and analysis, then iterative prototyping with the objective of creating a superior positive customer experience.

Essentially it moves you from offering basic value to offering value that delight clients. The restaurant was not empathic. They did not observe prior client interactions with take away coffee in a paper cup to notice the bad experiences.

Ethnography and journey mapping

The empathy stage utilises two powerful tools that can assist in deep client empathy: ethnography and journey mapping.

Ethnography is direct observation, recording and analysis of targeted participants in their natural environment as they interact with the product you are offering. Participants are identified then observed using videos and pictures.

Again from my story above, if that particular restaurant observed how people interacted with the take away coffee in a paper cup, they would notice people burning their hands, switching hands, spilling coffee through the ill-fitting lid, grumpy scowls on client faces, dumping half drunk coffee into garbage bins, and lack of repeat excited customers.

This would challenge them to find a more innovative way of offering the same product in a manner that enlivens clients. Then, take ethnography observations and code them into categories of what was witnessed. Unfortunately, most businesses just field an attitude "well customers are buying, so what is the big deal".

Next, journey mapping is a tool used to help product developers see what their customers truly desire. It maps out the real moments of truth and the ways in which customers go about achieving their needs.

The journey mapping tool helps in providing the intelligence in understanding clients underlying need, their pain points, and pain relievers. It is crucial to invest time in understanding the path a customer takes and the people and objects they interact with along the way.

This month I gave a lecture at USIU about design thinking. One of the student groups desired to launch a security firm. I applauded them for identifying a pain point on the minds of many Kenyans. However, when deriving solutions, they merely thought about standard ideas already flush in the market.

So together we mapped out an imaginary target client's home. We filled it with as many realistic details as possible, such as the average distance between the gate and the house, presence of dogs, plants, lights and cars.

I then took them through the development of a prospective daily diary of a target customer. What time do they wake up, leave the home, drive to work, stop along the way, come back home, etc. We then rated at which times the client might feel the most unsafe.

Empathetically, by far the highest rated time the students felt that the customer would be unsafe involved arriving outside the home's gate on the way back from work.

Students exploded with new ideas on how to address the previously unrealised customer pain point. Journey mapping unlocked creative empathetic solutions. When you try the tool in your own business, it will paint a clear customer experience in your mind as you develop products and services.

Empathy deepens understanding of the target client and provides deep insight into users' emotions, aspirations, and fears. Organisations can benefit immensely from critical clues on creating products with superior experiences.

Stanley is a User Experience (UX) Researcher & can be found on Twitter as @GichobiM.