One of the biggest buzzwords in innovation today is empathy. If you aren’t able to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes then you won’t be able to innovate. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes this is really easy to do. Your life might be directly impacted by the product that you are designing or you might have come from the same industry so you can draw on previous experiences to channel your empathy. In other situations, you might not have any experiences to reflect on and it’s a little more difficult to gain empathy. To make matters more complicated everyone in a company has different levels of empathy for the end users of your product. This can create a big problem: How can you make sure that everyone who needs empathy for the end users’ of your product has it?

As far as who needs empathy for their end users, one could certainly make the case that everyone in the company needs empathy (which I agree with but won’t get into in this post). What I will say is at the very least,

Those designing the product should have a good sense of empathy if they want their product to connect with and be loved by those using it.

The problem arises when those involved in designing the product are so busy designing and working out the details that they don’t have any connection with the end user built into their everyday workflow. While those who have the most interactions with the customer are the ones who are invested in making sure that the customers are successfully using the product.

Because of this our product team set out to discover more about the end users. It’s important to point out here that we didn’t just want to learn more about them for the sake of learning more about them. We wanted to learn more about them through the lens of what new innovations can come from this process. We were specifically on the lookout for problems and pain points and not outcomes or competitive features that are already proven. We wanted to dive deep into their everyday workflow.

On paper this plan probably sounds like it’s going pretty well; however what we discovered what that it’s actually pretty difficult to learn more about your customers. The first point of difficulty had to do with proving that interviewing customers to learn more about them for the purpose of innovation was actually a worthwhile endeavor. How do you prove that these interviews will yield successful results? How do you prove that the product team talking with the customers is just as important as others in the company who are trying to help the customers be successful? How do you prove that these interviews will be worthwhile for the customers?

It turns out that it’s a chicken and an egg problem, you can’t prove any of these things until you start doing these things. And then even when you start, you won’t really know because it’s part of the discovery phase of design where you won’t know what you’re going to undercover or how that will impact your end design. Ugh this is tough y’all.

So what’s my conclusion from all of this?

That if we want any chance of having everyone in the company gain empathy for our customers that we need to integrate our efforts so that those involved in designing the product and those involved in making the product successful for the customers are empathizing at the same time. Next step: how to do that.