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Empathy driven solution blueprinting: the important element in design thinking and human-centered design

Tuesday February 5, 2019, by Lakshmi Shastry

Enterprises are embracing digital technologies to propel business forward in multiple dimensions to enter new markets, create great customer experiences, drive efficiencies, and reduce costs. But sadly, many times innovation projects do not succeed, resulting in technology solutions failing to address the true needs – both explicit and implicit of end users.

And as many of us have experienced, the traditional approach to technology and the enterprise typically starts with a round of questions to the customer, revolving around costs, skill sets required and revenue impact, and from there, we start recommending technology solutions. Sound familiar?

This traditional approach brings me to one of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” I believe this statement holds true even more so today. We need to rethink our approach. Why? Because if we want to help leading enterprises create the best experiences for their customers, we must focus on more human-centric framework – and that means we need to move away from the single-minded thought process that the way to innovate and provide business value is to simply implement something new. Instead, we need to engage with empathy, which means we design for the customer experience first. Then, design contributes towards innovation and efficiency, providing enterprises with the most powerful, competitive edge.

Solutions must be designed to get the best out of technology and people to perform their job with simplicity, style, elegance, and empathy – that then transforms the behaviors and business models. To get there, we need to take the time to dig a little deeper and gain an understanding of the base-level triggers. We need to collaboratively approach the problem with various perspectives and determine the options to arrive at holistic design solutions to meet refined needs.

The first step in the design thinking process is to explore and gain a deep knowledge of the customer’s problems and uncover unarticulated needs. Empathy is crucial to business success, as it enables us to see, feel and experience the world through other people’s eyes. With this knowledge, we gain deeper insights into the needs and challenges involved rather than developing and implementing solutions in isolation.

For example, my colleagues and I worked with a customer who needed to update their 20-plus year old billing system. Their system was used by many business and IT users who had to manually maintain and update the application with information like business rules, taxes, and updated pricing calculations to customer profiles. The customer wanted to upgrade the whole system, but as we started to engage with various stakeholders, we gained a better understanding of what the individual users actually needed and wanted – and from what we discovered, those who used the billing system did not want a system that was overly different and complex.

The original task for us was to implement the latest technology available on the market. Instead, we built a custom solution that provided specific tools to construct numerous business rules, the ability to easily debug, and much needed visualization tools that the business users could easily view and understand.

We were successful in bringing together the right mix of applications, services capabilities and experts by using a technology agnostic approach, understanding the whole system and the big picture, asking questions that went beyond costs and resources, and taking into account many people’s view points. We had empathy for the end user. As a result, we were able to shift gears and provide the right solution for the company by creating an empathetic design that unlocked latent and obvious customer needs. In the end, we created a future proof solution that delighted the customer by satisfying all stakeholders’ needs.

No matter how cutting edge and futuristic the technology, the success or failure of a specific product or solution depends on unlocking value proposition for the end user. Does the technology solve any specific user needs? What are customer’s latent end goals? Why does a customer want change? Only by developing empathy and elevating our thinking can we create the right solutions that provide valuable, long-term results.

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