The power of empathy in business

Over the course of the last three years we have immersed ourselves in an internally focussed ‘deep dive’ to understand what were the areas we were nailing and what were we struggling with. Typically a process like that can be confronting (lots of home truths and insecurities showing their ugly faces), but I have never been afraid to look failure directly in the eye - it gives me the opportunity to do things better, to correct course and to develop as a person.

With support from some clever external advisors, we used Dr Alexander Osterwalder’s Value Proposition Canvas to help us understand the synergy between our business offer and the needs of the market. The themes surrounding our customer’s needs, pain points and our value were all centralised around people. Sure, it isn’t rocket science to think that a service based B2B business would be focussed on people but as a design agency, the focus on people is stil one dimensional.

Introducing empathy. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for and in B2B this means focussing on people from 3 perspectives:

1. Clients (external)
2. Consumers (external)
3. Culture (internal)

1. Empathising with the needs of our clients
Whether we are engaging with a multi-national or an independent start-up, our clients are all people and our approach to each is this. Ask lots of questions (when appropriate). Seek to understand their needs and challenges. Learn to adapt to the individual nuances of each person based on their unique personality, and way of working. Having empathy for our clients enables us to tailor our approach and response to them specifically which ultimately means stronger more resilient relationships.

2. Empathising with the needs of the end-users (consumers)
Understanding the context of the audience is critical but it is important not to confuse empathy with emulation. We can seek to empathise with the end-user as much as is humanly possible but if we always produce design solutions that reflected what end-users told us they wanted, there is every real possibility that we would exist in a pretty ordinary civilisation lacking in innovation and creativity. People want to be inspired. People don’t always know what they want until they see it. I didn’t know I wanted Uber Eats until it arrived. I could never have anticipated that ice cream blended with my favourite biscuit was going to be my Friday night bliss moment. What is critical is using empathy to seek to understand context and behaviour and with that comes responsibility to anticipate unmet needs and to inspire behaviour changes.

3. Empathising with the needs of our internal people
Anyone who has a business or is in management understands that being responsible for growing and inspiring their team is by far the most difficult aspect of their job. Humans are complex characters with individual sets of biases, beliefs, experiences, needs and motivations. One of the things we value the most at The Edison Agency is the diversity of our people, their experiences and expertise. Practising empathy with each other as a behavioural driver is key to designing products, services, and experiences that help people understand themselves better.

Designing for the people, with the people means empathy-based solutions are at the heart of our business value.

If you want to understand more about how your business or brand can make better connections with people then get in touch.

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