Three Steps To Corporate Empathy

Understanding the end-user of your product or service, educating your project teams, and making sure employees are living the culture are paramount to achieving real customer-centricity.

Three Steps To Corporate Empathy

Being customer-centric is more than building the right design strategy, it means embedding empathy.

The question on everyone’s lips is: “How do you create better experiences for your customers?” There’s much talk of digital transformation and designing customer experiences. However, when you put technology in the driver’s seat, the customer is left in the passenger seat, and technically you cannot “design” an experience. You can, however, “design” your organisation, so when an interaction with a customer happens—the experience will be a positive one.

So, how do you make your organisation more customer-centric? The key is a two-pronged approach. The first is having a human-centric development process.

Customer-centric organisations have evolved their product development process to systematically include the human aspect alongside technology and commerce at every step. It’s not just about having an established customer experience design budget and running some projects here and there. It’s about using customer experience design strategically, on every project, and having customer experience present at board level. But this topic is well discussed, I want to focus more on the second, building your corporate empathy.

Equipping your employees with the knowledge and methods of customer understanding can be a real eye-opener. Many employees see that technology and marketing alone don’t cut it in the service economy and embrace new methods enthusiastically. This complements the development process and makes happier employees.

Three Steps To Building Corporate Empathy

The first step is building empathy for the end-user of your product, service, or experience. This is about working face to face with your customers. Forget focus groups—go into their homes! And make sure you prototype and iterate, fast. Whether it’s prototyping digital products or life-size cardboard pharmacies, don’t be afraid to make and build.

One such case study is for Finavia, Finland’s airport operator. Helsinki Airport is a popular transit airport, with around five million transit passengers a year. Finavia wanted to support Helsinki Airport in becoming the leading transfer airport of Northern Europe. They launched the globally unique TravelLab project, which involved service concepts being tested during the transfer experience.

They tested 12 different kinds of new service prototypes chosen from 200 improvement ideas gathered from passengers. They included pop-up yoga classes “YogaGate” and midsummer (a popular Finnish holiday) celebrations, as well as technical services, such as digital boards on the gate buses providing information on what to do at the airport. All were live prototypes, quickly set up and quickly changed if they weren’t working. Nine hundred passengers took part across 75 days.

During the process, TravelLab invited passengers to take an active part in designing better transfer experiences. What was really happening was an agile, human-centric process of service design and prototyping, and a large corporation openly taking part in co-creation.

The project was a huge success. Itwon two awards: first prize in the prestigious Best of the Year (Vuoden Huiput) design award in Finland and the global Service Design Award in New York from the leading institution for expertise in service design. Also, Helsinki Airport won an award as the best airport in Northern Europe, based on Skytrax’s international airport survey.

The second step is to educate your project teams. Build a training structure for your teams, get them to partake in empathetic activities such as role playing, and create ownership and skills. Hire a third party to help you with this if needed, or organise it with your internal training and development teams if they are equipped to do so.

The third step is for everyone. All employees must live the culture. I often say: “Eat your own dog food.” What do I mean by this? Well, if you work for a large telco, you never really have to experience what it’s like to get a phone contract or look at and understand your phone bill, you get a free phone and the bill is automatically paid. How can you understand your customers’ concerns if you don’t do what they do? You must experience what your customers experience. But also you must have empathy for each other. Organise cross-silo activities and events. Get to know each other and get out of your comfort zone!

When you’ve climbed these three steps, customer understanding and empathy will start to get into your company’s DNA. You will build sound understanding of customer experience—it will permeate from the leaders down and to the experience customers have with you. Positively.