3 steps to use design thinking to build empathy with your customers

Design thinking is being applied to solve problems, discover creative solutions, and to evangelize customers. Learn how you can use it together with your quality management tools.

I always say that the most important part of your company are your customers, both internal (employees) and external (final customers). Why? Because they define the quality of a product or a service. Happy customers are repeated customers, and not only that, happy customers evangelize other potential customers for you. The problem is that quality not always mean happy customers. Usually it only means satisfied customers, people who get what they expect, but they are nt surprised enough as to evangelize others. That is because sometimes quality may focuses only on controls, and may lack empathy to the customer to get to know exactly what they need, even before they even know it.

“Clients are the owners of the present and the future of our companies” David Ruda, Naranja.

How to build empathy

Throught the years I have found that many new tech companies don’t use quality methods because they believe they are not agile enough. Still they need the costumer focus, discipline and standardization that quality brings. That’s why Ideo, company led by David Kelly and Tim Brown fixed the gap by starting to use quality tools like mindmapping, brainstorming, surveying and others together with tools from the world of design and shifted the focus to human behavior, so that these tools become more empathetic. In 2008 they developed Design thinking as a means to achieve an innovation strategy throughout the company.

What is Design thinking

Design thinking is a systematic and collaborative creative problem solving approach focusing on customer needs, getting information by direct observation, and testing it in a disciplined way. Similar to the Lean startup approach, the key is to fail fast and fail often. Even Toyota production system promotes investigating as many alternatives as possible, to dind the very best solution, and always urge to propose ideas and fail as fast as possible.

design thinking

The three main stages

1) Invent the future: With design thinking you should imagine what could be, in the ideal world, with limitless boundaries. You need to think what your customer may want but don’t know. The way to do that is by “Camping out” with your customers, like Home depot does. They talk to customers, ask how their experience was, ask questions like “did you find what you expected, what about the price, was it easy to find?” Sometimes a customer just want something fast, meaning buying a product in your website in just three clicks. That is what you need to discover through observation, what is “unstated”. Customer know they want to Get from a to b, but don’t know how. You need to find out the best way by immersing in their lives, observing and asking questions.

Ideas for product changes may be related to new products, pricing or new store displays.

2) Test ideas. You can do Mindmapping to write down ideas after observation, and then test those ideas. Do first individually, and then test it with your team mates or even with your customers. Remember, don’t judge, simply think and write down.

Once you have your ideas mapped, you need to conduct experiments to test the ideas in the real world. You can also test new processes that maybe faster, easier or

Use cheap materials, or partial solutions or Rapid prototyping tools. It does’t have to look perfect at first. The idea is to go fast, to be able to adjust fast.

3) Bring the new product to life. Identify resources and activities to implement the new ideas. Plan how to produce, distribute and sell the product or how to change the process.

Some Case studies

Design thinking can be used in any type of industry. A health provider for example used it to re-engineer nursing-staff shift changes . Close observation of actual shift changes, combined with brainstorming and rapid prototyping, produced new procedures that radically streamlined information exchange between shifts. The result was more time for nursing, better-informed patient care, and a happier nursing staff.

The Innova School System, for example, with 23 schools thus far, is applying design thinking across its platform, from how the classrooms are built to the curriculum. and the UK’s Design Policy Unit  as described in Tim Browns’s first article on Design Thinking for HBR.

Samsung Electronics manufactured inexpensive, imitative electronics for other companies. Its engineers built products to meet prescribed price and performance requirements. In a company that emphasized efficiency and engineering rigor, the designers had little status or influence. Then, in 1996, Lee Kun-Hee, the chairman of Samsung Group, frustrated by the company’s lack of innovation decided that in order to become a top brand, Samsung needed expertise in design, and set out to create a design-focused culture that would support world-class innovation. It took a long way until getting everyone in the company on-board, but they finally made it. Now Samsung innovation process begins with research conducted by multidisciplinary teams of designers, engineers, marketers, ethnographers, musicians, and writers who search for users’ unmet needs and identify cultural, technological, and economic trends. Design thinking for them means three major things: empathy, visualization, and experimentation in the marketplace.

Tech companies are using quality tools to organize their innovation cycles, likewise automotive, manufacturing, or even consulting industries more focused on standardization should start using quality together with design thinking so as to get a disciplined empathetic approach to customer requirements.

Are you ready?


Luciana Paulise

Founder & CEO Biztorming Training & Consulting


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