Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their world view. This description sounds like it is the perfect tool to understanding your customers’ needs. However, how often is it used when you are thinking of new products for your customers or how to enhance their experience of your business? Here are 2 examples of how empathy has been used or could have been used to improve a customer’s experience:
1. The Incubator
In 2008 a team of researchers from Stanford University went to Nepal to attempt to solve their problem with high infant mortality. It was believed this is due to a lack of access to incubators.
At first glance it seems very straight forward, raise the finance to pay for the incubators. Job done. However, a more empathic approach revealed that there were other dimensions to the issue. Most of the children that would need incubator care won’t even be in a hospital, there won’t be access to electricity and the staff using them would not be trained sufficiently.
So in order for the project to be a success it was necessary to design a new kind of incubator. It would need to be easily transportable, would require no power and simple to operate.
They managed to create a newly designed incubator that could be produced for $25 instead of the usual $20,000. It didn’t look much like an incubator but it did the job. It was a lesson that empathy can ignite your creativity to solve problems in innovative ways.
2. ‘Squishy Grip’ ORAL B
Given the size of children’s hands in comparison to adults one would think that they would require a smaller grip on their toothbrush. This seems a perfectly logical conclusion with all things considered and it is how it has been with toothbrushes until very recently.
The thing that changed everything was that all this time the industry hadn’t noticed that children hold their toothbrush in a completely different way. Unlike adults who use their fingers, children use their whole hand to hold the brush. They make a fist to grip the handle. This means that it is actually better for them to have a fatter, softer handle. By looking a little closer at how children use toothbrushes, Oral B came up with a ‘squishy grip’. This makes it easier for them to handle and control thereby helping them clean their teeth better.
It took a long time for the industry to understand a child’s needs when it comes to toothbrushes. One simple fact heavily contributed to this fact and that is because those who make the brushes are not children themselves. There is a gap between the experiences of the creator and the unexpressed needs of the user. It served no purpose for the designers to imagine what would be best for them. They needed to shift their thinking and imagination to imagine what it would be to be unlike them.
So next time you are thinking of a new product or your customers’ experience do everything you can to live in their shoes. Try to imagine what it would be like to not be you, and live that experience the best way you can.
Stories sourced from: http://www.thebookoflife.org/innovation-empathy-and-introspection/