Empathy doesn’t often take center stage when you’re focusing on your business strategy, but customer-centric design may just be the element you’re missing in order to attract and retain your desired customer base.
First, let’s take a moment to clarify what exactly empathy is. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes to experience what they might be thinking and feeling. When it comes to user experience, which is becoming increasingly important for every business, empathy is hugely important.
Think about all the frustration and wasted time that could be saved if business owners considered their customers’ experiences first and foremost, rather than looking at the product from a purely business-driven standpoint.
For years, businesses with any sort of online presence have been involved in an entirely different debate, allowing a strategy based around user empathy to fall by the wayside. For websites alone, countless new trends come up all the time, from strategic design thinking to mobile-first and more.
Some of these new styles stick and some do not, but perhaps the largest debate revolves around proclaiming the best strategy, a strategy “king” to enact in order to woo more potential customers. Historically, this debate has revolved around two different, but closely related areas: content vs design.
On the content side of the debate, proponents argue that content is king, and as long as you give your users something that is valuable to them, they will keep coming back for more.
On the other side of the debate are those who argue that design is king, not content. Proponents on the design side argue that although content is how you get traffic to your site, great design is what keeps customers engaged with your platform. Since you really only have about eight seconds to capture and keep your users’ attention when they land on your page, quality design is key.
This debate has never been settled, and both parties are still fiercely defending each way of thinking.
Because of all the resources that have been poured into this debate, many businesses have missed an important development. In today’s world, the real king involves a different priority. It’s time for businesses to set aside the content vs design debate and instead work to empathize with the users of their products. This new way of thinking, which the many well-established businesses are beginning to prioritize in droves, is known as customer-centric design.
What is Customer-Centric Design?
Sometimes called user-centric design, customer-centric design is the process of framing your product or service around the needs, wants, and limitations of end users – both in terms of design and quality of your product, service, or content. This means that your entire design and development process takes place with the user in mind, starting with step one.
Of course, a process likes this puts a lot of weight on designers, since it requires them to analyze how a user will interact with a product and test their assumptions at each and every stage of the process. Experienced UX designers will know how to implement design thinking from the start, but it can often require adjustments in product management techniques, since the end goal is to optimize the product around how users will actually be engaging with the product, instead of building a product that requires users to change their behavior to fit in with the product.
However, even if adopting customer-centric design means tweaking your current approach, reframing everything you do with your customers in mind can have huge gains for your bottom line.
Why Customer-Centric Design Matters
Thanks to the increased number of options and product alternatives that comes with the infinite expanse of the internet and other tech-related services, customer have more control than ever before.
If customers don’t like your product, it’s easy to simply perform a Google search and come up with ten different alternatives. This may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the state of customer power these days.
In an interview with UIE, content management expert Gerry McGovern, author of Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, states, “I’ve seen that customer focus is the essence of the web economy. The web changes the dynamics of the relationship between the organization and the customer. The customer is more empowered, more in control.
“Most organizations aren’t focusing enough on the customer. Their marketing material might talk about how important the customer is, but the culture of most companies is organization-centric – they focus on themselves,” McGovern continues. “The problem with this approach is that organization-centric websites fail. The customer-centric websites are the ones that succeed.”
All hope is not lost, as long as your business can focus on the customer’s experience while everyone else is still arguing in the corner about content vs design. And although you may have to change the way your team operates here and there, it really isn’t that hard to begin integrating customer-centric design into your business processes.
How to Prioritize Customer-Centric Design
To begin implementing customer-centric design, you have to know a thing or two about your customer. This should be obvious to anyone within your company, but to really implement customer-centric design, everyone on your team needs to be on the same page, including the developers and designers who are building your product or website.
First, begin by asking yourself who your customers are. You may think you know who you are targeting, but do you have the data to back that up? The days of operating on gut feel that isn’t grounded in data are long gone, since there is such a huge risk that comes with not knowing your user base.
Are your customers technologically savvy? Businesspeople or creatives? From America or mostly abroad? These are all things you really need to know in order to personalize your product or service and tailor to their actual needs.
Follow up by asking yourself about your customer’s goals. Forget for a minute the service you are trying to provide and think instead about what your customer is trying to achieve.
Are they trying to book a cruise? Then you probably don’t need to bombard them with hotel, airfare, and excursion packages all at the same time. As much as you may want to provide an all-in-one travel service website (for business purposes), this might not be exactly what your customer needs.
Instead of thinking about what you want to provide, narrow down one or two goals that you can help your users accomplish, and help them do so simply.
Finally, ask yourself how your customers are going to interact with your solution. When your customers use your product or service, what kind of environment are they in? Are they at home at their desktop computer or playing with their phone while commuting? Will they be in a family-friendly place or in an office board room? Are they using Windows or Mac?
These various aspects might seem insignificant, but they can really help you understand more about your user’s state of mind and the emotions they’ll be going through. Then, you can tailor your solution to fit into your user’s navigation process in that specific state, reducing their cognitive load and leaving them with the certainty that they want to come back for more.
Final Thoughts on Customer-Centric Design
Incorporating customer-centric design isn’t about overhauling your entire business strategy.
Rather, it’s simply about addressing the desires and needs of your end users, right from the beginning instead of during final testing stages. Customer-centric design is about practicing empathy and putting yourself in your clients’ shoes.
Sure, you want to make money, but your customer is also trying to get something meaningful accomplished from your business, so to ensure that you make money, you better guarantee that you give your customers an experience worth purchasing.
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