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Inside the mind of a user: integrating user empathy with product design

Bhavishya Garg
28th Dec 2016
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“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all”

- Michael LeBoeuf, business author and ex-management professor

A plethora of metrics, analytics and strategies have invaded the closed confines of boardroom discussions in organisations today. As companies fret over pie charts, bar graphs and ratios, the essence of business, i.e. user empathy, is somewhere getting lost in the din of figures and spreadsheets. Jeff Bezos, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Amazon, says, “We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” The fundamental aspect of a business, i.e., serving the customer, has not, and will not change, whether you are the startup of the millennium or a mom-and-pop store.

Credits : Shutterstock
Credits : Shutterstock

This is where user empathy comes into the picture. To bring the focus back to the end user, to understand the intricacies of what drives a user to buy your product, to feel the emotions a user goes through while looking for a particular product.

Stage 1: Begin with user research

On the face of it, analysing a user sounds easy. However, asking purposeful, open-ended questions and instilling confidence in users simultaneously is no mean feat. There are various ways to collect information that will help you understand your users.

One to one interview - An in-depth discussion where users can express their desires, beliefs, fears and experiences freely. Listening intently is the key to tapping the full benefits of this method. This phase need not have any mention of the product.

Contextual enquiries - It involves meeting users in their natural environment where they actually use the product or service in question. Having a conversation in a space that is familiar to the user helps them open up.

Focus groups - The presence of many users and multiple feedbacks helps to evaluate the product exhaustively. Furthermore, focus groups, which are invariably selected from target audiences, often yield interesting insights for a product or service, adding to its features.

Usability study - Users are provided with a set of situations that involves the sample product. This exercise is undertaken to gauge the complications that may arise while trying to use the product.

Stage 2: Creating user persona

Having interacted with your user base, you can create fictional character(s) and then segment the entire user base into the type of character that is closest to a user’s nature. Parameters such as user goals, their desires, current behaviour and pain points are helpful to identify and segregate them accordingly. This kind of segmentation helps to have one representation for a group of target audience, which significantly eases work discussions and enhances intra-business communication.

Stage 3: Interpreting the information obtained

Accessing the users’ mind- the CESS method

In order to interpret the collected information, we have created a first-of-its-kind structured approach called CESS, which can be instrumental in taking business decisions. The framework has been designed by combining multiple marketing principles. It provides an incisive break-up of the different levels a marketer needs to go through before realising the complete User Empathy Cycle.

CESS method constitutes four states - Current State, Emotional State, Situation and Status (CESS). These four states or factors together comprise the complete thought process of a user while engaging with a product.

Current state- It deals with the pre and post-state of a user, analyses user’s interaction with the product. For instance, if a person was looking for a home in a specific area before visiting a particular website or app, the after state should desirably be that he/she has chosen a home or, at the very least, obtained substantial information regarding that query.

Emotional State- As the name suggests, this state deals more with the feelings of the individual. What are the emotional changes that the user experienced after buying the product? Was it a state of contentment, or are there still nagging doubts? These questions help to understand the post-sale state of customer better and are one of the most significant parameters to be evaluated if an organisation wants to enhance the number of repeat customers.

Situation- This state deals with identifying the changes that the product brought in the user’s life. For a product to be successful, the post-purchase life of a user should experience significant improvement, at least in the scenario(s) where the product is involved.

Status- A feeling of accomplishment, according to Abraham Maslow’s Need Hierarchy theory, tops the charts of a person’s desire. A product is said to be optimally successful if it is able to bring such a feeling to the user.

The importance of user empathy as a tool for better product or service development cannot be reiterated enough. Understanding the perspective of a user is necessary to create products that are better suited, sustainable and appealing to consumers in the long run. In the race to deploy better technology or aggressive marketing campaigns, connecting directly with the end user by empathising with them is essential if a business intends to break the clutter.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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