The acceleration of technology has directly influenced the digital customer’s behavioral patterns, driving enterprises to develop products and services that continue to meet constantly changing demand. Software companies and ISVs cannot afford to take a business-centric approach to push products into the market. It is imperative to fully integrate the customer into the design process and build systems that directly address consumer needs.

In an age of rapid acceleration and virtually endless and competing digital priorities for consumer attention, how will enterprises of the future design these systems?

Empathy is the ability to understand another person and his or her position—it is the key to designing and developing truly remarkable experiences. With empathy, experience design (XD) is not driven by the mind of a software developer, product manager, or business owner, but rather, by the customer.

Backward thinking
Most enterprise on-premises legacy systems that drive platforms and interfaces used by consumers today were installed at the turn of the century. These systems and their software required a great deal of investment in implementation and support—precluding the need or even the ability to replace it. Developers of these systems were focused on providing features and functionality over the customer experience. Customers were forced to learn and adapt to the technology, however cumbersome it proved to be.

With the rise of the on-demand customer, software companies and ISVs must adapt to their needs—and providing a high-quality user experience is imperative. Salesforce reports 76 percent of consumers expect businesses to understand their needs, and 67 percent are willing to pay more for a great experience.

Creating compelling experiences requires development teams to shift perspective and see through the customer’s eyes. Design thinking (DT) is an empathetic, human-centric methodology, allowing businesses to understand and conceptualize problems from the customer point of view. Experience design (XD) uses DT principles to create solution-driven user experiences, tested through an iterative process. By integrating the customer’s mental, emotional, behavioral, and environmental factors into the XD process, companies can create higher-quality software experiences and increase ROI.

For example, a software company wants to assist customers in home food delivery. DT methodology helps to step into the shoes of the customer to understand the problem from their perspective. Who are these customers and what are their needs? What are their technological capabilities? Collaborative ideation of DT process allows for a wider range of perspectives in finding the best solution and, for example, will take the customer’s requirements of easily and quickly finding, selecting, purchasing, and receiving food. The company can then use this information to ideate on the most fitting solution—in this case, the simple and accurate ordering of a wide variety of food items through multiple channels and with prompt delivery. An empathetic and iterative approach of such design process will help to create the ideal experience and means to enable this solution, integrating vendors, delivery services, and devices into the process. The company creates the application based on a thorough understanding of the customer’s preferences, and tests prototypes of this application with customers, applying feedback iteratively.

Empathy through collaboration
Design thinking uses an empathic and collaborative approach to gain a deep understanding of human problems and the current environment. Through empathy, businesses can create the look, feel, and use of a product from a customer point of view. By adopting a “beginner’s mindset,” software

designers, developers, and other stakeholders can perceive a situation with a fresh eye, without presumptions based on the past or conjectures about the future. The result is a higher quality product experience for the customer—and increased profitability for the business.

Empathy also increases team collaboration and retention by creating more meaningful work experiences for employees. By focusing on and caring about the customer’s needs, teams involved in the software’s product development are encouraged to work across departments for greater effectiveness. Stakeholders throughout the company should work collaboratively and transparently, sharing learnings to positively influence the process.

Experience design revolves around a customer focal point—not the designer, developer, or the business itself.

Finding and solving the root problem, rather than simply reacting to symptoms presented by the customer, must also drive the XD process. If a system is not customer-centric and fails to remove the cause of ongoing challenges, the design process has little chance of success.

Experience design identifies future state scenarios with experiential insight. Through internal and external focus groups and interviews, teams can increase perspective and garner new insights.

Development teams are challenged to adopt a beginner’s mindset, moving from “I know the methodology because I have created 100 similar applications,” to “I never created any tool for a particular group of people. I should understand the customer and their problems before constructing a solution.”

Empathetic questions to ask during the design process include: Does the product directly solve a customer problem? Does the performance meet a standard of excellence? What will be the customer learning curve? Is the product easy and simple to use?

These and many other questions must be answered in the empathetic design process. Qualitative and quantitative research is required to successfully uncover the answers.

Quantitative and qualitative research
Design and development teams must combine quantitative, data-driven research with qualitative user information in order to create a holistic understanding of the customer. Qualitative research in the context of experience design involves directly identifying key usability problems through field observations and first-hand customer feedback. Quantitative research is used to confirm if a hypothesis arrived at from qualitative research is valid.

Empathy mapping must be applied in qualitative research to gain a granular understanding of a user’s overall emotional state. For example: by mapping out user likes/dislikes/hopes/fears, businesses can create an empathy framework based on these key emotional dimensions. This knowledge can then be used to understand the user’s needs and from that understanding, create a solution to meet those needs.

Experience design: A case study
An example of how experience design can be effective can be found in the following issue plaguing a large retail chain: siloed management. This included 1,500 managers spread across the country who were managing locations in disparate silos, with widely varying communications, systems, and processes. The legacy approach to communicating a singular vision nationwide was facilitated via email.

The solution that fixed this root issue was to empower corporate leadership with greater visibility and proactive direction by allowing back-end designations of management requirements and desired outcomes. These presets ensured that flags were raised when issues arose, so that challenges were prioritized appropriately, and addressed efficiently.

In the end, each manager knew the process to follow when making decisions about budget, time, user needs, and the technology.

User experience design follows suit with the evolution of digital technology. Software development teams can implement empathy within experience design to understand end-user needs, and create a future state, and products and services to improve the process of getting there.