By Richard Gilman, is Senior Consultant at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development
What he said was, “We’re all Millennials these days”. Like most brilliant observations, it seemed really obvious once he’d said it.
We’d been talking about how “Millennials” had very high expectations of every company and every product or service that they use – and zero tolerance for anything that is hard to use or deal with. Everything must be simple, easy to use, and right first time. Ideally, experiences should be personalised and deeply authentic. I now realise that I have those same expectations too, although I’m definitely not a Millennial by age. I didn’t used to be like this. Like most grumpy and cynical Gen Xers I used to just accept that pretty much all companies were awful to deal with and most products were hard to use. Sure, I’d complain to my friends and colleagues but I’d still put up with it on the understanding that things were probably as good as they could be.
Now, like everyone else, I’ve changed. These days there are many fantastic companies who offer incredible service with personalised experiences and solutions, intuitive interfaces, and who just make everything so easy that it’s a pleasure to deal with them. Companies across all industries from Amazon to Marriott and from Lyft to Zara have to transform the customer experience and raise everyone’s expectations.
This is all great when you’re the customer, but the flip side is that it also creates a new challenge for us all when we’re at work and in the role of “service provider” for our customers. We must all now face the challenge of meeting the increased expectations of our customers. So how do you do it?
When you look at the companies that have reset our expectations, which created this culture of utility, ease and convenience, they have one critical commonality – they all use design thinking. This is the process and mindset of humancentred design that places your customer at the heart of what you do through deep and genuine empathy.
The literal heart of the process is in understanding the problem through empathising with customers. This means going out and watching people using the products or services or tackling the issues that you’re interested in fixing – living in their shoes, and seeing through their eyes. This process is so powerful because people aren’t very good at telling you what they need but they’re really good at showing you if you know how to look.
A great example of empathy comes from the children’s toothbrush developed by OralB. Historically toothbrushes for children were just smaller versions of adult brushes. It seems logical right? Children are just small adults so just use the same design but smaller. OralB hired design thinkers to physically go into people’s homes and watch how children brushed their teeth. Guess what? Everyone was wrong. Children hold the brush differently in their hand, they have a higher grip, they found it hard to grip the traditional thin brush so it slipped and twisted, and they even punched themselves in the mouth using it.
They then brainstormed around this insight and tested new solutions until they came up with the thickhandled “squishy” textured toothbrushes that children use today. This is a great solution that came from true empathy with the customers, a genuine desire to understand their world and its challenges – and find a solution.
Whether it’s buying a book, finding an authentic holiday experience, getting a ride home, or brushing your child’s teeth, delivering exceptional customer experiences starts with a genuine desire to make your customer’s life better.
It’s because many businesses have this attitude that all of our lives have got better in recent years to the point that we all expect to find it everywhere. If that’s going to work, we all need to get on board and learn how to genuinely empathise with our customers too.