This era has been dubbed by many as the ‘age of the consumer’. Never before have end-users been so empowered. No longer passive observers, end-users are active participants who educate themselves about your products and services long before they engage with your organisation.

Google, Facebook and consumer online reviews sites have shown customers that when they speak organisations listen, or if they don’t the rest of the world does.

A classic example, now a part of internet folklore, is United Airlines. In 2008, Canadian musician Dave Carrol’s $3,500 Taylor guitar was severely damaged on a United Airlines flight. Carroll’s attempts to gain compensation from the airline were rejected for nine frustrating months. He wrote a song and put it on YouTube:

The outcome - Taylor Guitars offered Carroll two new guitars for his next video, the video has almost 18 million hits, Dave Carroll released a book, United Breaks Guitars: The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media and launched a career as a public speaker. As for United Airlines, within 4 weeks of the video being posted, stock price fell 10% costing stakeholders around $180 million in value. They eventually compensated Carroll $3000 but it was a case of too little and too late.

Richard Branson, setting the pace for user-centric innovation, takes a revolutionary approach, ‘We’re not scared of these complaints, although of course they can be uncomfortable. A complaint is a chance to turn a customer into a lifelong friend.’ 

He handled an online complaint about a questionable curry on a Virgin flight quite differently. 

Branson personally telephoned the author of the letter offering him a position on the advisory board for food for Virgin Atlantic, which he accepted.

Whilst these examples show the power of the consumer and the importance of responding to customer feedback, when it comes to innovation the key is more often in spotting problems before they turn into complaints or accusations. In fact, some of the greatest innovations have occurred before users have even acknowledged that a problem existed. For example, very few people were vocally dissatisfied with Walkmans and personal CD players, but the iPod made us realise how cumbersome and frustrating they were.

If an organisation is no longer connected to its customer, consumer or clientele it’s unlikely to understand what their problems are, let alone begin to genuinely solve them.

Knowing your end-user is essential to innovation.

Enter Design Thinking and more specifically, empathy and insight. What’s special about Design Thinking is that it follows a process that enables people to extract, learn and apply human-centred techniques to creatively identify and look at problems differently.

Empathy is at the core of Design Thinking, which means that the problem is constantly returned to, the user is consistently considered and the resulting solutions are intrinsically focussed on human need, rather than an idea.    

Click on the image for a printable PDF of the 4 Steps to End-User Empathy

Click on the image for a printable PDF of the 4 Steps to End-User Empathy

Anne Sweeney, President of Disney-ABC Television said, ‘I think we all realise that the consumer has taken control and they’re not giving it back’. She is right. People give their business to companies that solve their problems.

If you’re constantly asking Why (‘Why are my end-users behaving this way’, ‘What were they feeling that made them frown, smile, walk away, use the product differently from expected, log-off, tune out, stay engaged?' etc) and you’re persistently searching for genuine solutions to genuine problems that your competitors haven’t thought of, then your customers will reward you.


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