Empathy Improves Product and Service Development by Clarifying Their Impact In Real-Life Contexts
Have you ever had the experience of stepping back to recall some chapter in your life (i.e. in terms of what you’ve done, accomplished or been through) and discovering broader universal insights? It’s quite funny how wisdom and knowledge sometimes have a funny way of weaving a common message thread through our own stories. With this in mind, one of the ways you can really start to feel a genuine sense of appreciation for your own journey is by seeking and growing from the inherent lessons within them.
Recently, the discoveries and insights of my colleagues and I were published by JAAD in an article called, Selection criteria and techniques for improved cosmesis and predictable outcomes in laser hair removal treatment of acne keloidalis nuchae.
Upon a simple first glance of the title, you may get the impression that the subject matter deals with the technicalities of a medical topic that seems rather foreign or obscure. But surprisingly, the experiences and recommendations discussed actually touch upon rather important principles in the development of products and services in general.
Product and Service Development in Terms of Real-Life Contexts
Across the board, any type of business offering is created to fulfill a specific need or to solve a particular problem. In many cases, this is accomplished in an exceedingly linear, cut and dry fashion, getting from point A to point, period.
But a critical factor that is often overlooked is the larger context of how a product or the end result of a service actually impacts the real-life context of the customer.
An Illustration of Empathetic Considerations in the Improvement of AKN Laser Treatment
Now, going back to the JAAD publication on Acne Keloidalis Nuchae, AKN typically manifests as small bumps, much like pimples, in men of color, on the back of the head. When it is left untreated, these lesions will join together into a larger, fused mass of tissue.
During its earlier stages, when the AKN is still in the form of small bumps, certain patients may be eligible to benefit from the use of laser which works to remove the hair which triggers the condition and destroy the follicle’s ability to produce new forms of growth.
While these measures favor a very good chance that the small bumps will flatten, common laser treatment approaches leave yet another problem. Most of the time, the laser is used to just treat the bumps themselves. This, however, leaves small empty bald patches on the back of the head. Even if the patient chooses to keep their hair closely shaved, the areas marked by treatment are still visible.
The overall satisfaction level with the end results becomes less-than-optimal, since many people would rather be left with a more natural-looking outcome, and not have to worry about other people noticing the holes left by the laser.
Within our own publication, we propose a comprehensive approach comprised of several recommendations. One of these has to do with raising and reshaping the posterior hairline so that it resides entirely above a bare treatment zone where both the bumps and surrounding hair have been permanently eradicated.
When the laser is permanently applied to address the surrounding hair follicles (not just the ones directly beneath the bumps), this eliminates the chances of recurrence.
Instead of being left with a straight, patchy looking appearance, patient cases with AKN bumps concentrated in the nape area, can instead have a more normal-looking, cohesive body of hair and not feel like they have to stand out in any way. They can continue onward with the rest of their lives and leave their AKN experience behind them.
Many of the AKN patients I have treated tell me that living with their condition has caused them to withdraw and isolate themselves socially. They also resort to wearing their hair long to hide the bumps, even though they would much rather sport a short, conservative, timeless hairstyle like everyone else.
Feeling extremely embarrassed by their condition these men have also told me that they would rather cut their own hair instead of going to an actual barber.
A normal appearance on the back of the head helps these individuals regain their sense of fitting in with others. The beauty of applying laser through application zones is that patients can feel like they truly have their lives back with renewed dignity and confidence.
The Significance of Empathy Across General Product and Service Development
The importance of considering the whole context of how a product or service will affect the day to day lives of customers is vital, not something to overlook or underestimate.
When working to deliver better value, the focus should not be so much for your sake, but the rewarding experience of improving life for the person who has chosen what you offer. Protopypr.io, a design specialist brand, makes the point that, “A successful product [ or service ] should do the job of bridging the gap between a person’s current self and their projected image of their future self.”
This overall perspective in mind will guide you to attain higher quality insights for moving the existing version of your product or service forward.
Here is another key to keep in mind. Striving to fulfill a need requires the consideration of three important factors, according to the Pragmatic Institute, an authority on helping companies develop and market products that have strong demand. These include:
- the benefit
2. the customer who wants the benefit
3. the situational context
Although applying the laser exclusively to each AKN bump helps to resolve them, this approach could certainly be improved upon by considering the bigger, real-life picture of the end results and revising the regions of application.
How Empathy Empowers Better Thinking
A study by the University of Connecticut examined the role of emotion in creativity. Participants were asked, what type of pototo chip would they create and what they would name it if they could only sell it to pregnant women.
Half of the subjects were simply given these questions to answer. The other half was asked to imagine how customers would feel while eating their chips.
The best ideas came from the second group who considered the feelings of the customer.
According to Kelly Herd, the marketing professor who led this study, “We’ve shown that empathy can change the way in which you think. We’ve looked at it in a somewhat narrow context of product design, but it appears that subtle things, such as imagining how someone else would feel can have a huge impact on creativity in general.”
The researchers also concluded that a connection which is more emotional in nature leads to cognitive flexibility.
In other words, focusing on how others feel opens up a wider range of thought processes which bring new issues to light from diverse or alternate perspectives.
The inclusion of empathy and insights based on the consumer’s perspective has created a rather widespread shift towards a more customer-centric basis for product and service development.
Starbucks, for example, has instituted programs to collect customer insights and recommendations before investing in the development of new products. This lead to the birth of Frappucino Happy Hour, cake pops and mobile-payment drive-throughs available at most local Starbucks stores.
But perhaps it would be even more meaningful to think of any brand, product, service or store experience where you really felt like your wants and needs were truly understood by people who knew your thoughts and feelings before you even did. The little extras that were put in place mean something to you and become hard to forget or dismiss. By appreciating what it is like to receive and benefit from empathic considerations, we can then feel inspired to extend our ability to give in this manner to others as well.
In our school years, many of us were taught to just get the right answers through existing models, such as math formulas, and by remembering what we have read. With the standards of general education curriculum, there is not much room or reward for imagining how someone else feels. So, for many of us, we regarded our inborn capacity for constructive empathy as unnecessary or frivolous. In many cases, it either atrophies or goes unrealized.
Empathy, however, is necessary for improving the way we connect to others in the world around us. It is not just reserved for friendships, family and parenting, but also business success.
When expressed through positive, constructive actions, empathy carries far more value than most of us have previously realized. It is not just a nicety. Whether empathy is cultivated and honed for our profession, our personal life, or both, it deserves far more attention than it has in the past, with its potential to make life better on many fronts.