How to develop better products and services for your clients

By 1 March 2022 No Comments

In the words of Steve Jobs “innovation is the only way to win” and understanding your clients’ needs and wants is fundamental to creating winning products and services. Design thinking, a customer centric methodology for innovating, asks one fundamental question that you need to answer in order to get this right and that is ‘Who needs a way to do what and why?’. Empathy mapping is a smart way for everyone in a business to get on the same page about who their customer(s) are, their needs, and wants in order to develop service propositions and processes tailored to the clients’ needs.  

Start with the Who

Who needs a way to do what and why?’.

In the example below we are looking at designing products and services for people who are retiring with assets of between £500k to £2 million.

Our goal is to understand our clients better. How do our clients think? What are they feeling? What are they saying? What are they doing? What are our clients trying to achieve? How can our product or service help clients achieve their goals? In every empathy map the client is centre stage.

Empathy mapping starts with identifying a ‘client avatar’. Let’s call her Ann.

Ann will be 60 in April. She is a widow with two financially independent children, David (32) and Carol (28). She’s is about to retire. Ann wants to continue to live in London after she retires. She owns her own two bedroom townhouse in Knightsbridge.  She has had a long and successful career in marketing and is looking at her nest egg (£2million) and wondering about her financial security in retirement.

Ann represents a persona/a client avatar. A persona is a fictional character that represents a typical user of our product or service but, not a specific person.

Customer Discovery

As part of the exercise of creating winning products and services for ‘Ann’ we start by asking ourselves the following questions: What is Ann thinking about her retirement and her financial needs? How is she feeling? What are her fears and desires? What is she saying about retiring? What is she doing about her retirement? What do others tell her about retirement? What does she hear on the news, other media and read in the newspapers? What is Ann trying to achieve now? How can our product or service help Ann? The idea of an empathy map is to plot this information, to glean insights about how our business can better service Ann’s needs and wants.

In advance of creating the empathy map for Ann, we would have gathered lots of information about female retirees and our exisiting clients that are ‘like Ann’. We would have asked them questions, observed them, surveyed them, studied their habits, listened to them, recorded which of our products and services they have chosen and why? Thanks to undertaking all of this research we would know what they think, how they feel, hear what they say, see what they do, and know what they want.  We would have a picture of our ‘Anns’, their desires and fears, their pains and gains (challenges and opportunities) related to retirement and financial products and services. Ultimately, we would know the answer to the key question of ‘Ann needs a way to do what and why?’. Using this information, we can then create winning products and services to meet Ann’s needs and deliver it in a way that works for her. Customer Discovery is a key pillar of design thinking.

Thanks to empathy mapping and putting ourselves in Ann’s shoes we can understand her better. Even more importantly, everyone in our business could know what Ann wants and cares about. We could speak about Ann’s preferences with authority. We would know the important elements of our products and services that Ann needs. For example, low risk, safe, conservative, modest gains, secure, confidential, trustworthy, competent, protective, listening, responsive, comfortable… whatever the list is.

We would also know the ‘job’ Ann is trying to do by hiring us and what Ann values as a client. In addition, we would know the unique selling points that attract people like Ann to choosing our services and feeling confident we are the safe pair of hands to entrust their £2 million nest eggs.

If we apply what we learn through the empathy mapping to designing our services and the way we deliver these to match Ann’s needs, everything that people like Ann will see, hear, say, think, do, and feel about the way we do business will re-enforce their desire to work with us.  

An empathy map is an invaluable tool in building innovative products and services. Depending on who you work with, you can have one or multiple personas in your firm. Each will need their own empathy map. Like Ann, you will need to know them well, their quirks and conundrums, to offer the exact product or service they need. As the result, they won’t be able to speak highly enough of you and your firm!

Now it’s your turn!

As Troy McConnell would say Act, Ask, Adapt:

  • Act: by creating an empathy map
  • Ask: your customer about what they need and care about
  • Adapt: your services and processes to meet your avatar’s needs

Create an empathy map for one of your client groups. Here is how to do this:

Step 1. Pick an avatar, the client group for whom you wish to design a great product or service. Add a nice picture of your avatar (in our examaple ‘Ann’, the retiring marketing executive).

Remember: an empathy map is designed for a specific ‘client avatar’. You can create multiple empathy maps, one for each avatar, to better understand your different client groups.

Step 2. Be clear about the purpose for this exercise, the who and the what. What problem is your product or service trying to solve and for which specific avatar? In the example above, we were looking at designing products and services for female clients who are retiring with assets of between £500k to £2 million.

Step 3. Decide how you will go about creating the empathy map e.g. on paper, whiteboard or online and set up the space and materials. There are many online tools that can help here e.g. Mural or Miro and many templates of empathy maps too.

Step 4. Pick a diverse, relevant and multidisciplinary team to generate the empathy map. The more diverse the team the better the map is likely to be as it will allow you to look at things form different pespectives.

Step 5. Gather together and share all the information you have about the avatar e.g. research, field studies, reports, files, interviews, surveys, business intelligence etc. To begin,  each team member should read all the information and individually write down on sticky notes what they know about what the avatar says, thinks, does and feels (in relation to the question that you are exploring e.g. products and services for retirement).

Step 6. Combine all the individual members’sticky notes and put them on an empathy map in the relevant quadrants (see image above for quadrants). As a team assess the sticky notes in each quadrant, one by one, quadrant by quadrant. Then, group the sticky notes by similar themes, and agreed a name for each of the groups. This discussion, collation, analysis, synthesis and naming creates a shared understanding of the avatar by the team and allows to identify:

  • If there are there any gaps in the teams’ knowledge about the avatar
  • If the empathy map reflects the organisation’s current view of the avatar
  • If the organisation’s products and services meet the needs of the avatar
  • What the avatar’s pinch points are
  • What challenges and opportunities exist for the organisation vis a vis the avatar based on the map
  • How the organisation can better tailor products and services that meet the avatar’s needs

Step 7. Draw up the team’s shared understanding of the avatar. Corroborate this view with actual clients and refine accordingly. Document areas for further research. Identify and document customers unmet needs (business opportunities). Document key drivers of customers’ behavior.

Step 8. Remember to put the insight to good use. Look at your service proposition and processes to evaluate if these reflect your avatar’s true needs and preferences.

Enjoy the customer discovery journey, like Troy you’ll be pleasantly surprised what new things will come of it.

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