Empathy and design thinking as tools

WORKING during the Covid-19 pandemic and communicating with stakeholders made me experience firsthand the business world’s volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguousness. The extra challenge, along with other events that affected market demand, made doing business different but at the heart of it all lay a true asset: empathy.

Solving a business problem by proving value can be achieved through functional, emotional, life-changing or social impact means. The relevance in the value that should be delivered is assessed through constant communication with the customer and an understanding of needs and preferences that can be uncovered through empathy.

It is safe to deduce that empathy is one of the elements present in design thinking, which allows us to solve problems by seeking to understand customers better. This is done via challenging assumptions and redefining problems with the goal of crafting strategies and solutions that might not be present during initial levels of understanding.

The design thinking process mainly covers the following steps:

Understanding with a mindset of probing more and embracing the unknown. Prior research and a basic understanding of the client’s business is important to have a meaningful conversation but to serve them better, we should also make room for the unknown by looking at their current situation, any events that had an impact in their business, their challenges and goals. Our team in First Circle does this by allowing clients to freely talk about their business.

Defining the problem. From this point, we get to kick off and identify the main problem. Our solution is only hinged as an answer to the issues they aim to resolve. The First Circle team does this through the working capital we provide while also resolving the common issues of bridging the cash flow gap, financing expansion goals or finding new projects.

Ideating by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions. As an account manager, this stage is personally my favorite as this is when we try to come up with a solution that differs from the ones our clients are implementing. We do this by cross-comparing their experiences with competitors and trying to improve by providing a better customer experience in the form of added convenience, more time saved or fair pricing.

Prototyping solutions. The prototyping stage is the cumulation of insights gathered in the ideation stage with a focus on implementing solutions. This stage entails the actual creation of the product or service itself.

Testing. Seeing if the initial product or service works is essential. From here, iteration can happen based on the initial customer experience. Modification of the product or service can be based on feedback.

The process of design thinking is non-linear because in practice, small businesses only go back to certain steps when necessary. For instance, a bakery can conduct surveys to better understand customer preferences and then head directly to creating improved recipes or new products and launching these directly. A consultancy, meanwhile, can provide a client general advice. After initial implementation and analysis, they may uncover a better outlook and test another strategy to implement. In the implementation of design thinking, the importance of feedback through empathy and constant interaction with customers helps in achieving a better product-market fit.


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