Build Empathy to Avoid the Product Death Cycle

See if this is familiar to you:

  1. You have a hot idea for a new, pivot or redesigned or app
  2. You design and build it
  3. You launch it and it’s not nearly as successful as you thought it would be

You are not alone. We’ve seen this pattern play out again and again. And in all sizes and varieties of organizations — from Fortune 500s to startups, from government departments to small social enterprises.

What’s worse is that many people get stuck on step #3 and they get caught in “the Product Death Cycle“. New features get added, things get tweaked, More money gets spent. Sadly some people can get stuck in this spot for years. A lot of money gets wasted in the Product Death Cycle.

How can you avoid the Product Death Cycle? Build empathy with your customers through upfront user research. And I’m not talking about focus groups or sales pitches disguised as research. I’m also not talking about usability testing prototypes (although that’s a good thing to do a little later on). I’m talking about creating opportunities to observe behaviour and discover motivations and values.

You are likely very aware of Design Thinking. As a method for product development, it has proven to be very effective. And there is a reason it starts with empathy.

So what does building empathy or upfront user research look like? Much depends on the type of app, the customer of that app, what you already know, and where you are in your problem definition.

But it’s the outcome that you want to focus on here. Building empathy with your customers means moving from a customer definition that is demographics based (age, gender, income, preferences, brands) to one that is behaviour, motivation, and values-based. It means moving from understanding your customers as abstractions to knowing them as real people.

The magic of this kind of knowledge is that now you can design your product to really fit your customers. You can find ways to delight them.

Not sure what that feels like? Imagine you are invited to a dinner party and when you show up the host not only knows your food preferences, that you only drink red wine, that you only drink decaf coffee with oat milk, but also has seamlessly suggested a topic of conversation you find really engaging. Best dinner ever!

Imagine your customers having that same feeling towards your app.

Building empathy is an investment. Not only in your app and business success but in your customers’ success. When you invest in your customers, the returns are amazing.

Check out this HBR article on why design thinking is so effective.

Check out this article in Forbes for more on investing in your customers.