Empathy in the Age of Digital Transformation: Why asking the right questions is the skill of the future.
Here at Cogs, we strive to constantly improve ourselves and gain insight into the clients we work with on a daily basis. To achieve this, we invite industry thought leaders for lunch to discuss their journey and share insights into current trends and developments in their field. Cogs Crunch is a platform that we have developed which helps us improve our services not only by staying up to date and deepening our understanding of the speaker’s field of work, but also lets us pass this knowledge on to our clients and candidates.
Many of our clients at Cogs are currently facing challenges that come with the change processes associated with digital transformation. New technologies shape the tech and design talent that companies are looking for. Potential candidates need to think customer-centric and create engaging user experiences. But what are the skill sets needed to do so?
To get more insight into the change processes our clients are undergoing and what skills are needed for candidates to meet those changes, we invited Pia Betton, a partner at Edenspiekermann. Pia consults companies including Lego, Bang & Olufsen and Bosch on topics such as brand design, service design, and innovation. In her work, Pia uses Design Thinking as an approach to enable decision makers to break out of their daily mindset when it comes to innovation. The main question is not what can new technologies do for us, but what do the customers need? Design Thinking is about understanding people and their attitudes, behaviors and needs.
Pia’s approach is straightforward, yet nuanced and digs deeper into who we are as humans: “You have to understand who the customer is you’re designing for. You need human skills. You need real-life experience. What are people afraid of, what are their wishes and dreams?” In the past, strategic decisions were often based on hard numbers, without asking why customers make the decisions they make. To understand what motivates them, Pia highlights one skill as essential: empathy.What does using empathy look like in practice in a design thinking context?
Using the example of a shoe company, who hired Edenspiekermann to update their shopping experience, Pia explains the basics of Design Thinking. Her team usually starts by conducting research to figure out what the customers’ attitudes and motivations are. Through workshops and interviews, they define personas – fictional characters that represent user types with similar characteristics in terms of experiences, goals, and needs. Personas can often be very detailed and include emotional needs of the customers, their values, lifestyle, and decision making, which helps to visualize them. Using empathy is important to find who you are designing for, even if this person is drastically different from your own self. Using these personas, Pia and her team are then able to ideate and prototype strategies for new shopping experiences, putting themselves into their customers’ shoes, literally and metaphorically.
Pia emphasizes the importance of having conducted first-hand interviews: “By talking to people – your friends or your neighborhood – interesting conversations start to happen. You start to understand other people’s’ perspectives. When you see numbers on a slide, 20% think so and 40% think so, you think: ‘Have I ever met a person like this?’ But if it’s your own neighbor, it becomes concrete and relatable.”
Jan Pautsch, Associate Director at Cogs Berlin, sees many parallels to this with his work at Cogs: “We often have to cut through a lot of clutter. We can get generic briefings, like: ‘We need a digital transformation consultant.’ It is then our task to translate these needs to the marketplace and into skill sets of our candidates. Our task is to help our client to define what kind of person they are looking for. Here we rely heavily on empathy as well.”Asking the right – seemingly “stupid” – questions and defining shared vocabulary.
In our discussion with Pia, we found several aspects of our work at Cogs that show a clear overlap. Both Cogs and Edenspiekermann are problem solvers. But to be able to come up with meaningful solutions, you have to understand and clearly define the problem at hand. And you do that by asking the right questions.
“As service providers,” Pia says, “we assume our clients know what they want. But how well do they really know their business and their customers? One thing I always try to do is to ask stupid questions because they make people think: Well, it’s a stupid question, but actually… I’ve never thought about it.”
Creating a shared understanding is a prerequisite for fruitful collaboration. Kimberly Bohle, Associate Director at Cogs Berlin, stresses the importance of a common vocabulary to understand the questions her clients need to solve: “Companies approach us, saying for example that they need a UX expert. We have learned to clarify the question in the foreground: What does UX mean to you? What is it that you really need and what is this person going to achieve for you? Even if it sounds like a stupid question in the beginning, sharing a vocabulary is essential for our work.” It is not only important to understand the individual, but also the context in which they operate, in order to understand their needs and to find the right solution.
With new technologies transforming the way we do business, creating products and services, and interacting with people, human skills are sought after more than ever. Hearing the echo of your users’ needs reflected in your approach through empathy and a shared understanding is and will continue to be crucial when designing the future.