Putting the User at the Heart of Your Product

Many years ago my team was finishing up months of working on a new release. It would reshape the way our product worked and we were thrilled to finally get everything launched. Yet, despite all the cutting-edge technology and innovative design, something was missing that prevented the launch from being a full success. And that something turned out to be empathy.

This lead to a really deep learning experience where I started my journey to talk more with our customers, ask a lot more why, and ultimately move away from writing code to writing user stories.

Empathy might seem a little out of place amidst the world of code, algorithms, and data. It’s a human emotion, after all. However, in the realm of delivery successful product experiences, it is the thread that connects us to our users. It’s not about the fastest tech stack or the best design; it’s about understanding what our users need, what they feel, what they desire from our products.

But how do you weave empathy into the fabric of technology? It begins with cultivating an empathetic environment within the product team. And this doesn’t just happen overnight; it takes commitment. I’ve found that a key way to nurture empathy is by conducting user interviews and helping my team to follow the customer journey those users share. This helps us step into our users’ shoes, see a product from their perspective, and experience their triumphs and frustrations first hand.

Watch and listen as they describe using our product, making that post, which plan they need, and go record yourself doing the same thing. The insights gathered transformed the product development process in a profound way. Ticket discussions, months later, would reference interviews and engineers own first-hand experience.

Let me share another story just a bit later after our more difficult product launch. We were building a new feature aimed at simplifying the launch process of a marketing campaign. Some initial brainstorming thought that providing more customization options would be the key to success.

However, when we applied empathy, when we listened to our users, a different picture emerged. The users didn’t want more options; they wanted to understand and be confident in the campaign launching and working the way they thought it would. They wanted a clear picture of what would happen when they went live to their own customers. And so, we pivoted. We reduced complexity, added a way to easily preview and test their choices, and focused on delivering a more intuitive, less overwhelming user experience. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

And that’s the beauty of empathy in tech. When you create a product with empathy, you’re creating a product for your users – a product that speaks to them, that understands them. As we saw with our launch process feature, users appreciated the simplicity, and their engagement with our product increased significantly. It wasn’t just about solving a problem anymore, but about providing an experience that built trust, and made their lives easier. They needed confidence that they understood what would happen next.

This journey taught me and the team, that empathy is not just a feel-good buzzword. It’s a tool, a mindset, and a philosophy that can guide us in creating products that resonate with our users. It invites us to listen, understand, and then act.

In the end, it’s not just about the code we write or the designs we create. It’s about the people who use our products. And if we can understand them, if we can empathize with them, then we are on the right path to creating something truly meaningful.