How Design Thinking Plays an Essential Role in Connecting Brands with their Customers

How Design Thinking plays a role in connecting with brands

Emotions are the driving force behind your customers’ decisions. Right from the decision to try you, buy more from you, talk positively about you, not switch to alternatives, to becoming a loyal customer who is willing to pay premium for your brand.

Design Thinking Plays an Essential Role

How then do brands understand and potentially influence these emotional decisions you ask?

We all know how we feel when we hear buzzwords like ‘customer emotion, design thinking, customer obsession, customer empathy’ right?

Tired. Worn out. Exhausted. And, all this while totally rolling your eyes 😀

But in fact, it’s everything we shouldn’t be feeling. We should be excited about applying time tested ways to build business success… design thinking. And, we should be eager to learn more. Not be overwhelmed and nearly buzzword-drunk by a term we still aren’t quite sure of, what it means, its purpose and especially the potential behind it.

When simplified, everyone feels like they are a design thinking expert. As you peel the layers of what it is to be a design thinker, you will understand the complexity and the journey that one needs to go on to truly embody design thinking. For most brands, getting the customer experience right looks easier than it is, and many of them believe they are already doing a good job. In our daily experience, however, we often see a large gap between the experience customers expect and what is actually delivered. But, why is this the case? What are the major challenges we are seeing out there today?

To connect with customers at an emotional level, brands need to go beyond customer satisfaction and fulfil customers’ deep unmet, often unspoken needs a.k.a. design thinking:

1. Build deep customer empathy – knowing customers better than they know themselves. Empathy is at the heart of awesome experiences. It allows us to put aside your biases and understand how customers experience things. This requires going out there and connecting with your customers. Building deep empathy leads to non-obvious insights, insights that inspire innovation.

2. Fall in love with your customers’ problem – being maniacally obsessed to determine and articulate the right problem(s) to solve. Customers often can’t articulate their problem(s) themselves! “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” ~ Steve Jobs

3. Go broad to explore multiple solutions before narrowing down to the best solution to the articulated problem. Allow wild ideas to challenge your teams, hold back on judgement. Combine ideas to build on them and narrow down to top ideas.

4. Have the humility to rapidly test solution(s) with real customer behaviour. Rapidly prototype and test in order to increase your chances of success. Identify key assumptions surrounding the idea and develop a rough, working prototype to explain your ideas and start to test them with customers. It is an iterative process of incorporating feedback and solidifying the solution while still keeping the customer at the heart of your solution.

Becoming a design thinker takes both practice and unlearning. It is about putting your biases aside to truly build customer empathy. It is about allowing yourself to dream before killing ideas that you think are not feasible. It is about having the humility to test your ideas with real customer behaviour.

“If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got.” ~ Henry Ford.

So, Brands, really look at your customer experience and be constructively dissatisfied. Identify gaps in your experience &/or customer knowledge and start by reaching out to your customers. Observe them in their own environment, build customer empathy, be curious and become maniacally obsessed about creating better brand experiences.

-The author is the Partner and CEO, Pensaar Design. Views expressed are personal.


Deepa Bachu

Deepa is the Partner and CEO of Pensaar, a Design Strategy and Innovation Consulting firm that uses the collaborative and human-centered design thinking approach to create experiences that will be awesome by design. She is a design and product leader who spent the last 20 years at large multinationals and Tech start-ups, leading their Design, Innovation, and Product Management functions.

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