Why Agile Empathy is the Key to Better Customer Understanding

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When the ground shifts under your feet, how well does what you knew about your customers hold true? Is your organization nimble enough to get the answers you need in the timeframe you need it? In this time of the COVID-19 disruptions, in order for organizations to know how they can best support their customers, they need to better understand changing consumer needs and concerns.

Customer empathy has been a cornerstone of customer service organizations for years, but it often gets lost in the shuffle among marketing and product development teams with constant pressure to deliver. Yet nearly a decade after introducing the concept of Exposure Hours, Jared Spool continues to amass data showing that watching customers interact with your own and competitors’ products is the best way to improve the customer experience.

Why? Interacting with real customers challenges what you thought you knew. Seeing how your product fits into the larger context of your customer’s life builds empathy for what else they’re juggling and opens possibilities for connecting with them in a more meaningful way, especially as daily routines drastically shift due to the pandemic. That empathy smashes assumptions and cuts off costly back-and-forth conversations amongst creators and executives.

Getting to the root of why consumers make the decisions they do allows us to make more informed business decisions. The end result is that companies produce better products, and customers have a more positive experience. 

Agile Empathy Drives Personalization

The last few years have been all about personalization and 1:1 marketing. But in reality, we have simply been cutting customer groups into smaller and smaller personas and targeting messaging at more groups of people.

When marketers are expected to adapt to the rapidly changing realities of their customers, and those segments are getting more numerous, the traditional ways of getting in front of customers no longer cut it. Setting aside the current logistical and public health challenges of travel and in-person research, a more Agile approach is required to meet the needs of modern marketing organizations.

Agile, the buzzword many of us know today, started in 2001 in response to lengthy, failed software development projects that worked engineers to the bone and led to burnout and products that completely missed the mark. The principles remain relevant today in software development as well as in marketing, and deserve repeating.

Agile marketing teams value the following:

  • Quick iteration on concepts in the face of customer feedback, rather than sticking to the original plan
  • Finished products as the measure of success, rather than detailed project briefs and process
  • Empowering self-organizing teams to make decisions on the product rather than a top-down approach

Rapid, iterative feedback is only possible with a suite of tools designed and purpose-built for today’s distributed, fast-moving marketing departments. 

The Video Revolution

The rise of live, online video-based platforms couldn’t be more timely. These solutions enable marketing teams to connect with customers around the world for a fraction of the cost and time it normally takes to conduct such interviews. To achieve optimal customer-centricity, brands need to empower all stakeholders with the tools to make empathy actionable and global, at scale and in real-time. Live video-based platforms are providing new ways for brands to realize this vision.

Recruit from Anywhere

When you connect through online video, geographical barriers disappear. If your customers can get online, they can chat with you, which allows you to incorporate voices previously absent from your personal development and decision making. Advances in AI translation and integrated live human interpretation even remove the language barrier, making online video more effective than in-person conversations in complicated scenarios.

Because customers are so varied and cultural sensitivities are imperative for successful campaigns, the ability to connect with customers around the world gives marketing teams using live video a distinct advantage over traditional research methods.

Expand Internal Access

Agile marketing teams need to be able to communicate with customers whenever a question arises, not just a few times a year when someone organizes it for them. Live video platforms make it possible for employees throughout the organization to hear directly from real customers, record the conversation, and share it with colleagues for wider learnings.

What used to belong exclusively to research teams can now be scaled to immerse new hires in the brand, to help executives stay connected with customers, and to equip innovation teams with real-time feedback on new ideas. As exposure to customers increases, so does empathy, and decisions become not only faster, but better.

And the research teams that used to “own” the customer knowledge can scale their efforts to focus on driving research best practices rather than getting bogged down in logistics and operations. Their role becomes one of expert and consultant rather than worker bee.

Get Timely Feedback

Timely feedback is feedback received when the cost of change is low. Live video interviews can lower the overall cost of campaign and product development by infusing the process with customer input, in the concept development phase, in the sketching and collage phase, and to help determine which visuals are most compelling – before the media buys are made, not after. With interactive whiteboards, stimuli markup, and screen sharing, online video platforms make it possible to collaboratively evaluate ideas remotely.

Overcome Empathy Fatigue

Humans are reliably unable to empathize with large groups of people. Decades of research shows that we are able to care less about mass tragedy events than we care about single-victim events, something researcher Paul Slovic calls “psychic numbing.”

For marketers, this means it is paramount to connect 1:1 with customers to break through the fatigue and numbing that comes with considering the needs of a large cohort of customers. Though we must still consider sample size and statistical relevance, the voice of one may actually be more important than the voices of many because it is the one you can grasp and internalize. 

Empathy at Scale

Though communication is getting more effective and more targeted, staying on top of the changing habits, priorities, and preferences of customer segments is a constant challenge. Online video platforms that bring structure, security, and insights to the customer connection process are ideally suited for distributed marketing teams wanting to gather and share customer feedback in real time. This new way of working scales research efforts, extends customer closeness to new corners of the business, and empowers teams to create more successful new products and marketing campaigns in less time.

Key Takeaways

  1. Agile empathy is the key to personalizing the customer experience in the 21st century. Marketing teams embracing Agile focus on customer feedback, regular input, and empowering teams to make decisions.
  2. The most effective way to improve the customer experience is to watch your customers use your own and competitors’ products. Increasing your Exposure Hours to customers, an idea popularized by UX expert Jared Spool, is the best way to build empathy.
  3. Video technology has the power to enable brands and agencies to make customer-centric decisions by creating a rich connection, even at a distance. Improvements in the video experience make video the preferred way to run focus groups, even once social distancing requirements are relaxed.
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