Discovering opportunities to meet your customer’s needs in adverse and uncertain times
In uncertain times, it can be hard to focus. Hard to focus on doing the right thing for your organisation and the needs of your customers. That’s no more true than the times we find ourselves in now, overcoming the impact of and measures taken to combat the current coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19. When the status quo is dynamic and continually on the change, there’s little point planning too far ahead.
This article takes a look at tools you might use to navigate your small business, enterprise, school, community group — in fact any type of organisation — through times of uncertainty. A guide you and your teams can use to make brave but smart decisions, and put you in control of sustainable activity that can survive any level of adversity.
A lot of what we do to discover the right things to create for our customers and the businesses we serve, centres on using tools such as design thinking. Design thinking offers a solution to help organisations, of any shape and size, navigate uncertainty & dig deep for opportunities, digital or otherwise.
So how can design thinking help you and your organisation ?
Design thinking is extremely powerful at tackling ill defined or unknown problems.
It starts with understanding your customers first, the problems they have and the goal you want to address. If we don’t understand our customers, the problems they have and what they want to achieve, how on earth can we as a business identify ways to solve their problems?
Now, I’m going to take it for granted that you know your customers in at least some respect already. But how well do you know your customers and their needs when your normal relationship with them has been turned upside down ? That’s a lot more difficult I’d say.
Your customers will be finding it hard to engage with your product or services in these unprecedented times. Maybe they’re self isolating or physically distancing and can’t get to you, or your services are being affected through limited access or forced closure, or the components you need to sell your product are in short supply and being outstripped by demand ten-fold, driving up costs.
Not forgetting your staff, partners, suppliers and contractors. These are all groups of people you might find ways to support better or differently, through challenging times.
There are four paths that can be taken now :
1. Focus on your current customers, understand their emerging problems in accessing your current product, service or offering and work towards solving them;
- You might run a local shop, your customers can no longer visit your physical store to buy from you.
- What ways could you still make your products available to them ?
2. Understand the unmet demands from your current customers that you previously hadn’t known existed, and satisfy those;
- Perhaps your customers enjoyed your locally produced gin previously, but what they really need now, is a convenient way to keep their hands clean.
- Could you change your production line to produce a hand sanitiser instead ?
3. Identify and understand a new set of customers, and their problems, and craft solutions for those with reimagined solutions from your business’ current armoury and resources.
- Perhaps you are a michelin star restaurant serving the finest food to your clientele, but you have identified a local community group that can no longer serve meals on wheels.
- How could you help them and their customers stay fit and healthy ?
4. Reimagine any one of the above in the context of your staff, partners, suppliers, contractors
Many of the paths above are already being put in place by forward thinking and innovative organisations like yours. Perhaps there are more scenarios you can think of?
Through the use of some simple skills and techniques, you’ll find new ways to better understand your customers, satisfy their existing, emerging and unmet needs, and identify new opportunities that result in you and your customers ability to thrive and survive — together.
For simplicity, the remainder will treat the following to mean :
– Organisation : Your small business, community group, school, enterprise — any commercial or non-commercial organisation that you are part of
– Customer : Your traditional customers, that buy or receive your products or service. As well as your staff, partners, suppliers or contractors that perform key roles within and around your organisation
So what are the principles to follow when design thinking your way through uncertainty?
Design thinking encourages us to think about the human first. It’s often referred to as a human-centred design technique. We want to search for innovative ways to overcome the problems our customers or users have — Problem Focused, Solution Oriented.
Innovation through experimentation
We’re out to discover what our customers really want, how our organisation can deliver it and do it as quickly as possible in order to learn, improve and delight your customers over and over again.
Running experiments builds a body of evidence, in an efficient and relatively cheap way. Through this experimentation we can increase our confidence in knowing what our customers want from us.
– We want to reduce the risk and uncertainty that a product, idea, service or indeed business, will fail
– Incrementally increase our confidence, over time, by testing ideas directly with users of our product or service
– Generate evidence, and remove opinion and gut feel, that an idea is (or is not) worth investing in
– Scale when appropriate, knowing we’ve done everything possible, to limit our chances of failure
And we’ll want to do all of this as quickly, safely, iteratively and responsibly as possible. A tall order.
Design, build and test
In the broadest sense we have two overarching areas of activity — Discovery and Delivery.
– Discovery is the process of understanding your customers, their needs and what might be valuable solutions to them
– Delivery is the process of executing and making available the solutions your customers need and will find valuable from you
Each of the steps in design thinking that follow are iterative and repetitive, but they are not mandatory and can feasibly be done in parallel or out of sequence. Although, as a pattern, you’ll want to understand your users first, discover what they want to achieve and identify solutions they’ll desire.
So what does design thinking look like in theory ?
But first, Diverge & Converge
A key aspect of design thinking is the premise of divergent and convergent thinking. This forces us to diverge, think of lots of ideas that help us broaden our thinking and innovate, before we converge on a smaller set of more discrete ideas.
Diverge : Take time to identify, discuss and explore as many options and perspectives in context of the space as possible — even the crazy ones.
Converge : Start to refine the divergent ideas, consolidate them into logical themes/topics. Prioritise these into discrete ideas to progress with.
We’re encouraged to do this in two distinct waves, in the problem space and in the solution space, creating a double diamond <diverge()converge>0<diverge()converge> with a point of inflection at the centre of each diamond, referred to as the ‘groan zone’, and a decision point between each diamond, to define a point of view.
The problem space : Really & deeply understand the problems your customers and users have, looking for as many opportunities as possible that are valuable and desirable.
The solution space : Looking for as many innovative solutions to satisfy the needs and problems of your users before focusing on the most feasible and viable solutions that are still valuable and desirable.
Empathising is the process of understanding and observing the human needs of your existing or future customers and users.
Understand who your users are, what they feel, what they believe and need in their context. What is the problem these users need to have fixed, whether they know it themselves or not.
Goal : Generate insight into what your users need by observing and recording them and converge on a given problem to solve.
Defining a point of view is the process of analyzing the information you know about your users and their most important problems. This is where you’ll start to focus.
Using everything you’ve learnt from researching and observing your users in the Empathising stage, you’ll work with your team to form an opinion about their greatest needs.
Goal : Decide which problem you want to prioritise and who will benefit.
Create many ideas, diverging through brainstorming and challenging any assumptions identified during empathising and defining, to find alternative solutions to the problem. Then, converge on innovative solutions that have potential to solve the problems your customer has that are potentially loveable, feasible, viable and valuable.
Goal : A prioritised list of hypotheses to test and learn what will drive your users wild.
Create solutions as discrete experiments that you’ll later test with your users.
Design a series of scaled down features or products/services that test your hypotheses and will enable you to investigate if the solution meets your users problem
Goal : Create cheap experimental versions of your product or service to gather evidence that your offering works.
Gather feedback from your users by testing your solution experiments with them. The feedback and results from your experiments will create a body of evidence that builds your confidence and validates your offering.
And if it doesn’t, that’s no bad thing either — it’s all helping you learn what your customers will truly love about your product or service. Use this data to run further experiments, pivot, kill the idea or continue to create your wonderful new product or service.
Goal: Gather evidence to validate whether your ideas work and solve your user’s problem.
So how can I Implement design thinking in my business ?
Well the great thing is, you can start straight away. There’s practically nothing stopping you from adopting design thinking principles to get to know your customers, create solutions, run experiments and gather evidence.
You can do all this in as little as a day with a mini discovery round. Or, you could follow the footsteps of many and run a 5 day design sprint with a working prototype tested with your users at the end of it. Perhaps a longer three or five week discovery activity will enable you to build enough confidence to commit to making your product or service a reality. And lastly, but by very much no means least, you could start your design thinking journey straight away and continuously discover new ways to delight your customers as you design and deliver new experiences for your customers, forever more.
But in the meantime, here are some suggestions for getting your journey started.
- Create the persona that represents your ideal user, using a user profile canvas will help here : https://www.romanpichler.com/tools/the-persona-template
- Draft an empathy map to centre your persona on understanding what they believe their pains and gains are and how they think & feel, say & do, hear & see : https://medium.com/the-xplane-collection/updated-empathy-map-canvas-46df22df3c8a
- Head over to the guys at strategyzer and put their value map and customer profile into practice : https://www.strategyzer.com/canvas/value-proposition-canvas
- Further explore your users by understanding their jobs to be done — https://jtbd.info
- Create an experience map to map the journey your user takes to do the things they need to do today : https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/user-research/creating-an-experience-map
- Create a day in the life of your target user to visualise what they do, when they do it and what they experience in doing so
- Use brainstorming sessions to analyse, question and challenge the assumptions from the empathise stage : https://www.ideou.com/pages/brainstorming
- Create a 9-window map to visualise your potential product in terms of the level of service as it evolves over time : https://asq.org/quality-resources/nine-windows
- Generate an Opportunity Solution Tree to define an outcome based goal with various ways to achieve that goal, turning your customer’s problems into opportunities : https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/
- Create your point of view, your discovered important needs, into a single condensed statement : https://www.nngroup.com/articles/user-need-statements/ & http://crowdresearch.stanford.edu/w/img_auth.php/f/ff/How_might_we.pdf
Generate & Diverge
- Generate a simplest crazy ideas board which lets the juices flow to go wide and go out of the box when finding solutions for the needs and point of view you have defined
- Run a series of 60 second sketches where each participant in the ideation session draws as many sketches as they can of potential solutions to the defined problem : https://craigmaherportfolio.com/work/nutrious/
- Look for the variants in any of the generated ideas from above sessions and expand the solutions
- Simulate creativity to find more diverse ideas with the SCAMPER technique : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.C.A.M.P.E.R
Analyse and Converge
- Group ideas by time frame, relevance, complexity, or any other logical theme or pattern and and assess the gold
- Create hypothesis statements that follow a pattern such as — We believe that (changing this) for (this or these people) will result in (this outcome) — and position these under the appropriate opportunity on the opportunity solution tree you started in Define
- Look for the biggest riskiest items that look promising but could fail miserably, and prioritise those for testing and validating or dismissing
- Dot vote the ideas and promote those with most votes as early prototypes to test
- Share your ideas with your customers and users to get their feedback on your potential solutions. Prioritise those that receive positive feedback — but beware, customers may not always behave the way they say!
- One answer — Buy the Testing Business Ideas book from the guys at Strategyzer for a library of prototypes to experiment with : https://www.strategyzer.com/books/testing-business-ideas-david-j-bland
- But if you’ve started building your Opportunity Solution Tree, also add your experiment prototypes to the appropriate hypothesis
- You may want to iterate an experiment, first with smaller audiences to get initial feedback. Chances are, if a thing fails with 3 people, it will fail with 30 people — save yourself the time. This may happen a few times, adapting the experiment as you go : https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/design-thinking-get-started-with-prototyping
- Each test will be dependent upon the type, nature and duration needed to test any of your experiments created in Prototype. So plan the test appropriately : https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/test-your-prototypes-how-to-gather-feedback-and-maximise-learning
- Define the measure by which you will know your experiment has passed or failed, before running the test. Then test your hypothesis against this measure to draw insight : https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/test-your-prototypes-how-to-gather-feedback-and-maximise-learning
- Conduct tests as faithfully and realistically with people that exhibit the behaviours and characteristics of your personas and target users
- You’re looking for evidence to prove or disprove your idea will meet the needs of your users — science is your friend, use it to validate your hypotheses
- Document your findings against the measures you set and learn from the insight to drive future decisions whether to proceed, test again, pivot or kill the idea : https://www.strategyzer.com/blog/how-to-track-the-progress-of-business-experiments
Your customers’ needs change all the time, but never more so than in times as unprecedented as those we’re experiencing now. Their world, which means your world in which you service them, has been turned upside down and inside out.
You have the power to look for solutions to your contractors, customers, partners, staff, suppliers greatest needs. With a little bit of design thinking, a bit of effort, a willingness to experiment and a lot of customer engagement, you can make a difference in challenging times. It might just save you, and your customers, now and in the future. In short, act now!