When your team is using the design thinking process to creatively solve problems or challenges, there’s every possibility that they’re going to run into some inconvenient truths.
That’s because the first, most critical, phase of design thinking involves really getting inside the heads of your end user or customer, and developing deep empathy for their experience. Maybe you do it by putting yourself in their shoes, maybe it’s by visiting their factory floor, speaking with them in your coffee shops, or conducting in-depth interviews.
Once you know what they’re really thinking and experiencing, your team may well find things they’re not going to like. What if the empathy phase shows that your company is doing a poor job of serving customers -- even though your processes and procedures are incredibly efficient?
Harvard Business Review recently ran a piece about this very subject, citing an insurance claims company that used design thinking to improve its customer service. They recorded interviews with clients and found, to their dismay, the processes they used to handle claims made it efficient for staff to do their jobs, but failed to serve the needs of customers. Customers found the process stressful and frustrating on top of experiencing the trauma that caused the insurance claim in the first place. One customer even said he’d “need to be fully healthy to endure the stress of interacting with the agency.” Ouch.
The team was shocked by the outpouring of negative comments from customers, especially because they had often won awards for productivity. In other words, they thought they were operating as best-in-class, and to the best of their ability. But customers had a different story to tell.
The team took it hard. The team leader worried that her people were demoralized and wouldn’t have the motivation to stick with the design thinking process to solve the problem. When negative feedback is uncovered, which can often happen when you set out to find the “truth” about the customer experience, innovation can get stalled in the face of these inconvenient truths.
In these cases, leadership support is crucial to preventing bad reviews from demoralizing anyone involved in the design thinking process. It may not be pleasant to hear negative customer comments, but it’s the first step to making the customer experience better. A good leader helps their team wade through the morass so they can get to the fun part of design thinking – brainstorming brilliant ideas that customers will love.
The leader in this insurance company involved people in other areas of the organization, generating ideation sessions with people in other units in addition to her own team. Together they came up with ways to make the case management process easier for clients, changing their website, and creating a hotline for customer questions.
These steps didn’t solve the whole problem, but they got the team out of the initial shock of — our customers are not happy— and got them focused on how best to improve.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.