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You must figure out how to experience your business from the outside

Getting a customer’s or client’s honest view is essential—but surprisingly challenging to do.

You must figure out how to experience your business from the outside
[Source photo: Rawpixel]

At the end of July, I was in a cycling accident and shattered my pelvis that required surgery to fix. I’m a vice provost and professor at UT Austin, and I spent a little over a week in the hospital associated with our medical school recovering before I was able to go home.

I have talked with lots of faculty and administrators over the past few years about our hospital, but as a patient, I saw lots of little opportunities for improvement, like the need for more vegan-friendly options at the dining service. That got me thinking more broadly about how often people from any organization truly get a customer’s or client’s view of their own business and how much can be learned from that.

In general, many organizations skimp on doing enough user interface and user experience testing. These techniques bring typical users through a set of tests of key software and processes to determine where there are limitations. Even when you do have a robust user experience program, though, it is still valuable to have core team members experience what it is like to be a customer or client.

When you design a set of processes, you assume a lot about how much customers and clients know about your business–and often you assume that they know too much. You may also assume idealized interactions or settings for people to engage with you. But, your customers may very well be multitasking while engaging with you, they may have limited bandwidth internet connections, or may be talking to you from a loud environment.

Until you try some of these processes out for yourself, you may not appreciate the reality of your customers’ experience. Because you have a lot of expertise about the business, when you do experience it for yourself, you may notice a lot of additional problems that were not evident before.

Indeed, there is a whole field of empathic design that focuses on helping people who are working on the design of products or processes to engage in activities that give them additional insight into the pain points that users are likely to experience. Then, individuals can use their design expertise to overcome the problems they identify.

A particularly interesting version of empathic design involves creating extreme experiences that test the limits of a particular product or process. That can lead to new insights about how to improve the way your business works. For example, try to engage with your customer service center while playing the radio loud to simulate being in a crowded environment. Use a website while also counting backward from 1,000 by 7s to simulate multitasking or stress. The idea here is that you may be better able to internalize the experiences of the people you serve by developing situations that enable you to walk a mile in their shoes.

The higher up you rise in an organization, the more important it becomes to have these experiences. Often, front-line workers are aware of the inefficiencies of the processes they handle. They may not realize it is valuable to raise these concerns with their supervisors. Sometimes, even when they do mention problems, the issues are not escalated. If you are a few layers removed from these front-line roles, however, you may not have any direct experience with that customer and client experience. And that is when taking on the role of the user can have its biggest benefit.

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Art Markman, PhD is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. Art is the author of Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership, Smart Change, Brain Briefs, and, most recently, Bring Your Brain to Work. More

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