Human-Centered Design (HCD) is about understanding and meeting human needs in business, but how do you identify growth opportunities using Human-Centered Design?
As a business, you have customers (or at least prospects), just talk to them. Listen well. Take some notes. Do whatever people tell you they need. Viola, the business is human-centered. It all sounds so simple.
The problem is, people lie.
Sometimes it’s intentional out of embarrassment, pride, or cultural conditioning. More often, it’s subconscious, unintentional; they lie to themselves too, or simply just don’t know what they need. Not only that, the average person has a hard time articulating their needs, including separating a “true need” from a “want.” What a mess.
For example, imagine you need to figure out how to market & sell U.S. grown coffee beans. This is an exciting development in the coffee market since the coffee belt between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn owns most of current global coffee bean production. This is the first time farmers are planting and successfully growing coffee plants stateside, creating jobs and supporting our farm industry.
So in an attempt to understand how to connect to the coffee consumer, you go out and ask the most die-hard U.S. based coffee addicts how they feel about home-grown coffee beans. You find out that everyone is excited about supporting our U.S. based farm community and the creation of jobs. Seems like a fantastic idea, you all agree.
Then, you tell them that a 12oz bag of home-grown coffee beans will cost about $60. A price point that would give the average coffee drinker pause, considering that most gourmet 12oz coffee bags cost somewhere between $15-$20.
You next ask them if they’d still consider home-grown coffee. Some will tell you no; a lot of people will hem-haw, convincing themselves (and you, if you’re not careful) that they’ll try it. There are many reasons for this; pride, embarrassment, truly believing they’d try it, and so on.
As an HCD-oriented brand, you’ll have to parse whether people are truly ready to understand that while people may want that home-grown, coffee, they may not “need” it or buy it at $60/12oz bag?
Wading through the quicksand of “wants” disguised as “needs” to identify (and eventually meet) their “true needs” is a challenge for any business. If this sounds daunting, it is.
But, we’re here to help you, so please don’t run yet.
Before we focus on how to zero-in on “true needs,” let’s get on the same page with one fundamental concept: Active Listening.
We often think we’re listening, but in reality most conversations are people attempting to figure out how to respond to each other. In other words, we listen…but only enough to catch the meaning in order to figure out what to say next.
Active listening, on the other hand, “requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.” More importantly, but also involves “observing the speaker’s behavior and body language.” This latter part is the key to active listening because it allows you to develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message.
Try this: the next time you’re having a conversation, try to listen without formulating a response or reacting before the person finishes their sentence. If you find that hard to do, you’re not alone; it’s challenging for most people.
So, dear reader, active listening is foundational for Human-Centered businesses. It’s the only way to uncover your customers’ “true needs” and successfully solve their problems. Start practicing active listening today.
Identify Growth Opportunities Using Human-Centered Design
Once you’re actually (actively) listening, how do you know when you’ve heard something worth exploring with your team?
With HCD, we often talk about “insights.” But, what is an insight? And, how do you recognize it?
An “insight” is synonymous with “true need” in our HCD world. A more formal definition is “an understanding of the motivational forces behind one’s actions, thoughts, or behavior.” Otherwise known as: “read between the lines.”
For example, your company wants to improve customer service response times. Your job is to find the gaps in the process. With this goal in mind, you’re interviewing your customer service rep about rerouting a customer’s call to the fraud department.
The rep tells you that this is super easy to do; they’ve been performing the same process for over 3 years now. The rep then points to a series of 10+ color-coded sticky notes near their desktop that describe the process.
Here, you have a choice.
You can take their word for it, decide it’s all good, and leave it at that. After all, no one is complaining.
OR, if you’re a HCD “active listener,” you’ll notice the subtle shift in tone and the slight pause mid-sentence as the rep points to the color coded sticky notes and bends down to read them. The customer service rep follows this cumbersome process simply due to years spent doing it.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal because it’s just “what is,” and no better process exists. Yet, your employees can be way more efficient if they’re not hunched over their make-shift post-it notes processes. Likewise, if your company hires a new person for this role, you can imagine how the current rerouting process will seem quite cumbersome to learn.
This is an insight. We listen to what people say, but also observe subtle cues and shifts in behavior, environment, and tone.
The more insights you can gather through active listening and close observation of subtle cues, the more opportunities for growth you’ll be able to identify.
One Last Thing…
For those times when this practice feels like a struggle, remember we are all human, and our experience and expertise color our listening and observation skills. You’re not “bad at it,” nor are you hopeless. With practice, “true needs” become easier to spot.
Identifying growth opportunities using Human-Centered Design is a journey well worth your time. Practice active listening. Try to do better each time. And, call us if you need help.