In marketing, sales and customer relationship management, every day presents a new set of challenges. Shifting media consumption habits and digital transformation sometimes cause companies to struggle to meet their customers’ evolving needs. The MIT Leadership Center has called the ability to clearly identify critical problems “the most underrated skill in management.” But articulating those problems also requires that you solve them, and design thinking is a great place to start.
Since its earliest business applications in the 1980s, design thinking has been helping companies overcome obstacles, keep their customers satisfied and gain a competitive advantage by focusing on collaboration and creativity. In today’s customer-centric landscape, I believe it isn’t just a useful business strategy, but a leadership philosophy that can have a direct impact on your company’s bottom line, and here’s why.
The Power Of The Collective Brain
There’s no question about it, the concept of design thinking can be intimidating. There are five steps to the process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test — each of which is vital to identifying friction in the customer experience and making the most impactful improvements.
At its core, though, design thinking is about collaboration, and that’s something all leaders can relate to. The idea is to bring together unique perspectives from across your organization, mine the collective brainpower of the teams you lead and extract the optimal solutions.
So, how do you synchronize multiple departments that have varied goals and harmonize their perspectives on the business problem at hand? Delegate tasks in a way that makes the most of each team member’s strengths while inviting them to tap into their innate creativity. There’s a lot of overlap between design thinking and Scrum, the agile framework that’s so popular with project managers and developers, and many employees are already familiar with how Scrum can move projects down the pipeline more quickly and efficiently. Similarly, design thinking encourages individuals to put their best foot forward and for groups to put their heads together in an effort to innovate as a team.
Harnessing the collective brainpower of your business will ensure you come up with multiple prototypes to test, presenting more opportunities for optimization as you work toward a final solution. In other words, when you prioritize design thinking as a business leader, you make the most of the cross-functional talent at your fingertips.
The Value Of Human-Centered Design
Just as your employees’ perspectives have value, so do those of your customers. This belief is what ultimately makes design thinking so effective. As a human-centric methodology, design thinking borrows the approach used by first-class designers: it puts the needs of the customers first. Tim Brown, CEO of international design firm IDEO, once explained it like this: “Design is human-centered. It may integrate technology and economics, but it starts with what humans need.”
In the context of business, this means that, regardless of the nature of your problem, your company has to understand where your products and services fit into your customers’ lives, what your audience might still be lacking from your brand and any stumbling points that exist throughout the customer journey. Knowing this stands to have a huge impact on everything from the product development process to how your agents go about resolving customers’ issues in the call center.
The key here, from a leadership standpoint, is simply to drop the ego. Sweep aside titles and preconceptions about where audience insight should come from. Instead of defaulting to traditional techniques for collecting customer insight, seek it out wherever you can. Find the people who are best equipped to provide an insider’s look at your customers’ preferences and dislikes, whether those people are sitting in a focus group or across from you on the subway, so you can be sure you’ll be giving your customers exactly what they want.
Adopting a human-centric mindset can help you turn even the most fragmented experiences into seamless interactions between customer and brand. It’s an investment in the customer journey that can build long-term loyalty and trust. Often, dissecting the user experience also reveals new product markets, audience segments and customer service platforms that can lead to future growth.
When you consider what’s at the heart of your business problem and break down the barriers between your company and your customers, it quickly becomes clear that design thinking can alter your leadership approach for the better. This philosophy serves both your company and your customers, so that no matter what kinds of problems come your way next, you’ll be prepared to solve them.