"You Are Not The User" & How To Close The Empathy Gap In Digital Product Development


As a business owner, it is easy to assume your own preferences and needs are representative of that of your users (customers). Avoid this mistake at all costs.
Empathy Gap In Digital Product Development

As a business owner, it is easy to assume your own preferences and needs are representative of that of your users (customers). After all, it was your vision and passion that brought this business (and accompanying website) to life. In truth however, you are not the user.

If you are to build a successful website, that is user-centric and conversion oriented – you need to accept this mantra and shift your perspectives to prioritise understanding the genuine needs and desires of your true users.

In this article, we will elaborate further on how to shift your mindset and make digitally wise, ands strategic decisions for the betterment of your digital business.

Understanding the concept of the ‘empathy gap’

In the world of web design and development, The Product Agency has worked with numerous businesses across numerous verticals and industries. A common trait amongst most, is the empathy gap between business decision makers and that of the audience (ala customers). The empathy gap occurs when you, as the business owner, become so immersed in your own perspectives that you lose sight of what your users truly need and want.

This can lead to the creation of websites that are designed to cater to your own preferences rather than those of your target audience.

What does this mean for your digital strategy?

  • You may build a brand, logo and colour scheme that is to your preference without factoring in colour psychology and your customer demographics.
  • You may build a website that focuses heavily on who you are and your story, instead of the problems you solve for your would-be customers.
  • You may focus on form over function, making an aesthetically beautiful website that is unlikely to perform.
  • You make lateral decisions in your digital strategy without any anecdotal evidence or research as to why the decision is valid.

The danger of assuming

A significant danger of making lateral digital decisions without evidence or proof points is making assumptions about your users, their needs, and their behaviours. These assumptions can significantly deter success in your digital strategy; leading to costly mistakes and missed opportunities.

For instance, assuming your users will find a particular new feature useful – and proceeding to engulf your teams time, budget, and capacity to build it – poses a high risk of failure. It’s like throwing flyers off a roof top and hoping someone catches one and buys from you. Furthermore, not only is it risky that the feature will be useless to users – you are now significantly behind in your iterative and progress schedule of advancing your digital product – time is money and all.

Mitigating the empathy gap by being, well, empathetic

To bridge the empathy gap and create a website that truly meets the needs of your users, it's essential to conduct thorough user research.

Ask yourself at every decision “Is this right for my users? Or is it just my personal opinion?”.

What does this mean for your digital strategy?

You don’t need to overengineer “user research”. You’re not a big bank, or a fortune 500 company needing to obtain 360 degree net-promotor score feedback. You simply want some anecdotal pointers from real users.

Ideas to obtain further customer insights could involve a range of initiatives, the most simple of which could entail:

  • Analyse user behaviour via Google Analytics
  • Email existing customers requesting their feedback and future needs
  • Survey people on your website with quick questions
  • Offer a feedback / suggestion tool on your website
  • Ask frontline staff to survey customers after they assist them
  • Call a meeting with your top 3 customers (or take them to lunch)

It is important to note, that while your preferences are not representative of your users needs, nor are the opinions of just one individual. Ensure your feedback obtained is broad and captures multiple user types.

Become a business that focuses on empathy-driven design

Upon obtaining more user insights, it’s key to immediately triage the insights into actions. If you’re wanting to become more empathetic to user needs, you need to become an empathy-driven business that executes digital strategy accordingly.

Here is how we would do it:

Prioritise user-needs

Make user needs and preferences a top priority when making design and feature decisions. Consider how each element of your website serves your users' goals and solves their problems.

Test and iterate

Continuously test your website with real users and gather feedback. Use this feedback to make iterative improvements, ensuring your website evolves to better meet user needs. As we like to say, “become 1% better everyday”.

Avoid personal biases

Be aware of your own biases and preferences. While it's natural to have personal opinions, always validate design choices against user data and feedback.

Keep learning

User behaviour and preferences can change over time. Stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your industry and continue to learn about your users. Challenge yourself, and your business, to be thought leaders and anticipate needs - not just respond to them.

The bottom line and what it all means

As a business owner, it's crucial to recognise that you are not the user. Your website exists to serve your audience, and its success hinges on your ability to empathise with their needs and desires.

At The Product Agency, we start this journey via Sprint Zero - a chance to plan user needs, perform user story mapping and truly get into the psyche of what your users think, feel and do.

Remember, it's not about what you need; it's about what your users need. This can apply to digital strategy, but in truth, should apply to every decision you make in your business. Perhaps it is time to re-energise your operation to think like this once again.

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
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