Framework for Customer Centricity

Innovation, Product Management

The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for - David Kelley, IDEO


Product teams can make anything they wish. It can be driven by any of vision, instincts, demand and need. In a constantly changing environment, the challenge is to make something people Love. While attaining that Love is a challenge, sustaining it is even more daunting in a distracted world.


Gaining attention and translating it into meaningful relationship seems to be a top concern of every executive. Today, Marketing, Sales, Support, Customer Success, Product functions are required to rewire their mojo in pursuit of acquiring holistic knowledge of users. Customer outcomes is the buzzword driving their activities and tasks. 


Practical experiences have made product leaders realize that the only way to acquire and retain customers in the face of competition and change is to gain a regular dose of unique insights. Backed by instincts and data, the journey to create products users love relies on a virtuous loop of customer feedback that delivers regular dose of uncanny wisdom.


Good products are built based on grasping the needs. Truly Great products are built based on grasping the feelings. We the people are a product of life experiences. Positive and negative outcomes shape our conscience and form emotional connections that influence our decisions. Perceiving the world through these biases, patterns and interacting with it through habituated psychological states shapes our behavior. 


Emotional Associations with people, time, things, places,  aesthetics are enduring and powerful drivers of action. Most successful advertisements leverage nostalgia as a means to revoke situational sentiments that we are attached to in the hope of finding resonance. This altruistic consideration for others perspective is the foundation to fulfill their needs.


Empathy is the ability to hear, see, think, feel, say, do and experience like others. Customer and Colleague alike. Abstracting away from our world and into their world. To be in their shoes. Integrating their perspectives into your own day after day, meeting after meeting.

“For every Action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Like cosmos and physical things human behavior is reactionary. For every behavior you exhibit towards others, they exhibit a response. Positive or Negative. Most things in the human life, be it politics, social, economics, security is defined by a transactional nature.


While there are exceptional situations in which we demonstrate a proactive and controlled relationship focused behavior, the normal is to be reactionary and transactional, Higher density of customer’s positive behavior means that relationships are healthy and primed for mutual benefit. A load of negative behavior is one of the top reasons for product failures.


Due to this consciousness of the other, empathetic team members are better equipped to develop long-lasting understanding of others by demonstrating mindfulness, maturity, respect, kindness, morality, integrity, positivity, tolerance etc  In Holding the internal team accountable for empathetic behavior is essential for delighting the customers.

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”


A market is defined by a set of potential customers who have a set of needs. Several types of needs with different priorities and importance. unearthing the needs that will deliver the biggest bang for the buck while delighting the customer is only possible with a deep understanding of their situations, sentiments and realities.


Needs are fulfilled by products or services with attractive value propositions. Services have a level of constant human intervention and resulting personalization. Executives anchoring customers travel along to capture verbal and non verbal clues which is then translated into an enhancement or feature.  Hence, the customer is able to express his dissatisfaction and have their way.


This ability to form one to one relationship in the case of services is crucial to overcome commitment phobia on behalf of the customers. Unfortunately, products don’t have an executive escort to personalize on behalf of the customer every time they demand. Given the focus on scale and growth, product teams have to anticipate the common denominator of needs for all their customers leveraging user experience research. 


Building a suite of features based on a research set puts product development in a different league. Having to form one to many relationships is hard. Retaining those relationships through continuous cycles of innovation requires a detailed research and strong willed leadership. Overcoming customer dissatisfaction in spite of de prioritizing a request requires a strong dose of happiness elsewhere. 


Market environments are lopsided. In the case of services, It’s  tilted in favor of the buyer and in the case of products in favor of the seller. In another perspective, ownership of need discovery rests with the buyer in the case of services and rests with the seller in case of products. This imbalance in power equation vis a vis products puts the buyer at an inherent disadvantage. 


Cognitive load of plethora of choices, substitutes, learning curve, distractions etc forces one to be easily become disinterested and drop from the sales funnel. Add to this, the social chatter of need groups as they reference each other and their consequential negative vibe when making  buying decisions. 


Digital Products are always in the spotlight whether it is notoriety or north star. Customers are constantly evaluating their experience and sharing their perspectives with their peer groups. Any iota of doubt about their ease, utility, simplicity and reliability leads to negative publicity and sustained pressure on vendors to make something that suits customers. 


This constant necessity to be on the right side of customer opinion puts all innovative products through a roller coaster ride of learning. It’s an uphill task for products to overcome odds and years of obscurity before they can be demand positive. Crossing the chasm and emerging as a mass market favorite requires die hard customer loyalty.


World of subscription driven intangible products like software is even more daunting as the product needs to keep up with customer evolution and continuously delight them.If we want users to like our software, we should design it to behave like a likeable person. respectful, generous and helpful. 


In other words, the software built anticipating and reacting to the changing needs of the customers and need groups will stand out. Given the plethora of choices, a sensitive, personal and humane touch will differentiate your promise. A product can only match such ideals with conscious empathy of the teams involved.

All things being equal, the more acute the pain or problem, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to offer a compelling solution - John Burgstone and Bill Murphy, Jr.


A product is a driver of change. Change is unpleasant and unnerving. Fear of losing out on the present in pursuit of the unknown through sustained and disruptive change is normal. It’s only natural for people to take recourse in personal context and tune into the innermost filters to make sense of the environment.


What’s in it for me is the subconscious drive propelling individuals within groups, organizations and nations to evaluate the impact of any change on them. Even in the enterprise scenarios, knowing the consequence of the new to their status quo forms an important part in decision making. Manifested by a barrage of questions to make sense of uncertainty. 


Is the future worth the pain ?

How good will it be compared to today ?

Are there ways to avoid this pain ?

What will we gain ?

What will I lose in the process ? 

How challenging will it be for me to adapt to the new ?

How the purchase will make him look like?

Will the boss be impressed? 

Will it make the job easier?


Competing priorities of life, human psychology and market led culture all reinforce the need to maximize self gain.At the root of all the concerns lie two contrasting emotions. Pain avoidance and Pleasure seeking. 


One is focused on the short term need to combat a recurring pain while the other plays the long game to encourage the pursuit of pleasurable experiences. As a customer, heightened need  for pain avoidance is a reaction to perceived deficiencies in the status quo that is rocking the boat while pleasure seeking is about a desire for novelty that extends mere utilitarian outcomes. 


Exposing the pain in a relatable way specific to the context of those having the worst nightmare is the way upstarts win. Established brands present a compelling vision that resonates with the futuristic perspectives of customers and bond through a lot of positive emotions.


Challenge in front of innovators is to gain clarity about the right emotions to provoke both blatant and latent needs. Gaining loyalty and attachment in any dimension of human life requires an emotional connection. Decision to purchase a product is no exception.


Based on multiple research, it is found that we humans have 10+ emotional objectives. Purpose,  Autonomy, Competence, Thinking, Association, Acceptance, Relationship, Influence, Stability, and Status. Successful products combine emotional objectives with utilitarian and hedonic needs to serve a perfect cocktail of outcomes.

People don’t buy from you because they understand what you do. People buy from you because you understand what they do - Joe Polish


Students of psychology and human behavior use several words to explain the intangibles. emotions, feelings, drive, motive, instincts, decisions, needs, wants, desires, impulses, etc. Abstractions with no clear cut and universally agreed definition. Primary objective is to grasp, explain and replicate behavioral stimulus. 


Some look at decisions and behavior as linear systems while others argue about the nonlinear nature of it. Add to it the different flavors of shopping behavior like impulsive, compulsive, therapeutic, bulimic, collectors and bargain seekers. Human consumer behavior is very complex and complicated field of study. In fact, the extreme cases of shopping behavior is treated as a mental health issue. For example, Compulsive shopping for example is said to be a form of addiction associated with emotional issues, like loneliness, frustration, lack of control, lack of self-esteem, etc..


We have a cocktail of geographic, demographic, firmographic, psychographic, behavioral, social, contextual, cultural and experiential factors combined with trends, technology brands, habits, living standards influences the choice and purchase. Notwithstanding the levels and depths of their layers, the world of business uses a few terms and models to explain the journey of a human from skeptic to customer.  


Consumer behavior explore the science of how individuals and groups select and use products and services. Applying this integrated knowledge to grasp unique traits of your potential targets and distinguish those specific groups holistically from all others helps businesses focus on high potential options.


Study of consumer behavior is a life long process but is particularly important before, during and after the launch of a product in the marketplace. It offers insights and ability to distinguish the want from the need. Even more, it enables identification of people with immediate propensity for consumption.


customers adapt their purchasing behavior constantly depending upon the types of products and priority of individual or groups needs. Every decision to buy has levels of emotion, ration and meaning backing it up. Common wisdom is that business customers comparative to consumers leverage rational undertones in their decision making.  


Figuring out the ideal customer profile from the vast target set requires drilling down on the priority pain, recognized problem, primed prospect and valuable product. Business Managers who are keen to build the right product must recognize that every need must be fulfilled by incorporating utilitarian and  emotional outcomes in the product.


Even though customers have many needs, they are only worried about those needs that have immediate value to progress their lives. Product teams must know that there is prerogative based on the current situation and hence must categorize needs further to determine unworkable, unavoidable, urgent and underserved.


Looking at things from a customer point of view is important to give an objective criterion to stakeholders to weigh the business case tradeoffs. Study of consumer behavior is just the beginning.

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