How Do we Design a Better Future when New Technologies can Make Anything Possible? Empathy is Key

Rod Netterfield, Strategic CX Design Professional

Rod Netterfield, Strategic CX Design Professional

I believe meaningful change is achieved when an organization deeply understands their customers and places them at the center of their redesign and transformation efforts – and I have a confession – I enjoy striking up conversations with people when they might least expect it.


I started a conversation with Amanda who was having trouble connecting her Smartphone to the onboard Wi-Fi network. She was looking forward to seeing her family after a week of work travel.

After connecting her Smartphone, I listened to her stories; her experiences with products and services, her hopes and fears for her children, her views of technology and views about a number of issues of the day.

While Amanda was not a customer of the organization I was employed by, our conversation gave me a number of insights – little nuggets of gold – that I took back to my team to investigate. After progressing through our design process, one turned into a feasible and viable improvement to our service experience, delivering significant improvement across a number of customer metrics.


Organisations now have an abundance of mechanisms to assist in building customer understanding and empathy, including

• Direct; such as surveys, focus groups, contextual inquiries, and observations, with survey tools becoming more accessible to provide support for all types and sizes of business.

• Indirect; such as social media and call recordings. Improvements to text and speech analytics tools enable rare insights (that might otherwise be overlooked) to be

• Anecdotal; the stories – more little nuggets of gold - gathered from the frontline workforce interacting with customers through their preferred channel.

These mechanisms complement and supplement the ever-increasing volume of qualitative and quantitative data that is captured about customers interacting with our businesses every single day.

This mass of feedback and information enables us to deliver hyper-personalized, timely, valued, trusted and branded experiences for our customers.

In addition, I believe that contextual inquiries – one-on-one interviews that typically run for a number of hours where the designer watches the customer in the course of their normal day-to-day activities and then has a discussion about these activities – are critical to building an understanding of the customer. These observations allow empathy to be built well beyond “just” the boundaries of our own product and service offering, providing a basis for innovation and meeting unmet customer needs.


Armed with insights, and inspired by deep empathy and understanding of our customers, the challenge is to convert insights into innovative solutions, driving meaningful business and customer improvements – enter design thinking.

Design thinking is an iterative process, which converts insights into innovative solutions that have been prototyped and tested.

Design thinking is also a mindset that encourages collaboration among a diverse group of stakeholders, who each contribute their unique skills, knowledge, and perspective. By working together the innovation solutions delivered are appropriately balanced against desirability, feasibility and viability lenses.

We live in an exciting time with new technical capability and solutions – robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, and so on - becoming increasingly available to support product and service delivery. As design teams work through their processes, these new technical capabilities can facilitate outcomes that deliver meaningful impact and return...

... but, it is the responsibility of everyone involved in the design process to ensure that just because we can do something, that we are also comfortable that we should do it. The continued involvement of customers through your design process will help to safeguard against the potential to cross the “creepy line”. Similarly, the continued involvement of the frontline workforce can be a good test of how new or enhanced products and services are being received once implemented.


Consider – when is the last time you had a direct conversation with a customer to learn about their life, to empathize with their unique views of the world and to understand how your product or service adds value to their life?

Consider – what is the unique value or perspective you could bring to design a better world, and when did you last collaborate with others to convert insight into innovation and meaningful customer and business improvement?

I encourage you to seek people who represent the voice of the customer that exist within your own businesses and ecosystems to start a conversation. We can help you connect and empathize with your customers, and we need your help to bring your unique perspective to drive balanced solutions that are desirable, feasible and viable.

By coming from a place of empathy and in a world where anything is possible, let’s make it a better place together.

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