Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ask 20 Questions to Build Customer Empathy

Flickr Photo Credit: horiavarlan

This morning I wanted to write a post providing a quick start guide for Customer-Centered Web Design. The main principle of this technique is to build empathy for your customer before designing your website. When you empathize with your customer, you will understand their goals. When you design your website to meet their goals, you will achieve your business objectives. (The term customer is inclusive of all visitors to your website, including prospects and leads).

Creating provisional or ad-hoc personas (user profiles)[1] was one direction I started with. This would involve brainstorming your customers’ goals, motivations, outcomes, pains and emotions. But as soon as I started that blog post it just didn’t feel quick enough! I’ll keep that for a future posting.

So here’s the super quick start guide for Customer-Centered Web Design:

List 20 questions your customers are asking about the problem they are trying to solve.

Simple, yes? Let’s break this super quick start guide down.

Why questions? At the end of the day that’s why people are searching on the Web. There are even websites dedicated to answering questions such as Yahoo! Answers[2] and Stack Overflow[3]. They are trying to solve a problem. “How do I solve this?” “How do I do that?” “Why is this happening?” Your website should answer the questions your customers have. If it doesn’t, then your customers will go somewhere else.

Why twenty questions? Years ago, I attended a Brian Tracy program called the Phoenix Seminar. In the program, Brian recommended generating twenty ideas when brainstorming. Typically the first ten will be easy, while the last ten will be more difficult. But often the most valuable. Was the first twenty easy? Well try another twenty. No, I’m not being mean. It’s amazing what happens when you start thinking beyond the obvious.

Over the last few weeks I have been assisting with several graphic design and communications companies on proposals. The proposal process always starts with “what shall we do for this website?” For me that always feels like the wrong starting point. The website becomes ego-centric or design-centric (design for designs sake). Quickly brainstorming twenty questions from the customer’s perspective helps build empathy and achieves a website that will be successful for your business.

[1] About Face, Alan Cooper

[2] Yahoo! Answers

[3] Stack Overflow

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