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The Foundation of the Customer Experience: Empathy

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Enfo Jarkko Jormanainen


Can common IT-industry approaches be used to solve business problems? Yes – and that’s what they were originally intended to do.

Enfo’s CEO Seppo Kuula covers transformation of the service industry in his doctoral thesis.

His thesis has been a good learning experience for me also, providing academic findings supported with a solid scientific approach. The thesis also has proven to me that there are no shortcuts, you need to do the right things and you can do them in an agile way.

Not just for IT-specific projects, but also for developing the whole business.

Seppo uses Design Thinking as one of the key concepts, together with lean development, continuous improvement, and the co-creation approach together with Customers. They can be applied when developing any business.

Design Thinking should be understood as an approach (philosophy), whereas Service Design is more practical and about applying methods to the problem at hand (tools). They both aim at the same goal: Outcomes that everyone can be satisfied with, the best possible Customer Experience.

Design Thinking (DT) materializes in the design process, which includes the following phases:

1. Empathize

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Create

5. Test

These phases are repeated in repeating cycle. This is called iterating and each cycle is called an iteration. Usually each cycle takes a short term, the duration being days or at most weeks.

The basic idea is to gain proof confirming you’re on the right path and then take the next step of improvement or “fail fast” in case the path chosen seems unfeasible.


The common approach

When working with Customers, very often we start working from phase 2, defining or 3, ideating, respectively. The Customer usually gives us an assignment such as, "I need something like this" or "Please come up with something to make this better".  This also applies to assignments within the company, e.g. the board of directors expecting you to develop the company: they also act as internal Customers. The Customer directs us to jump to the phases 2–3.

This is a typical engineer-minded approach: Give me a problem and I'll solve it. We rely on the Customer to know what needs to be done.  This is, however, usually the path to disaster.

Too often, Customers do not define their expectations or requirements clearly, or they have not yet understood it clearly themselves. Then they comment that the outcome is not what they were thinking about. Some may feel that the iteration needs to be done so many times that it seems never to get finalized or approved. To summarize: The Customer is not happy with what you are doing.

The reason for this is very simple: We forgot the human. The person.


Remember the person

Think about past situations where you received good and bad service and how they differ.

An example: In a good hotel, the lobby staff very openly and proactively tell you where everything is and how things work (elevators, breakfast time, restaurant open hours, etc.) as if it is your first stay at the hotel.

In some other hotel they only answer your direct questions, if you ask them. The Customer Experience is totally different.

In the good hotel, they think, "what kind of information would I need if I were here for the first time" and serve you with this attitude in mind.

In the service industry the Customer is always the one receiving the service: there is always a person experiencing the service.

You need to be doing all that is needed for Customer Satisfaction – or else you risk losing the Customer. Each service task is always produced for a single Customer, a person.

Nowadays, every business is a service business. At least some service elements are included in the package. It could be the delivery of a box to the client as part of the delivery process; at the very least it’s the invoicing/payment service, since you most probably want to receive the payment.

So, this applies to every business.

In the service industry the Customer is always the one receiving the service: there is always a person experiencing the service.


Jarkko Jormanainen

Author's title

Business Development manager



The 1st phase of DT is very important: Empathy

"Empathy means the skill to understand what another person experiences from that person’s point of view, putting yourself in the other person's position. In empathic interaction, a person understands another person’s feelings." source: Wikipedia (translated)

When we start working on an assignment (e.g. a project), we must put ourselves "in the shoes of the specific Customer" and understand everything as the Customer experiences it.

We must make sure the outcome is one that we as a Customer would accept ourselves.

Sometimes it's hard to understand the Customer's point of view. You don't need to always have the answers, sometimes you just need to listen and understand the Customer’s pain in the current state of service.

Mostly – based on my own experience – in such dialogue with the Customer we observe things that the Customer needs but was not able to tell us earlier. This only increases the level of Customer Satisfaction. You're adding value with the dialogue.

With Empathy we can understand how the Customer is utilizing the outcome of our work. This enables us to better ensure that the Customer will be happy.

In our work, the Customer is always a person. Let's remember that.


Jarkko Jormanainen works as a Business Development manager at Enfo
+358 50 327 6193