I really miss Deanna Troi.
Who? The half-human counsellor on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”? The bridge officer who seemed to have absolutely nothing to do other than state the obvious in order to progress the plot? The touchy-feely one?
Yes, that’s right. The personification of empathy. Troi’s empathic ability—right from the outset—provided the necessary insight to enable the rest of the crew’s ingenuity and get them out of many sticky situations.
You could argue that her empathy fuelled their creativity, and that’s what I’m going to do.
This is, actually, well known. For the majority of digital transformation programmes, the core output is to redefine the organisation around the customer. To provide them with a relevant and appreciated experience. To surprise and delight with new utility, which enhances them and their attitude towards you. In a nutshell, these programmes aim to ensure that you strategically, systematically, and behaviourally empathise with your customers.
To fully embrace your inner Deanna, there are three simple steps. These are the golden rules of being at one with your customer—without having to be “creative.” These nuggets of primal understanding will enable you to put away your pesky KPIs and understand theirs. They will fundamentally change your outlook on life.
1. Be Where They Are
In an ideal world, you would go to your customers’ house. Have a nice cup of tea and a chat. Talk about yourself, your family, and learn about theirs. Spend the time appreciating their world view, challenges, and thought processes, then simply ask the question “How can we help you?” at the end of it all. Now repeat that a few million times, and you are sorted. Impractical, you say? Perhaps. There are alternatives, of course.
You could hang out in the forums where you are considering buying media—read what people write, see how they interact, contribute to a conversation, and, once you’ve earned some trust, ask a few questions. One of the wonderful things about web chats is that the favourite topic that people like to discuss is … themselves. Truly understanding these spaces requires more than just looking at charts of sentiment tracking—you need to get to know the users, and that includes the trolls.
From this, you will achieve the first level of nirvana—the heavenly tone of voice—understanding how to discuss something.
2. See What They See
The world is an incredibly colourful place if you allow yourself to see it. There is beauty hidden in plain sight wherever you go. We often find ourselves blinkered from what we take as banal, but it’s the banal, the ordinary, the day-to-day experiences that make up a life. That goes for the external influences, which pull this way and that, glimmering and shimmering all around, and which say: “Look at me, feel me, buy me.”
If no man is an island, then no decision is made in isolation, and knowing the broader context from which somebody hails adds flavour and depth to an otherwise flat and poorly drawn image of those who you hope to get to know. A competitive review doesn’t begin to encapsulate the extent of their exposure. You need to decrease the shutter speed and let the light in.
3. Be Who They Are
They’ve all embraced the Stanislavski system—Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and, more recently, Jared Leto and Christian Bale. All method actors. Natural, believable, memorable, with varying degrees of sanity. All immersed or even entirely submerged in the cultures and communities of the roles they play.
Taking the you out of you, even for a short while, brings a much deeper emotional connection. It’s there that your knowledge of your customers’ immediate environment, the extended world they inhabit, and all the links that exist between them will finally enable you to, simply, be them.
Three simple rules. That’s all. Easy.
Now let’s circle back to the underappreciated Troi. Early on in the show, she really was just an appendage, an insight machine to help Jean-Luc Picard not be so grumpy. As she progressed, she eventually became a commander, and she was extremely impressive. The combination of empathy, experience, and leadership skills provided ample opportunity for her to contextualise, innovate, extrapolate, and then communicate successfully. She saved the ship a whole bunch of times.
Creativity in isolation isn’t enough these days—to fully embrace it, we need more empathy. We should all be more like Troi.