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How active listening boosts product innovation

You know that innovative products keep you two steps ahead of the competition. But in a sea of possible ideas, which one is best for your bottom line?

The answer lies with your users. When you actively listen to them, you can identify their needs, clarify their pain points, and chart a path to address both.

When it comes to product innovation, active listening means more than just nodding along to what your users say. To show them you care about solving their problems, you need to gather user feedback at every step of the product design process. This way, you can develop impactful, innovative products.

Here, let’s look at how active listening helps you identify problems, design with empathy, and find the right solution.

Active listening helps you identify the right problem

Many organizations assume they understand users’ problems or even have the right solution without talking to users themselves. But to identify the right pain points, you need to talk to your users before you build your product.

Lead with your assumptions, and you could end up building an expensive solution for the wrong problem. Instead, let your users guide you toward a product that satisfies their needs.

Here’s an example: Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders asked us to design a mobile app so students could access university leadership opportunities. They assumed that their users (the students) were frustrated by not having a centralized, mobile-access resource. But that assumption wasn’t quite right.

Our user research found that students really wanted to find the right opportunities as easily as possible. An app download added extra steps. So we listened to our users’ needs and redefined the problem.

Undergirding our process was a user-driven framework called the double diamond approach. This framework can help you locate users’ actual problems in order to work toward solving them. The diamond shape represents the arc of your thinking: casting a wide net for information and ideas before homing in on a single endpoint.

The first diamond outlines this problem-defining process. (I’ll explain the second diamond later.) While you may have your own idea of the problem at hand, you likely aren’t the intended end user, so your assumptions shouldn’t guide your product development. Instead, engage in deep, wide-ranging user research to learn what users think. Your research methods can include…

  • User interviews.
  • User observation.
  • Usability testing.

Then, analyze your research results and distill them into a single problem statement. This piece is critical: by letting your user research define your problem statement, you’re actively listening to users’ stated needs.

Once you have a clear problem, you can start finding a solution.

Active listening guides you toward the right solution

Just as you need to listen to users to identify the right problem, you have to listen to users to find the right solution. The double diamond approach can help.

In this framework, the second diamond encourages you to first ideate among a diverse group. Then, you can converge on a single prototype idea, which you’ll test among your users.

With Rice, a five-day Google Design Sprint helped us tackle ideation, prototyping, and user testing in one go. We spent the first two days brainstorming ideas alongside the Doerr team. Guided by Rice’s trove of student data, we then landed on the idea of an SMS chatbot advisor. A chatbot could engage with students within a familiar texting environment to direct them toward key resources.

We spent days three and four designing and building the chatbot. After testing it on the fifth day, we found that test users valued a chatbot experience that…

  • Felt conversational without trying too hard to mimic humans.
  • Didn’t overuse emojis.
  • Avoided slang.
  • Provided personalized options for them to explore in depth.

We used these findings to improve the chatbot’s effectiveness, and our users responded positively. The takeaway? When you listen to your users, you can boost user satisfaction and adoption rates.

Active listening fosters innovation with empathy

When conducting user research, active listening helps you put yourself in your users’ shoes. When you empathize with your users, you can better understand their frustrations and deliver more powerful products.

In Rice’s case, listening to our users helped us empathize with stressed-out college students who needed quick advice, not a glossy app that drained their mobile data usage. Rice’s own operational constraints mattered, too. To preserve the product’s quality over time, the school’s IT team needed a low-maintenance solution with a straightforward back end that their own IT team could support in the future – something a chatbot delivers.

Active listening helps us find solutions that acknowledge the feelings at the core of users’ unique needs. When you empathize with your users, you can deliver a product that treats their situation with appropriate care.

The best products center their users

A product is nothing without the people who use it. Listening to their feedback can help you build powerful products that users regularly engage with and that make their lives better.

At TXI, we put users at the center to help us turn our clients’ product ambitions into reality. When you listen to users every step of the way, you can craft your solution to their needs.

Interested in learning more about how active listening fuels our product innovation? We’d love to chat.

Published by Gayle Silverman in Culture

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