Making Good Product Experience Requires Empathy

Automation alone does not equal an improved experience. When tech and product teams think about what they make, often the focus is on technology and on the hard task of making something new. The people that are affected are forgotten. Even living in an age with the coolest gadgets and increasingly intelligent machines subpar experiences are crafted. Why?

Caring and the skill of empathy is not yet a core skill for many teams and leaders. To build the future we need to think about how technology intersects with people. Using empathy as a tool.

Aren’t we already talking about this? Maybe, but it’s not part of our culture yet.

Fantastic AI Machines and Bad Experiences

IBM has shared a handful of ads showcasing their artificial intelligence engine Watson. The ads are playful and witty. Yet, as the ads promote the future of artificial intelligence they showcase a gap in the automated future. Humans are left out of the machine loop!

IBM Watson Commerical

In one commercial a repair guy shows up to an office lobby to fix an elevator. The repair guy walks to the lobby desk. He shares that elevator needs to be fixed. A man behind the desk in a suit requests a pass and adds “there’s nothing wrong with the elevator.” The repair man says he was sent by the “new guy.” The elevator doors open to reveal Watson as a kind of flat screen on a table. In a mix of computer-human tone, Watson says “my analysis of sensor and maintenance data indicates elevator three will malfunction in 2 days.”

Which cool and super smart, but:

Why not tell the front desk guy about the elevator?

Why not send a pass to the repair guy ahead of the visit?

Why not make the experience seamless?

In this case, the machine, Watson, has deep data-driven insights but retains some bad human traits when it comes to communication and context. The problem is solved, but people are left out of the machine loop.

Great Technology is Not Enough

If we automate everything without thinking about the holistic human experience and impact, we’ll just have a more digitally connected mess.

It’s not only commercials we imagine poorly. I’ve personally reviewed technology deployed which only replaced an existing flow, scaling a problem instead of solving it. In one case store managers ended up boxing shipments on the flood in high heels for UPS well managing a store – increased shipments without support. In another project lead generation increased 800% but no one got the information to follow up – potential customers turned into bad reviews.

Caring is Required, Don’t Just Apply Technology.

The lesson is clear we don’t just need to automate the world, we need to improve it. Automation alone does not equal improved experience. To get to an enhanced experience we need teams and leaders with the skills to see where technology intersects with people. Teams with skills to work the right problem, not just apply technology.

As we layer machines into the world of people, they change that environment, creating a kind of feedback loop, if we turn up the technology volume too loud the human voices are lost and the sound turns from the hiss of bad experience into a deafening tone.

Caring about people as we build new technology is not a trendy idea or a nice idea, it’s required.

Also published on Medium.