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Are Internal Politics Stalling Your projects? Focus on Customer Interests to Jump Start Progress

We’ve all been in a meeting that hits gridlock due to conflicting ideas. Internal stakeholders have opinions and ideas about what is right. Experts have advice about what to do. It feels like the only voices heard are the loudest ones in the room. Meeting gridlock is frustrating because people want to feel heard. From the loudest stakeholder in the meeting to an introverted team member or a frustrated customer, everyone wants their opinions and ideas considered.

Meeting Gridlock is Caused by Focusing on Positions Instead of Interests

Gridlock in your meetings or internal decision-making process is likely caused by an inability to distinguish between position and interest. A position is what someone says they want. An interest is why they want it. If your CEO says your website needs to be redesigned this is her position. If you ask her why and she tells you she wants to reduce customer phone calls that is her interest.

Internal stakeholders and experts are likely sharing their positions, or what they want, without thinking about or disclosing why they want it, or their interests.

When internal stakeholders and experts are only thinking about their own positions, no one is thinking about the customer. Your customers’ interests should be the fundamental driver for your business decisions.

How Do You Find Your Customers’ Interests?

User-centered design is a means for defining your customers’ interests and solving meeting gridlock– or much larger challenges. Like making a useful and usable product or service for your customer. It is a flexible process that uses a rich toolkit of research and design methods to iteratively design, improve, and validate changes to your product or service with your end-users.

Illustration showing a Brand Manager saying "we need to share our mission", a developer saying "how will we build the website?". a webmaster saying "we need a new website", and a customer in a wheelchair saying "I need to know how to apply for this service"

User-Centered Design Helps You Uncover Your Customers’ Interests

The user-centered design toolbox offers numerous ways to uncover your customers’ wants or their position and the interests behind their positions. Methods for uncovering information about your customers include in-depth interviews, ethnographic field studies, focus groups, journal studies, and more. Using these methods, we can study people, how they behave and what they need. What customers say they want or what your internal stakeholders and experts think they want is different than what research will tell us that the customers need and why they need it. The data we collect will represent the voice of your customer in the conference room where your meeting gridlock began.

Defining Your Customers’ Interests Reduces Internal Conflict

When you consider your customer’s voice you shift the paradigm from an inside-out approach to an outside-in approach. Rather than guessing what you should do for the customer, user-centered design provides data that reveals their interests. This reduces conflict because discussions begin to revolve around the customer.

This does not mean that internal feedback - whether a position or an interest- should be ignored. A cornerstone of user-centered design is to listen to and document all feedback. Doing so will bring your stakeholders along in the design journey and increase transparency around decision making. Listening to stakeholder input will also give you the opportunity to separate their positions from underlying interests for valuable insights.

Your business goals and capabilities don’t go to the wayside either. They become the guidelines for how to prioritize solutions. They will also dictate when a solution a customer wants doesn't make sense for your business.

Solving the Customers' Problems Breaks Through Silos

When you shift your mindset to solve customers' problems and address their interests, you may have to work across functions, silos, or internal politics.

We recently worked with a transit group made of dispersed organizations. They wanted to create a new way for their riders to get around. Rather than consider the simplest solution for riders, they thought about solving the problem based on their position. They considered creating different payment systems for riders in different geographies.

Through user-research, the transportation organization found that riders wanted to seamlessly get to their destination on time, even if they were switching across transportation types (bus, boat, train, metro) or transportation regions. This interest led to the transit group coming up with a uniform payment system across regions for riders. It also led to collaboration across regions to come to a solution.

Start Uncovering Your Customers’ Interests to Solve Their Problems

Our positions can get in the way of seeing simple solutions that our customers want or need. The user-centered design process presents data that help us think outside of our positions and helps us uncover what our customers need and why. This paradigm shift allows us to work with people from different geographies, job functions, or silos to create the best solution for customers.