Deploy Empathy by Michele Hansen - Part 1

Why read this book? What do you know about customer interviews and what do you think about the word Empathy before starting?

I know that customers interviews are good to do and helpful for many businesses. I tend to associate them more with SaaS businesses where you would talk to your existing customers to find out how they are using your product. You may use that to guide in what features to build next. I'm a little unclear on how you'd do customers interviews before you build anything. Though clearly this is advice I've seen often. I can imagine it would be for uncovering problems or pains your potential customer's life that then you could solve. This is the part I hope to learn more about in this book. Because so far I can't imagine someone agreeing to speak to me for 30 minutes if the premise of the call is "I want you just walk me through your day and tell me about all your problems". I mean I understand people do this and I hear people love to talk about their problems. I just can't imagine this. I am also looking forward to learning the specific terminology to use and actual words to say. I love details and it seems this book offers scripts and such so I like that.

For the word empathy, I think of that is something I use with my kids and family members and close friends. People that I love. So I am intrigued by using it with potential customers and complete strangers. Intellectually it makes sense, though I feel wary of getting exhausted if start to care deeply about everyone. Not sure if that makes sense. From the definition I understand empathy is not about feeling what the other person is feeling. It's more about acknowledging that what they are feeling is valid and makes sense to you. I am afraid that if I take this empathy thing seriously though I won't be logical or focused (on the business part). For example, this story comes to mind:

In march of 2020, I offered to help a local art teacher (from my son's school) set up an online Shopify store. It was the beginning of the pandemic. School had to shut down in-person classes and she was trying to sell art boxes for kids to do at home. We bought one of these for $35 and it was great. I noticed the way she was selling was by having people email her and go back and forth about payment and shipping address. So I reached out and said "hey I can totally help you automate this!"  We had a couple of  zoom calls, we talked and I learned a lot about her and how she started the business. After getting all the product descriptions and photos from her, I set up the Shopify store on a Friday night, including matching brand colors from her existing website. We had a zoom call again, I showed her the admin dashboard and how to make updates in the future. She was extremely grateful and said I "relieved a tremendous amount to stress by stepping in showing her the way". Here's the thing. I did not charge for this. Which would be fine except I was trying to see if I can get "clients" and do "contract" work at the time (After being an employee for over a decade, this was foreign territory for me). I did not charge because I could see what her life was like from her perspective. Her business that she had built by herself and grown to employ several people, that had been running for many years successfully, was falling apart. She used the phrase "I am not good with computers" so I knew she did not feel thrilled about having to move it all online. So I felt bad charging. Here's the kicker. Later I mustered the courage to ask her "would you have paid for this and how much?" The answer was "yes totally. $300-$500. Which made sense, she was running a business. It totally makes sense for her to invest in her business by paying for a service that provides value and relieves "tremendous amount of stress". I had made up a story in my head that she wasn't in a position to pay and felt bad about her business troubles and the pandemic. I did not by thinking and feeling too much and putting myself in her shoes too much. By being too empathetic. And that doesn't work. I am aware that this mindset is so naive and no way to be successful entrepreneur and business builder. She was paying an accountant to do her business taxes and she was also paying a lawyer to get her name trademarked. All these professionals charge way money. So it would've been natural for her to pay a developer as well. It was me who had made me a story in my mind, by caring too much or over-thinking it? Anyway, that's the memory jogged by the word empathy.

So back to Deploy Empathy, the book. Why am I reading it? I quit reading traditional startup books a year ago (after reading many classics). Business building is about understanding people and human psychology more than anything else.  So this one fits that bill.  But I'm mostly reading because I enjoy reading, tracking notes and sharing what I learn.  And also because I'm familiar with the author from Twitter and her podcast.  All good reasons for me. Let's go!

Who is this book for and How to use it

Who can you interview? you can use this to interview potential customers, former customers, current customers, clients.

Reasons to interview customers - to find out why people cancel, how to get more people to buy, what features to build next.

The promise of the book is a "toolbox of repeatable processes that will allow you to find opportunities and moments of unexpected insights". Specifically we learn a set of conversation techniques and ways of speaking.

Using these, people will tell you useful actionable things. You create a competitive advantage for your company by being open to listening to your customers and having empathy for them. Since many large companies overlook this resource.

This book is written for people who do not come from a user experience background and intends to make the trails knowledge from that community accessible to a broader audience. This book is written with solo founders in mind, who are likely developers and makers. It aims to "demystify the skill of pulling wants and needs out of potential customers". Doing so from the beginning can save us time and save us from the pain of building something people don't want.

[book] The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

[person] Brene Brown

[book] Practical Empathy by Indi Young

[book] Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

What is Empathy? A definition:

Empathy is about understanding how another person thinks, and acknowledging [their] reasoning and emotions as valid, even if they differ from your own understanding.

Empathy doesn't mean that you agree with the other person. But you do need to enter their world and understand their perspective.

[action] Try the techniques on family and friends before talking to customers.

[aside] Stripe has integrated talking to customers as part of their DNA and this includes developers talking to customers. Cool. I never did this as a developer. When I first joined, I recall really wanting to talk to users at Castlight. Actually I wanted to eavesdrop conversations that customer success reps ("the guides") were having in that conference room across my desk.

Surprising tidbit - Listening to someone is powerful, even if you don't do anything with what you've learned afterward. [Really?! Has to do with how the brain creates good feeling towards someone who listened to you]

[book] The Jobs to Be Done Playbook by Jim Kalbach

[book][next] Company of One by Paul Jarvis

[book][next] Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling

[book][next] Zero to Sold by Arvid Kahl

Overview of the book

Part 2 Key Frameworks is about the theory and helpful mental models to keep in mind while conducting and analyzing interviews. The rest of the book is not very theory heavy.

Part 2 Getting Started is about how customer interviews are different any other interviews we may hear or see on podcasts or TV. The conversation is more like how a therapist talks to their patients

Part 3 When Should You Do Interviews is about tools for thinking about when to do interviews - project-based research and ongoing research.

Part 4 Recruiting Participants includes specific copy to use for finding people talk to via Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and email lists, especially when you don't already have customers.

Part 5 How to Talk so People will Talk is the important part of this book. It shows how interviews are more like acting than a conversation.

Part 6 Interviews gets into the nuts and bolts of interviews and includes scripts for specific scenarios like cancellation, prototype testing, or exploring a problem.

Part 7 and 8 are about analyzing interviews and pulling out which problems and tasks might be good opportunities.

Key Frameworks

This is the theory part, three are 3 frameworks to learn about. These framework guide us in how to think about which questions to ask, how to ask follow-up questions, and what to do with what you learn.

Everything is a Process

Insight: all business tasks are made of a steps and are processes. Solving one step of the process, by making it easier/faster/cheaper, can be valuable too. People think that they have to solve the entire process. Understanding this will allow you to dig deeper when someone talks about a single task like "sending an invoice" that you know is a package of tasks.

Processes vary in frequency and complexity. People are more willing to pay to problems that are frequent, complex, time consuming, expensive to get wrong, or frustrating in some way.

Core Questions

  1. What are they trying to do overall?
  2. What are all of the steps in that process?
  3. Where are they now?
  4. Where does the problem you are solving fit in that process?
  5. Where in that process do they spend a lot of time or money?
  6. How often do they experience this problem?
  7. What have they already tried?

[book][next] Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Functional, Social, and Emotional

A process has more than functional elements. There are also social complexities and emotional elements. Understanding all of these motivators and constraints are key to understanding why someone might choose, continue or discontinue using a product. ("hiring" and "firing" products per Jobs To Be Done framework/book).

After discovering motivations, you also need to probe the commercial viability of the problems and how you might price it by asking:

  • how often they experience it
  • what they're currently using to solve it
  • how much time do they spend on it

Valuable, Usable, Viable, and Feasible

Product needs to be valuable to the customer, usable by the customers. It needs to be commercially viable (i.e make money) for the company and feasible to build (and maintain and support) by the company.

This evaluation happens after the interview though. During the interview, your job is too absorb whatever the person says like a sponge. [Warning: This is something I'd have trouble with (and would need to practice to learn!). As of now, I can imagine dismissing something, at least in my mind, a customers says if I judge it to be not feasible or not something people would pay for or...So the point here is to not start doing that judging and filtering during the interview.]

Getting Started

There is a sample interview you can listen to here which is useful as a template for practicing.

Some phrases from the sample interview I noticed: at the beginning "do you have any questions for me?" at the end "is there anything else I should know?" Without directly asking, managed to get answer to "how did you here about the product?". Another observation - never directly talked about the product pricing.

In a well-run interview, the interviewer should do about 10% of the talking and the customer 90%. You get the customer talking with follow-up questions. Following up can also just be rephrasing what the person said to elicit elaboration.

A good suggestion of starting with interactive interviews:

You might find it easier to start with interactive interviews (such as testing a prototype or website) rather than digging into someone’s process and emotions. The prototype, landing page, or whatever it is you are testing can act as a neutral third party in the interview and give you an easy way to deflect awkwardness.

[book] What Got You Here Won't Get You There

[insight] I can practice these techniques with my mentee/students (after all, they are my customers and I don't really "interview" them at all.  We mostly talk technical things, and I teach/explain not exactly listen.

Steps to get started:

  1. Read the "How to talk to people with talk" section
  2. Do a practice interview (and record it) with a friend, using the script and topics provided
  3. Analyze the practice interview - for the information you gathered and how you conducted it
  4. Do more interview and practice

How will you know if you're doing it right and interviewing successfully?

Success is walking away excited about what you’ve learned, with new questions to answer, and full of ideas for things you could do differently.

You'll know if you're doing it right if you can identify their overall goal, steps that go into their process, relevant problems, and frequency and time and money spent for relevant steps. You are also looking to identify different functional, emotional, and social components.

Practice Interview

The topic is “What’s something new you bought in the last three months?” The idea is to understand why we made the new purchase.

Sample questions for the exercise:

1. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I recognize this may be a little strange, but this will help me with [work/side project/etc.]. Is it okay if I record this? 
2. To start, can you tell me about a product you bought for the first time recently?
3. Where were you when you bought it? Were you with anyone else when you bought it? 
4. How did you make the purchase? 
5. Before you bought it, was there anything about it that was kind of an open question about it to you? 
6. Where did you first learn about the product? 
7. What did you do when you first came across [the product]? 
8. Did you talk to anyone else before you made the purchase? 
9. What were you hoping [the product] would do for you? 
10. What other products did you try before this? 
11. How did it go when you first used it? 
12. Can you tell me about whether it did what you were hoping it would do? 
13. Would you buy [this product] again?

Hansen, Michele. Deploy Empathy: A Practical Guide to Interviewing Customers (p. 70). Dotsquare Press. Kindle Edition. ``` 

These are copied from the book. You can purchase Deploy Empathy here and here.

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