Segments and the need to focus on empathy to improve user experience

I was reading a feature on Akshay Kothari, head of LinkedIn India, where he talks of his noodle theory and user experience. It’s not the noodle theory that’s important, it’s the story and the way he shows how this simple user experience has stuck with him ever since and how it affects how he approaches innovation.The ability to focus on empathy with the end user results in improved user experience.

Some of what he says seems obvious, like he wouldn’t start a new project without first having spoken to the target group of users, refining key insights, having a point of view and building a prototype.

But there are some real gems here.

Having built Pulse as a college project which got snapped up and integrated into LinkedIn, his first move at LinkedIn India was to cobble together a team of engineers, web developers, designers, and marketers and travel across four cities as part of a learning process.

He’d already decided to focus on a segment of users largely not understood by LinkedIn – Students, potentially LinkedIn’s future customers.

For two weeks, Kothari and his team interacted with people [students] they wanted to design products for.

“We have to think like a team of six, disrupting on our way to meet our goals.”

This reminded me of Ash Maurya, Author of Running Lean, who talks about loving the problem not your solution.…

“…most products fail — not because we fail to build out our solution, but because we fail to solve a “big enough” customer problem.”

Ash stated that energy should be channeled towards finding evidence of a monetizable problem, not towards acquiring more resources to build out your solution.

Even though Akshay at LinkedIn could operate and no doubt use a large resource group from the 10,000 people at LinkedIn [or now 100,000 at Microsoft], he doesn’t.

And maybe there are “big enough” customer problems in small segments of your current and future customers as a way to innovate in a more agile fashion.

This is why looking at customer segment data is as important as focusing on what you think the big customer problems are.

Bigger isn’t always better. If we’re trying to be more agile and think big, start small, scale fast, maybe we need to look at customer segments (or other segments) as a way to identify big problems for small segments that can effectively be rolled out (or not) to a wider user base, effectively migrating from a small [tested] solution to a larger one.

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Maybe we spend too much time looking at problems for customers as a whole rather than a segment?

Might we get more work done and improve the customer experience for a segment? Yes I know we should fix problems for all customers, but in terms of ‘innovation’ isn’t this a good place to start?

After all it is about Jobs to be done which can apply to a segment just as much as to every user, then starting small, kinda makes sense doesn’t it?

In the same way that Akshay built solutions at LinkedIn India he initially thought were to solve India’s customers problems, they can quickly roll out to the rest of the community world-wide.


Agile teams, Behaviour and User Experience are also key themes in our book – also available on Amazon in Kindle and in old school print format.


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