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Stewart Smythe at Ascent asks whether greater mutual understanding is needed to underpin the technology industry

In a commercial context, empathy is a theme that relates to a whole range of interactions from leadership to customer service and experience design, but in the technology services industry, it’s something of a left-field concept that is often overwhelmed by a focus on the solution. Tech companies everywhere talk about ‘understanding’ their customers, but how many invest more deeply than that?

Arguably, and particularly in the shadow of universal adversity that Covid cast over the last year, humanising the relentless digital challenge has become even more relevant – and critical.

Making empathy the cornerstone of a technology proposition allows organisations to create space for a different kind of customer relationship – grown up, resilient, flexible, commercially agile, constantly mindful of its fundamental aims. But how have some tech organisations arrived at this point when others seem to view the last 12 months as little more than a rollercoaster ride that will soon return them to a safe and familiar starting point?

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has hastened the pace of change across the technology landscape, but in much broader and more nuanced ways than the headlines about remote working and rapid product development would have us believe.

Some technology businesses have taken the opportunity to rethink their approach to customer relationships and have learnt that working closely together in exceptional circumstances brings out the best in everyone. In contrast, others have had to be more tactical to protect revenues and sustain momentum, employing short term promotions and heavy discounting to keep spending going.

In my business, we allowed empathy to guide the investments and changes we made in our business model, and we made different and longer-range choices based on what Covid took from customer strategies: certainty and confidence.
We did three fundamental things as part of this approach.
We wrote new contracts that put a proportion of our revenues at risk against our customer commitments to make it easier for customers to make technology investments during uncertain times.

We recut our delivery phasing to get value into the hands of customers even earlier, helping them build confidence in the relationship and see a return more quickly.

We adjusted our resourcing approach and made some new hires to ensure we were in a position to guarantee resource continuity with customers across longer programmes, sustaining existing team dynamics and maintaining consistency and predictability.

Building empathy into the business model is an approach that gives technology partners the opportunity to fully live up to their core values, taking on the weight of customer responsibility and really understanding their pressures and drivers. Any good business builds meaningful relationships with customers – but going a step further and working with customers to define success, and failure, on their own terms is an opportunity to contribute more value.

In short, mutual understanding, or empathy, is not just a way for technology partners to behave in an emergency, it’s an exceptionally effective business model for the long term. Those who have seen the best from adaptable technology partners are sharing their experiences as the model for future relationships and, for them, there’s no going back.

Published in: Business Reporter