Many companies lose sight of their intended mission and goals through misguided assumptions, projections, or guesswork about their audience and team. To use a personal relationship as an analogy, one might assume that they already know what their friend or partner needs, without seeking to truly observe or understand. Everyday, we work to use empathetic eyes at Dream See Do in order to see, hear, and feel the needs and pain points of our clients, participants and our team. Often called a ‘human-centered’ approach, we see it as a natural and vital part of the lifeblood of our work. With our attention firmly on community, human connection and support, an empathetic lens is one of the most important tools in our arsenal.

The renowned psychologist, Alfred Adler, knew the importance of these qualities. Often referred to as the first ‘community psychologist’, he “pioneered attention to community life, prevention, and population health.”

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” — Alfred Adler

You may be thinking that it’s logical to conceive of how you can exercise empathy within personal relationships, but how do we accomplish this in a business or community setting, particularly with our clients and audiences? We will share more about intentionally engaging a mindset of curiosity, openness and feedback with your team, in a future article. Today I will focus on our clients and communities. There are many tools and techniques that can be used to help us better understand our audiences’ needs. As digital product owners who offer supportive & complementary services, we employ a number of these. Here are a few techniques and tools you can easily put into use for your own work.

Observe your audience + Customer/User testing
Since the inception of our business, we have witnessed the work of our clients, with intention. Sometimes in person, other times through a video chat to watch them use the site and get their impressions: to see where they get stuck, or learn what tools are most useful. This is an ongoing and constantly evolving process that is critical for any digital product company. This approach can be very useful for service providers as well. When we observe, we can ask direct questions and dig deeper into root problems and their possible solutions. Sometimes we parse and study aggregate (anonymized) data to see trends in engagement with various features. This helps us decode what is working well and what may not be needed. It is another signal that can be combined with the interpersonal observation approach.

In all of these instances, our intention is to make sure we understand what type of programs our clients are running, how they want to utilize our features to actualize their work and impact, and what challenges they are facing that we can help alleviate. Often we will take these observations and create features to directly respond to what we see and hear. Other times we will serve as a support team for our clients who need help with areas like course creation, blended learning business modeling or overall community learning experience design. In each situation, it all begins with using fresh eyes to authentically see our clients desires, goals & needs.

Poll your audience
The next best thing to observing your audience is to poll them. You can send an ‘intake’ survey to get a pulse on where people live in a trajectory of knowledge, and send a follow up survey to test their knowledge after you have taught them. You can send short polls to learn what features are working and what further needs they may have. This process is similar to observation, and is just one step removed from actually seeing body language.

Invite feedback
Whether you are able to learn about your audiences’ needs in person or via a poll, the most important thing is to consistently invite their feedback. Use language on your website, emails and marketing materials that communicates that you are open to and actively seeking feedback. As one example, we include copy in every newsletter inviting feedback and questions. Within your online learning programs, you can invite feedback with surveys, through video reflections or comments at any point during a course. If you have your own website, you can use other online tools like intercom, inviting feedback in email newsletters, or literally calling and emailing clients directly to elicit feedback.

How do you listen to and invite feedback from your audience?

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