Like Digital Cameras? Thank Sony’s Organizational Empathy

I read an interesting article by Sony’s former VP of Brand and Strategy in Fast Company called How Sony Learned That Product Features Don’t Matter. The article discuses how Sony adjusted its digital camera design based on a rich understanding of how consumers were interacting with them. Here are some excerpts from the article:

People would snap informal pictures in the middle of the action and share them with people right on the spot using the instant display on the back of the camera. Picture-taking and picture-sharing added to the fun and action of the occasion in the moment. They wouldn’t be the best quality pictures–oftentimes people would take several pictures of the same shot–but now that they were “free” and disposable, getting the perfect picture was no longer as important. Sometimes images would then be saved, printed, and displayed, but many would remain in the camera forgotten after the moment passed.

This kind of behavior had not been anticipated by our product designers. They had assumed, as most of us had, that digital cameras represented a new, more convenient method of gratifying old, reliable emotional needs–to preserve memories of special occasions by putting images in photo albums and hanging them on walls. Many of our efforts had been focused on helping people take high-quality pictures and on transferring image files from camera to computer for printing and storage.

All the improvements you saw in Sony’s digital cameras during the decade of the 2000s–larger, brighter instant displays, easy gallery-style browsing, wireless instant sharing options, and ever smaller camera sizes–were spurred by these kinds of empathic insights into how people felt about cameras and about photographs.

My take: Sony was able to evolve its digital cameras based on the company’s ability to master the three characteristics of organizational empathy: Perceive-Reflect-Adjust.

  • Perceive: Customers used their new digital phones in a different way than Sony originally anticipated.
  • Reflect: Sony sent employees to go watch customers as they used their phones to discover what they actually wanted from the device. They discovered that users actually wanted to look at the pictures immediately and often took many, lower-quality pictures of the same picture.
  • Adjust: Sony made larger, brighter instant displays, easy gallery-style browsing, wireless instant sharing option, and smaller camera sizes to fit this customer need.

The bottom line: Find ways to Amplify Empathy in your organization!

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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