Posted by Amy Buckner Chowdhry on Jan 27, 2017 2:48:44 PM

At AnswerLab, we develop insights and advice to help the world’s leading brands create exceptional digital experiences. Working with companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, FedEx, Wells Fargo, and Walmart, I frequently see the habits and mindsets of digital leaders who succeed and those who fail. In my experience, building a winning digital experience starts with one thing – the people.

And, people who have customer-centric behaviors come out on top. They succeed because they understand that impactful product and service experiences, first and foremost, improve customers’ lives. They either address a well-known pain or one that customers never knew they had.

Getting to the heart of that customer pain requires three key habits:

Habit 1: Building and demonstrating empathy

User-centered leaders at the top of their game have a profound sense of empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of their customers. With customer experience at the core of their thinking, they can more confidently design for true market needs. Because the ability to empathize allows them to make reasonable assumptions about user expectations, every little decision does not need to be validated with customers. In addition, they can anticipate future customer need with more accuracy. Customer-centric leaders often use a number of tools to help them maintain empathy – user personas, innovation workshops, and user research.

Are you bringing enough empathy to the table when designing for your customers? Do you truly understand what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes? Do you have an emotional connection to solving for customers’ pain?

Habit 2: Engaging regularly with customers

Leaders who frequently spend time observing or interacting with customers have much deeper levels of empathy and understanding than those who merely look at data and reports. They visit customers in their natural environments in order to understand context. They observe customers “in the wild” to see their behaviors. They watch videos of customers discussing their needs and usage, and better yet, go behind the one-way mirror to immerse themselves in the research process. They understand that the largest ‘a-ha’ moments and product/feature ideas can stem from casual customer comments. In those interactions, they find golden opportunities.

Are you and your team connecting directly with customers on a regular basis? Do you seek a variety of research methods to broaden your perspective? In your decision making, are you balancing the value of quantitative data with qualitative customer insights?

Habit 3: Cultivating a mindset of curiosity

True customer-centric leaders also care deeply about validating that product ideas have been accurately refined and honed to fit customer need. Instead of latching onto one idea, they stay nimble and curious throughout the experience design process. They never claim to be experts, and instead keep their minds open to customer feedback along the way. They recognize that concept and usability testing are focused on testing products, not designers, and thus do not become defensive in the process. They put aside personal and political agendas.

Are you bringing a “beginners mind” to work every day? Are you making decisions that focus on customer need over your own personal ideas? Do you consistently advocate for customer need, even if it makes your life more difficult?

Carefully consider the questions above for any blind spots. You may discover an opportunity to develop a deeper customer focus in your personal leadership style. By cultivating these habits, you’ll be on a much stronger path to the next market-winning digital experience.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Topics: Strategy