How Empathy-Driven Innovation Can Improve Your Bottom Line

In the traditional paradigm, a rigid set of requirements dictates product design. Normally, when envisioning a new offering, a founder considers a few things: Would the new product offer more than the competition? Can it complement the existing product line? Would it appeal to a broader audience? Would it yield more profits?

Those concerns all tie back to one thing: the financial bottom line. But what if business leaders, first and foremost, sympathized with user plight? What would that look like?

An empathy-driven approach to innovation represents a fundamental shift in thinking, putting people at the center of the design process. Developing a piece of technology with empathy — already a powerful marketing tool — can speak to the consumer. Prioritizing customer convenience creates positive product buzz, establishes loyalty, and gives a founder and his product an even bigger forum to serve his target demographic.

The Impact of Empathy-Driven Innovation

Consider the medical device used to treat jaundice, an illness that ails 60 percent of newborns. Right now, an affected infant spends days apart from her family, isolated in a neonatal intensive care unit.

This method provides no health value to the infant. This is done because the device itself needs a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. To put it plainly, the infant is isolated because the machinery necessary for treating jaundice can’t function outside a facility that costs $8,000 a day. That puts a financial — and emotional — strain on families.

Is it possible to develop technology that allows the baby to be near her mother? Of course. Let empathy guide your innovation every now and then. It stays with customers that company has helped and establishes your brand as a consumer-friendly one.

In addition to the customer benefits, an empathetic approach is also a powerful recruitment tool a founder can use to bring in top-notch talent. According to Deloitte, 78 percent of Millennials choose an employer based on the company’s reputation for innovation.

Though it used to be a quality associated with nonprofits, empathy is quickly gaining recognition as a sustainable way of generating word-of-mouth marketing and driving sales. The Global Empathy Index 2015 showed that, compared to the bottom 10 companies, the top 10 generated 50 percent more earnings and more than doubled their value.

Empathy helps a business remain sustainable, though its vague nature prompts uncertainty for potential investors trying to forecast financial windfall. One of my advisors sums up that confusion like this:

“Managing ROI is like winning a game. The best coaches develop a strategy, recruit the best team they can, and empower them to do their job. They don’t focus on the score. If the execution approach is there, the final score will reflect that.”

Use Empathy to Improve Earnings

How can you use empathy-driven innovation to better your company’s industry position? If the idea is to put customers first, put a prototype in their hands and engage a third party to ask the tough questions.

What’s the most efficient way for your customer to engage with the product or service? Is there a way to design the product for a better outcome? In the case of medical technology, consider the care of the patient —not just the most efficient way to combat a disease — when crafting a solution.

Empathy-driven innovation is an approach that delivers value to your customers and your employees. It can have a profound impact on your bottom line and, in the case of technology, has the unique potential to improve the lives of users.

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Written by:
Vivek Kopparthi is the co-founder and CEO of NeoLight, an empathy-driven technology company primarily focused on lean medical devices for newborn care. With a background in electronic engineering, he and his team developed the world’s fastest, most powerful treatment for infant jaundice. As an entrepreneur, Kopparthi oversaw organizations of 100-plus employees, served as a startup advisor, and consulted for global corporations.
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