Welcome to Empathy Deployed

This episode provides some background on why I started this podcast. If you’d like to get straight into some customer interview examples you can skip to episode 1.

Welcome to Empathy Deployed a podcast where you can experience an example customer interview every week. You'll discover new perspectives on different software products and improve your customer interview technique as I attempt to do the same.

I’m Jonathan Markwell. This episode provides some background on why I started this podcast. If you’d like to get straight into some customer interview examples you can skip to episode 1.

I’ve lost jobs, fallen out with cofounders and had my software products fail because I didn’t understand other people’s perspectives.

I really enjoy writing software and tinkering with my own ideas. My comfort zone is not talking to anyone. Unsurprisingly, multiple colleagues have given me feedback telling me I lack empathy. 

I’ve spent over a decade struggling with this along with the anxiety, depression and debt that often followed.

I’ve been fortunate to see more than my fair share of success too.

I’ve helped four B2B subscription businesses go from zero to over £1 million in revenue. After spending hundreds of thousands of pounds building the wrong thing, they discovered the problem they should have been solving all along. I can trace the success of each of them to a few conversations where the founders empathised with customers.

Luck played far more of a part than it could have in making those conversations happen.

I’ve had many teachers who have taught me the importance of empathy.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve attended conferences, listened to podcasts, read books and took courses that have drilled it in. I know having more empathy for customers, colleagues, friends and family would be a good thing. It will help me grow personally and professionally and I will be better equipped to help them all.

Yet I still fail to practice it regularly.

I’ve wondered if I’m just not cut out for it.

I learned I was dyslexic at 16 which explained some of my struggles with work at school. I also really struggled with making friends. Last year my son was diagnosed as autistic and I learned much more about neurodiversity as a result.

I know I’m an introvert but I suspect I may have ADHD and/or be autistic as well.

Either way, I feel I need to put far more work into having and displaying empathy than other people might.

There’s one podcast I’ve kept up with every episode of over the last year and it’s really helped me.

I started listening to Software Social Podcast because I wanted a change from hearing the experiences of men without children starting software businesses. I kept listening because I found it more insightful and inspiring than anything else. I relate to the hosts Colleen Schnettler as a Ruby developer and Michele Hansen as a customer researcher.

I found one episode particularly fascinating, an interview of one of Colleen’s customers conducted by Michele.

In the example interview, Michele expertly demonstrated what questions to ask, how to ask them and how to respond.

The example is an excellent companion to Michele’s book, Deploy Empathy. I was lucky enough to get early access when she started publishing chapters to her newsletter earlier this year. It was the practical guide to interviewing customers that I (and many of my clients) always needed.

The book and interview combined inspired me to conduct 12 customer interviews for both my clients and my own businesses.

Michel’s work helped me have some of the most insightful customer interviews I’ve ever experienced.

We learned pricing for one product was far too low for some customers. We learned the job another product did for customers was completely different from how we described it on the website. I found myself talking to people outside of work in far more positive ways.

I was gaining a better understanding of how and why other people were thinking certain things even when I didn’t agree with their ideas.

Then, before I knew it, I realised I had failed to keep up with this new practice.

Weeks had gone by since my last customer interview. I spent another with my head in code not talking to anyone outside of my household. I had likely fallen into the trap of building more stuff nobody wants.

I was stressed and it was showing outside of work too.

There’s a hack I’ve used repeatedly over the years to force me to do something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

I’m really bad at starting conversations with people and building long-term relationships. I learned early on that if you organise something, people will inevitably come to you with questions and break the ice for you. So I started meetups, conferences and even a coworking community to get to know people and keep seeing them regularly.

I can now trace most of my best clients and many of my closest friends back to doing this.

I felt I needed a new hack to keep me in the habit of doing customer interviews.

Listening to an example customer interview every week might do the trick. I’d have a steady source of inspiration to do it myself. I found other people were looking for this but no one else seemed to be doing it.

So, after checking Michel wasn’t planning something similar, I started this podcast.

I’m recording this intro after doing the first two interviews.

I’ve learned about highly valued products I was previously unaware of. I’ve learned why they were chosen by people working in different businesses to my own. I’m hopefully getting better at empathizing with people with each interview - you can be the judge of that.

They’re not perfect, I’m still learning, but I think you’re going to find them as fascinating as I have.

Each episode explores a different software product from the perspective of a different user.

I’m being guided by the interview script Michele includes in Deploy Empathy. I’m primarily focusing on business software products as that’s always been my area of interest. You might hear from people using your competitors' products in parts of the world you don’t yet have customers in.

Hopefully, this will help you to discover new perspectives, make better products and do more customer interviews for your own products.

Guests will get some attention from my audience of business owners and developers.

Those who haven’t been on a podcast before shouldn’t find my questions at all difficult to answer. The focus will be on tools and services they’ve been using rather than them and their business. Seasoned podcasters will hopefully find it’s a nice change of pace from others.

They’ll of course also get to influence a few hundred people into building products better while raising awareness of their own businesses and/or causes.

If you’d like to be a guest send me a note. On Twitter I’m @jot. DMs are open. You can also use the form at EmpathyDeployed.com or email hello@empathydeployed.com. Please include the names and web addresses of three software products you use regularly and/or pay for.

Now, let’s get into the customer interviews.

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