Thought Leadership

Empathy in Custom Software Development

Our CEO, Amanda Moriuchi, speaks about the unwavering responsibility of developers and tech providers to be empathetic towards business owners.

As a business owner, you have a lot at stake when you invest in anything, especially custom software. What I love the most about my work is the impact custom software can have on a business when it’s done correctly.  Typically, our clients engage in custom software projects because they are trying to solve a tangible, very real need in their businesses, and successful projects tend to drive hugely profitable efficiencies and create opportunities that forge pathways toward growth and expansion. 

I’ve also seen cursory app developers tank the very best of intentions. And when you’re running a business, a tanked investment can destroy everything.

All Custom Software Solutions Aren't Created Equally

Desktop and mobile apps aren’t cheap — at least the good ones aren’t. But they’re viable investments because they meet genuine needs when they execute thoughtful, nimble solutions. 

You may be using out-of-the-box subscription software that helps employees with day-to-day tasks. You see time wasted because the software’s cumbersome. After all, it’s not designed for your business. These solutions appeal to a lot of customers, but when they only address typical workflows, they could use some tweaking. You see the better way. Many successful businesses we work with have a customized workflow, and that calls for customized software. You need a whip-smart development team on your side to create the seamless solution you need. This is a critical juncture where developer empathy can make or break the success of a project.  

Smart Developers Aren’t Always Empathetic

I’ve seen it happen. Your app concept is well thought out. The development team’s proposal, which may promise slick solutions, ends with a nonchalant hand wave — “We can make that. No problem.” The dreaded hand wave. Be warned: It can cause thousands in work that may not serve your business. 

You want to believe them. After all, you’re an expert in your field, and you want to trust that this development company is meeting you on an expert level, too. You may not fully understand how their process works, but they had a nice website, right? 

Wait, hold a minute. Back to the hand wave. The developers said they could make it happen “No problem.” Are they sure? Have they delved into the intricacies of your business enough to know what they are actually solving? Do they really understand the problem?

Like Jumping Out of an Airplane

I’m deeply aware of the risk our clients take when they set off on a custom software project. There’s a low barrier of entry into the custom software industry, and it’s extremely challenging to tell the difference between a quality organization and one that’s not. 

In this environment, most of our clients don’t see the vendor’s true colors until the very end of the project. Just before launch — when deadlines are looming and pressure is high — is when you see if the people you hired are high or low quality. 

It feels a little like jumping out of an airplane, and only then are you able to see if your parachute works or not.

A Deadly Blow 

Hand waving in the app development industry — the, “We can do that, that’s not a big deal” gesture — is wholly irresponsible. I’ve been on a project where a single hand wave cost a client $100,000. Empathy is the only antidote because it requires developers to think critically about solving the problem rather than making the sale — it comes from two different mindsets — one focused on the customer and one focused on the company’s revenue targets.  

This is why the AppIt team is trained to invest in problem solving as early in the sales process as possible. We are here to help solve problems for our clients, whether they end up working with us or not. By solving the underlying problems for our clients early on, we guard against the hand wave, and our revenue takes care of itself. 

Empathy in App Development

AppIt has meticulously built a team that cares for our clients and their businesses, and we have built a culture that demands excellence on delivery. We help people with real problems, and we take the time to clearly diagnose the business problems our clients need to solve. We’re trained to go three layers deep through empathetic questioning — we don’t just talk about the problem staring you in the face.

AppIt understands that clients rarely present the real problem straightaway, but rather seek to solve the symptom of an underlying issue. We dig to understand the reasons behind the initial quest for a custom software solution or mobile app — constantly testing to validate if a custom application is truly the right solution to a business problem. 

Our reputation is built on not only our ability to deliver a quality solution, but more than anything, on our ability to deliver a solution that brings ROI to the business. 

In a world where anything can be done, leveraging empathy to deeply understand the root cause of a business problem is essential in determining ROI. Stopping at the surface-level, or symptomatic issue puts our clients at risk of solving the wrong problem. Only by stepping into our clients’ world and truly understanding their challenges allows us to diagnose the real issue and build a solution that will yield a return.  

Our team pauses to celebrate if we work with a client to find an existing solution or a lower-cost alternative to a fully custom application, and we are proud to point clients to a better path, even if it means we don’t do project work with them. This is because we have leveraged empathy to solve a business problem and we are able to walk away with our reputation intact while our customer is able to solve a real problem. We are providing value in a crowded, confusing marketplace, and that is the true win.

Developers Should Understand Your Business

I understand the risks of an investment like this because I’m a business owner, too. I am fully aware that one misstep can kill a business. The giant rental car company Hertz paid an agency $32 million to recreate a website and a mobile app. A huge investment, but they’re also a big company, so play along. Hertz never got what they wanted. Last year Hertz sued, spending more money, because they claim the app development agency never delivered.

Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common. AppIt regularly takes on clients as “project rescue,” where we get our clients’ software projects back on the proper course and toward delivering a return on investment. Over the years, I’ve seen that most, if not all, of these project rescues start on the wrong path from the first step — with the handwave.  

I encourage our customers to hold software vendors accountable to explain their thought process during the proposal stage. Vet your software developers and make them prove they understand your issue by providing details, other suggestions you haven’t considered, and show they’ve stepped into your psyche as a business owner.

Recognizing Our Power in the Tech Industry 

AppIt holds itself to a higher standard. The hand wave is an irresponsible move, and I have seen it crush hard-working entrepreneurs and business owners. The only answer to this is gaining an intimate understanding of how a business works and questioning the value of a custom software solution.  Ask questions three layers deep. Keep asking questions so you can gain a better understanding of the context of the challenge that moves a client to seek your help.  

Our team, as it has always done, will continue to ask “what’s the right thing for the client”? It’s the golden rule that remains as valuable today as it has always been. 

Talk to our team to scope your next project.