Category Archives: Culture

Customer Love: Southwest Airlines Does It Again!

I fly SWA a lot. I love their philosophy, how they do business, and how I am treated. One of their core tenets is loving their customers and being heart-centered. I think it’s their most potent differentiator.

Their latest way of showing customer love is with their “Heart of Travel” personalized artwork project. I got an email saying this:

And it gave me a link to “View your artwork” which told me Southwest is celebrating my loyalty to them by creating a custom-made work of art based on my flights with them this past year.

It’s not just a random piece of art. It’s an actual representation of my flights with them, which makes it strategically aligned with their business objectives, their brand, and my customer experience  (media story here).

Here’s a video about how they came up with the idea and actually generate the individual works of art. Pretty cool stuff.

And… without further ado, here is my very own “Heart of Travel” one-of-a-kind SWA poster representing all my 2016 SWA flights.

Now imagine a med tech company or healthcare system or insurance company or non-profit taking this same idea of: a) celebrating its customers, providers, or patients, b) providing them a unique gift that both surprises and delights them, and c) employing  an approach that is authentic, on purpose, and on message. The creative possibilities are endless, and the payoff I believe enormous.

Where does it start? By loving your customers.

Creating Space for Strategic Thinking in Business and Life

space blog post image

Clients often engage us to help them think differently, often more expansively. All come in with a desire, idea, or plan – could be for a next gen product or better user experience, tapping into a new market, developing a go-to-market launch campaign, improving their brand strategy, or something else.

They generally believe the essence of their idea or plan is good, but have a niggling feeling that their idea or plan may somehow be “off” or missing something, but can’t really put their finger on what’s going on or why.

It’s kind of like, on a personal level, when you start to do something and some deep knowing inside says “wait!” or “think again” or “there’s more here.” We’ve all experienced this uncertainty in business and life, countless times. You might notice it as tightness in your gut, or cloudiness in your mind, or a drop in your energy. At that point, you have to choose – you can just keep going anyway and ignore that internal guidance system; or you can stop, step back, and think strategically about your idea or plan from a much larger perspective.

In business and life, stepping back to think from a larger perspective is what I mean by “creating space” for strategic thinking. Now I recognize that to some of you this may sound “woo woo” and very California (hey I live in San Diego!). But hang in there with me.

Because when you do create a bigger space for strategic thinking, all kinds of new possibilities emerge. The result may be a major pivot, a slight adjustment, or no change at all. The other really important outcome is your acceptance at a deep level and without reservation that you are on the right track and doing the right thing.

Here’s what happens: By creating space to think strategically from a much larger perspective, you are letting go of the how (for the moment) to focus on the what. You become aware of any self-justifying but discomfiting loop you were in. You see where your creative exploration of possibilities and strategic thinking was constrained in non-productive ways.

What very quickly becomes clear is whether your desire, idea, or plan is in alignment with the mission and purpose of your company or business unit. In other words, you will know if, from your internal perspective, your what delivers on your why. Then as a next step, you might choose to do research with your stakeholders and customers to see how they perceive the alignment between your desire, idea, or plan, what they expect of your company, and what they want and will buy and use.

Most importantly when you create a bigger space for strategic thinking, you are demonstrating to yourself and others in your company to trust and act upon the inner guidance we all have. Which is very different than deferring to the critical voice we all have as well. You can tell the difference because when you move business decisions into a more expansive space though your inner guidance system, there is no judgment involved. The higher level of strategic thinking emerges naturally and with little effort. When your critical voice is the driver, the experience is full of judgment and diminishment. Not fun, not productive.

Next time you are faced with making a decision on a desire, idea, or plan, and some deep knowing inside says “wait!” or “think again,”… then listen. Do it. Give yourself and your team the opportunity to step back, make space for fresh, strategic thinking. Emerge knowing with clarity the right next steps.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to author Jim Case for inspiring this post.

Happiness as Competitive Advantage? A Challenge for Health Companies

company_happinessYou may be familiar with the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) index. This small Himalayan nation is the only country in the world that measures and aims for national happiness as its most important objective. The intent is to build an economy and culture based on spiritual values more than on material wealth. It prioritizes GNH over GDP. Bhutan’s commitment inspired the United Nations to pass a resolution that placed “happiness” on the global development agenda.

What does this have to do with you and the success of your company that’s in the business of health?? Potentially, a lot. As you read what follows, consider the notion of balancing both profitability and happiness as guiding values and major indicators of success.

Bhutan’s young King Khesar put it this way in his coronation address: Yet we must always remember that as our country, in these changing times finds immense new challenges and opportunities, whatever work we do, whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing. That is the essence of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Our most important goal is the peace and happiness of our people and the security and sovereignty of the nation.

Most companies in the health industry base major business decisions on financial metrics like ROI to shareholders, quarterly numbers, and EBIDTA. Which makes sense. You need to be successfully financially and deliver a return to investors to be a going concern.

Money matters, no matter how dedicated your company is to improving health and saving lives. “No margin, no mission,” as the late Sister Irene Kraus, former CEO of the $3 billion Daughters of Charity National Health System, is credited as saying.

And, and… maybe happiness can matter just as much as money, and measurably contribute to your company’s financial success.  Especially since you’re in the business of health. Many start with employee happiness and well-being. Kaiser, Genentech, Mayo Clinic are a few of the health companies that have a reputation for really investing in the well-being –  and thereby the happiness – of their employees.  And there’s much further to go.

Let’s do a thought experiment: What would if happiness of your employees was a measure of your organization’s well-being? What about delivering  happiness to your customers?  Can you imagine happiness as part of your brand promise? Part of your unchanging core values? A key differentiator in highly competitive market? A metric you proudly talk about to shareholders and investors?

Be happy??

Companies in Healthcare: What Could Make You Disappear??

The healthcare industry is changing at an incredible pace. That means winners and losers. New companies emerging and existing companies going away. What could make your company disappear?

To be clear, by “make your company disappear” I don’t mean some super-powered ray gun or a natural disaster that would ‘poof!’ make your company suddenly vanish, dissolve, or fade away.  I’m asking seriously what could make your products, services, or company irrelevant, obsolete, or undesirable?

And I apologize. I know disappearing can be an unpleasant thing to think about. But it’s really important to think about, especially when you’re doing well. As you know, there is a plethora of products, services, and companies that were once great, and then succumbed to forces that made them disappear.

In today’s healthcare environment, just consider the impact of Meaningful Use or the MEDTECH Act; the shift toward value-based reimbursement or growing influence of GPOs; the proliferation of wearables and monitoring devices; and the health plays of leading tech companies like Apple and Google.

Any of these forces can position a few as market leaders, necessitate radical restructuring for many, make other companies disappear, and launch countless new startups to replace them. You want to stay strong. Be proactive. Don’t be one of the disappearing companies or a victim of circumstances.

First consider your company’s relationship with the market and healthcare business environment. Start with these five questions:

  1. What change in the market can make my products or services irrelevant, obsolete, or undesirable?
  2. What technological innovation can make my products or services irrelevant, obsolete, or undesirable?
  3. What shift in consumer behavior can make my products or services irrelevant, obsolete, or undesirable?
  4. What policy or regulation can make my products or services irrelevant, obsolete, or undesirable?
  5. What competitor can make my products or services irrelevant, obsolete, or undesirable?

Your answers should help you look beyond the present, see threats to your long-term viability, and proactively make plans to preserve your company’s existence and well-being. Think big picture, not just about what might replace your offerings, but what might integrate your technology into something bigger, like smartphones have integrated the functions of MP3 players. Consider too getting input from KOLs and customers to give you a more well-rounded perspective and greater certainty in your conclusions.

Now take a look at your own internal practices and beliefs, that if unchecked, can prevent you from being agile and responsive, and ultimately make you disappear. But don’t do this assessment unilaterally, get feedback from your team. Drawing on the innovation work of Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan, think about these three traps that can make even highly successful companies flop. Do any apply to you?

  1. Major investments in systems or technologies can make it prohibitively expensive for you to move to newer and better tools. But the longer you stay with what you have, the harder it is to switch. Some call this the “sunk costs” fallacy.
  2. Fixation on what brought you success blinds you to new things that can threaten or displace you. You don’t see it until it’s too late. Then you respond with desperation. Sometimes “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” just does not apply.
  3. Hyperfocus on today’s marketplace can lead you to ignore new trends and market forces, and future opportunities and threats. You may be too wrapped up in the business to focus on the business. You’re all about today, and lose out on forward thinking.

Combine your answers to the first set of questions about your company’s relationship with the market and external environment, with your assessment of traps based on internal practices and beliefs. Be honest.

Stay strong. Don’t disappear!

The Critical Step Before Business Model Innovation…First Things First!

ambiguityOnce upon a time there was a little division in a big med device diagnostic company that wanted to extend into the unfamiliar territory of disease prevention.

The division was trying to win internal support and significant funding. They knew they needed a strong business case but had not yet figured out the specifics of their offering. There were a lot of unspoken assumptions and hypotheses. Moving forward by simply saying “we think we can, we think we can!” might work for little engines, but was not a good business practice for this group.

In short, the group was at a fork in the road. Going to the left they could travel on “Ambiguity Lane.” Staying to the right, they could move forward on “Clarity Way.”

Ambiguity Lane
In some ways, Ambiguity Lane seemed easier in the short-term because it postponed figuring out the foundational stuff that really needed to be figured out. Ambiguity Lane involves jumping ahead into business model development and skipping over the work of first gaining sufficient clarification on the offering or identifying and validating key assumptions. In this context, people travel Ambiguity Lane with a passive and often unspoken ambiguity that serves to postpone commitment.

On one hand, getting a business model in place sounds concrete and has an element of CYA, which can have a certain appeal. On the other hand, this sequencing also means living and speaking in ambiguities that avoids real commitment.

Even those team members that felt the seductive pull of Ambiguity Lane also saw its risks: 1) Internal leadership could more easily ignore the project or refuse to support it since it was lacking in substance and focus, and 2) The business model would be weak and not very actionable because it was built prematurely and based on too many hypotheticals.

Clarity Way

Going down Clarity Way was a happy choice to some; and initially felt risky to others. Clarity Way requires an honest assessment of what the team knows (and doesn’t know) about their offer and how desirable it is to customers, how feasible it is technically, and how viable it is financially. This road exposes critical business assumptions and opens them up to verification or correction. Clarity Way gets key questions on the table and solved in order to move into business model innovation with a solid foundation and in the right sequence.

The team members that wanted to travel on Clarity Way felt it would be premature and risky to jump into business model innovation without conducting some due diligence first. They did not want to pretend they knew more then they actually knew or use ambiguity as a cover for not having worked things through. They felt that the other road, Ambiguity Lane, was actually the greater risk.

 

Making the Choice

Turns out that Clarity Way has lots of blue sky and sunshine. Its travelers believe that transparency gets the best results, in line with the famous statement by Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Ambiguity Lane is grey and misty. It’s easy to get lost or misled when it’s hard to see clearly. As common sense philosopher Thomas Reid said, “There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.”

After some soul searching, the little division in the big med device diagnostic company choose Clarity Way. They knew how much was at stake for the company by extending into the unfamiliar territory of disease prevention.

The Clarity Way travelers also saw the value of first getting everyone’s ideas, concerns, and questions on the table, identifying which hypotheses needed to be tested, and getting initial input from customers. By doing so, they felt they’d be able to make informed decisions, understand and avoid internal roadblocks, and solidly move forward into developing their business model and business case to unlock investment.

Happy Ending!

Once the team came together on Clarity Way and shared what they knew and what they assumed, they immediately recognized that the appeal of their offering was predicated on three major hypotheses. They did a fast round of customer research and validated two of those mission-critical assumptions. One assumption however, related to how desirable their offer would be to customers, was way off. With egos aside and a quick pivot, they corrected their thinking and modified their offering substantially. Doing so called for a totally different business model than would have been developed had they not made the commitment to do first things first. The team got the investment they sought and solid support from the CEO.

Life and business requires enough ambiguity, and we definitely need skills to navigate through it. But don’t let passive ambiguity be an excuse for not diving in and doing what needs to be done. Please get clear on your offering and why customers want it and will pay for it. Then and only then should you work on your business model so you can really get it right.

First things first!

 

Earning Real Customer Loyalty: The Challenge for Med Tech Companies

When it comes to customer loyalty toward med tech companies, the most common story we hear from hospitals and clinicians goes like this:

“The sales reps give us a lot of attention when they want to sell us something. Once we buy, we rarely hear from them or their company. All they care about is making the sale. There is no relationship or partnership. All they are to us is another vendor.”

Turns out that for most med tech manufacturers, their healthcare customers either feel no loyalty, or place their loyalty with the rep. While hospitals and clinicians may have a brand preference, it is quite rare that they feel strong loyalty toward a manufacturer. In fact, surprisingly often, clinicians don’t remember the brand of the devices they use, even those they use day-in and day-out.

What’s causing this absence of loyalty to the companies that make and sell important and often life-saving equipment? I believe there are two factors at play.

  • The business model of many med tech companies puts short-terms sales over long-term relationships. Hitting quarterly numbers (even if it means greatly discounting prices) trumps maximizing the lifetime value for a customer. As a result, downstream marketing does not invest in sustaining long-term customer relationships. That clearly hurts customer loyalty.
  • Many med tech companies still think they’re in the business of selling boxes or software. Really, they’re in the business of improving healthcare. But when their focus is so product-centric, it’s hard to see the need to invest in building strong relationships. This sets up a dynamic in which customers choose between product A or B. The promise of partnering to help hospitals and clinicians provide better care over the long-term isn’t even on the table. This too takes away the opportunity to create customer loyalty.

That said, some reps are so good that they overcome these obstacles and are able to engender extremely strong loyalty from their customers, like in these two stories:

“It was almost midnight and we suddenly had a serious malfunction with our new ventilators. We called Sandy, the manufacturer’s rep, who happened to be 8 months pregnant. She immediately came by and with profuse apologies got us up and running. Then she came back the next day and provided a more permanent fix. When we need new vents, we buy from Sandy. Doesn’t matter what company she’s with. We trust her and whatever she recommends for us.”

“Dan advised us not to buy his company’s newest monitors yet. He said they were still working out some connectivity kinks and to wait until next year. He recommended we buy from his competitor if we really needed new monitors right away. That was a huge trust-builder. We’ll stick with Dan forever!”

These are true examples and the kind of thing we hear occasionally from clinicians when we’re doing research for our med device clients about how to generate customer loyalty. These reps are like gold and should be valued as such. You want these reps to stay committed to your company.

However, to get healthcare customers to be loyal not just to your reps but to your company is a big lift. It requires a long-term investment in what we call customer intimacy. It also requires a different business model and compensation structure. And it requires a cohesive strategy for prioritizing what customers want and need over what your solutions and technologies can do. Finally, it requires you to convincingly demonstrate to your customers how committing to buying from you over the long-term (i.e. loyalty) will measurably improve their situation.

In the always-changing healthcare space, I believe that the few med tech companies courageous and committed enough to fulfill these challenging requirements will be the big winners.

“But We Already Know what Customers Want” – How to Break Through Resistance & Get the Answers You Need

Darryl is a med device product manager in a tough spot. He’s supposed to establish a new direct-to-consumer channel to sell his product, after years of only selling through distributors. It’s a huge shift.

Darryl’s smart. He knows what he needs to be successful. And he knows he doesn’t have the customer insights necessary to develop the best strategy, nail the value prop, and get the messaging right. He wants to do customer research to fill the knowledge gaps. But he keeps getting pushback… he’s being told that the company knows these customers so there’s no need to do more research.  The reality is the company does know the customers, but in a very different context. They know them as end-users, NOT as shoppers or buyers. It’s a totally different ballgame going direct. There’s a lot riding on getting it right. Darryl doesn’t want to blow it.

So how does Darryl break through the resistance? Here’s one very powerful approach that’s proven to be very effective, time and time again.

  1. First let the “resistors” know that they may be right, maybe there is enough known about the customers. This puts Darryl and his colleagues on the same side, which helps disarm resistance.
  2. Set up a team workshop to review all that’s known about the customers. Convey that since effective decision-making requires distinguishing facts from assumptions or beliefs, you want everyone’s input in order to efficiently compile as much useful information as possible. And if there happen to be any information gaps, that will emerge as well.
  3. In the workshop, we would use our simple and powerful workshop activity we call Think vs. Know (more here) to help Darryl further disarm resistance, set egos aside (we actually bring a box marked “Put Egos Here”), and accomplish what he needs – which is to determine what is known, what is assumed or unexamined, and what the mission-critical information gaps are (if any).
  4. To get the most from the Think vs. Know activity, it’s important to come up with 3 or 4 categories, for example, what do we think vs. know about the customer experience of buying through intermediaries, about their desire for something better, about their willingness to pay, or about their feelings toward your brand.
  5. Wrap up by acknowledging all that is known and where there are mission-critical assumptions, and then together decide which assumptions are too risky to not validate. Now you have co-created together with the resistors a solid case for doing the customer research you really need.

Caution: While you can certainly use this approach on your own, sometimes you need experts to come in and manage the complex dynamics, hold people accountable, and facilitate good decision-making. It all depends on the level of trust, strength of relationship, and the type of culture. When we’re brought in as a professional consulting firm, we’re usually engaged to do the Think vs. Know piece, then conduct the needed research, then come back to the group to help them correct mistaken assumptions and move forward most effectively.

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences dealing with kind of dynamic. Please add your comments.

Med Device Companies: Never Say “We Sell Boxes”

We know several medium and large med device companies that still claim, “we sell boxes.” They may not say exactly that to customers, but inside the company they use those words, and usually with a mixture of pride, arrogance, and I think fear. Unfortunately, that thinking insidiously infiltrates everything the company does, from new product innovation to downstream marketing.

But that’s how some med device execs, engineers, and product managers think about the business they’re in: Making and selling “boxes” with good medical technology inside. It’s an easy trap to slip into – especially if the company has had success. The reality is med device companies do make boxes. However, that’s not the business they’re in.

Every med device company is in the business of improving healthcare and saving lives. Solutions to meaningful problems is what they sell.

In 1960, Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt wrote a game-changing article called Marketing Myopia. He posited that businesses do better when they focus on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products.

His quintessential example of an industry that got it wrong was railroads. While the need for freight and passenger transportation grew, railroads shrank. They wrongly thought they were in the railroad business. They didn’t see they were really in the transportation business. Why? Because they were product-oriented, not customer-oriented. As a result, railroad companies let others take their customers away.

Though it was over 50 years ago that Levitt wrote about marketing myopia, I believe that product-centric thinking still dominates in healthcare. What do you think?

Fear or Love: Which Drives Your Business Decisions?

John Lennon famously said, “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”

Some of our consulting engagements are with med tech and health IT companies that have created a culture of fear.  They don’t say so. But it’s evident in how employees are treated, how customers are viewed, and most clearly in how decisions are made.

We try to help them move away from fear and toward love- even if we usually don’t say so (my fear??). The main way we do this is by putting the customer first. This enables people to let go of the need to magically know what products to make and how to market them effectively and instead co-create the necessary understanding together with their customers. The process, when done well, is as humbling as it is empowering.

Do you work from fear or love? Can you imagine loving your customers? What would change if you did?

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More posts on how compassion is good business:

The Painful Cost of Disruptive Innovation: Uber & Cancer?

Introducing Compassionate Nonviolent Marketing: A New Paradigm

The Dot: Brilliant Low Cost “Wearable” Leverages Culture to Save Indian Women’s Lives

A new take on wearable technologies: The familiar red forehead dot – or bindi – has been a traditional symbol of beauty in India and other countries in Southeast Asia for centuries. Now the cultural adornment doubles as a slow-release iodine patch, potentially saving the lives of millions of women in rural communities with iodine deficiencies and no other access to the much-needed supplement.

Continue reading The Dot: Brilliant Low Cost “Wearable” Leverages Culture to Save Indian Women’s Lives