Category Archives: Customer-centric

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.

Beyond UX: How To Tap Customer Desire For Better Health IT Solutions

User experience research is really important in healthcare. You need those insights to optimize the user experience and make your technology as good as it can be. But how do you know what desires and expectations users/customers bring into the experience? And how do you go deeper and identify what will bring real value to users/customers?

solutios-userexperience

As you know, user experience research in health IT typically focuses on likes and dislikes and problems and opportunities with the interface, which makes sense. After all, the interface is what users use and what feeds workflows. For some technologies, user experience research also includes how providers, patients, and the device all interact.

To understand value, it’s important to go beyond assessing how users/customers interact with the interface and beyond other aspects of the use case.

Before Use

Let’s start with what is involved with users becoming users; that is, how they get to the interaction and experience. This requires understanding and tapping into their desires and expectations.

Consider: Are users coming to the experience by choice? Are they wanting to accomplish what your technology accomplishes? Are they required to use your solution? What are their expectations? What are their desires? How does using your solution fit into the bigger picture of their workflow and priorities?

These attitudinal precursors to use can dramatically affect the user experience. Decades of research show know how powerfully expectations shape experience. So be sure you know the answers before you test usability and the user experience. Do the research to get answers to these questions. A quick and dirty approach is to talk with users just prior to using your software or technology. Alternatively, you can bring them into a focus group facility, and with appropriate props, have them imagine they’ll be using your technology and find out what’s going through their minds and hearts. Just be sure to ask the right questions and without bias.

Observing Value

Another great complement to user experience research within is in-situ/ethnographic research at clinical practices to understand what will truly bring value to healthcare workflows within a broader context than your technology.

Watch at first. Just watch. Then ask questions to understand. Really focus on understanding problems, not coming up with solutions (yet!).

Ask them what they’re thinking as their waiting for data to be processed or for the next prompt. Identify what matters to them emotionally and pragmatically. Doing so will give you tremendous insight into what they desire and value, which in turn will affect what solutions you make and what user experiences you offer to help them fulfill their desires and get done what they need to get done.

This kind of deep observational research reveals what aspects of their workflow providers and administrators find most frustrating, what wastes the most time, what desires are unfulfilled, and ultimately what interferes with better patient care.

As my friend and mentor Don Norman, a noted author and leading Design Thinker summarizes: Observe/Think/Make. This is the critical “observe” step. If it’s done with an eye toward understanding the broader context within which your technology may be used, it will provide you with far more valuable insights.

Do observational ethnographic research in clinical practices whenever you can. If access is a problem, find other ways to observe workflow. Create mock workstations or procedure rooms and invite administrators and clinicians in. Again, you can use focus groups as a place for crudely emulating workflow. As long as the setup puts users into the right mindspace, it can get you valuable insights.

Bottom line, going deeper to tap into customer desire and understand what motivates users and what will bring them real value will make your UX work far more gratifying and effective and lead to better Health IT solutions.

Make Medical Devices & IT Solutions Customers Want & Buy

In medtech, you encounter unique challenges to making devices and solutions customers want and will buy. External forces, like downward cost pressures, reimbursement challenges, and regulatory requirements make it tough. Plus a lot of device and IT companies impose relentless pressure to get the next big thing to market – and to do it now.

In light of all these pressures, how do you increase your effectiveness at making devices customers want and buy? Keep customers first in how you think and all you do.

I know, I know. It’s easy to say. It can be hard to do. And it’s not a panacea to counter all the marketplace challenges you face. But it can ground your thinking, guide your decisions, and help you get the best possible results.

In a recent article published in Device Talk, the med device industry blog from MD+DI, I outlined four keys to making devices customers want and will buy, from a customer-centric perspective.

The 4 keys:

  1. Start with the right business mindset
  2. Get customer input – the right way
  3. Decide between MVP and alternatives
  4. Recognize your work saves lives

This approach will lead you to think differently, engage with customers differently, and design and market your devices differently. You really can increase your effectiveness by keeping customers first in how you think and all you do.

Read the full MD+DI Device Talk article here.

Let me know what you think.

Hope for the Future of Health IT Marketing!

hopeI just got back from the Health IT Marketing Conference (HITMC). It gets better and stronger every year, building incredible community, thanks in large part to the vision of its founders John Lynn and Shahid Shah.

I was fortunate to present on how to win internal support for better customer-centric marketing, and to lead a workshop – one that both delighted and humbled me. Here’s why.

The half-day workshop, Using the Voice of the Customer to Develop Winning Health IT Marketing, showed how to develop game-changing customer knowledge and translate it into winning marketing strategy.

The workshop participants – mostly marketing directors and managers – were incredible. It was my experience with them that was equal parts delightful and humbling. What stood out was their openness and candor, their desire to improve, their appreciation of the customer voice, and their willingness to challenge their own thinking and mine. And most of all, their commitment to deeply understanding and serving their customers.
Continue reading Hope for the Future of Health IT Marketing!

Bottom(s) Up! How a Benefits Ladder Can Help You Get Your Marketing Right

Medtech companies, health insurers, and healthcare systems talk a lot about data. My belief is no healthcare executives, providers, or consumers really care about “data.” What they do care about is making good decisions that will measurably improve healthcare and health outcomes, and make or save money. And they see data as a means to those ends, a tool for making those things happen.

So how do you meaningfully connect data with decisions and decisions with outcomes? How do you work in the interim outcomes like improved workflow and increased productivity? How do you know which features and benefits to emphasize and which not to emphasize or even mention? How do you determine what elements to consider including in your value proposition?

One powerful technique we use to identify and prioritize benefits is laddering. We use it in deep dives with clients, and in testing or validating hypotheses during customer research.

Here’s how it works:

At the bottom of the ladder is the essential feature. At the top is the highest level benefit or result.

But first, let’s clarify the difference between features and benefits: Features=description. Benefits=satisfaction. Data is a feature. Good decisions, better workflow, improved quality of care – those are benefits. Those are results that provide satisfaction.

And there are different kinds of benefits (some overlapping): There are core benefits, functional benefits, aesthetic benefits, self-expressive benefits, emotional benefits, and more.

Benefits are what customers care about. But sometimes inside the company, executives, product managers, and marketing managers care more about features. That’s a problem that laddering can help ameliorate.

Here’s what a simple benefits ladder might look like for streaming analytics within health IT, to appeal to healthcare providers.

TOP

  • Improved Outcomes
  • Safer Patients
  • Enhanced Reputation
  • Better Care
  • Faster Decisions
  • Prediction
  • Analytics
  • Data

BOTTOM

Note that the core fundamental feature – data – is on the bottom. Just above that is the next level feature – analytics. Next we move up into benefits, starting with the functional benefit of prediction, which then leads to faster decisions. This set of four captures very concretely what the product is and does. And if we were to unpack these four further, we would get into workflow, efficiency, and productivity.

However as a set, the bottom four rungs on the ladder do not convey aspirations or emotions. And they do not express higher order benefits or results. For that, we need to go higher up the ladder.

A result of faster and therefore better decisions is better care. Which leads to multiple higher order benefits – like enhanced reputation, healthier patients, and better outcomes. And again, unpack these further and you’ll find patient satisfaction, HEDIS scores, etc. Some of these benefits may be produced concurrently, but for simplicity the ladder shows them in linear fashion.

When we go through this process in internal deep dives, we’ll invite clients to attach a heart to the one benefit they believe is the most compelling emotional hook for the product. For providers and streaming analytics… is it faster decisions, enhanced reputation, better outcomes? Is it improved workflow or its outgrowth, saving time?

The ladder they create and the emotional hook they select are well-educated hypotheses. We rely on the voice of the customer for validation or correction.

Bottom line, laddering is a great way to think through what your product or service delivers that matters to customers so you can improve your marketing. Do one for each of your main target audiences. When you do, you’ll notice the bottom rungs of the ladder are the same, it’s typically the higher order benefits that change.

Whether you’re bringing a new product or service to market or need to get better uptake with what you’re already selling, try laddering. It will enable you to transform your thinking, empathize with your customer point of view, inform your value proposition, and set yourself up for marketing success.

What’s your ladder??

Customer or Money: Which Comes First in Med Tech?

As a strategic-thinking med device marketing or sales professional, you know it’s all about putting the customer first. But how do you get your company executives behind you if they’re solely focused on hitting the quarterly numbers and only paying lip service to being customer-centric?

This was the focus of a session I presented yesterday with Mark Kesti at the first Medical Device Marketing Summit, put together by the inimitable Joe Hage.

The goal was to stir up fresh thinking and provide both practical and contrarian tools to win greater company support for practicing customer intimacy and putting the customer first in marketing and communications work. The participants were seasoned and smart. Lively discussion generated good, practical ideas.

Here are five key takeaways:

  1. First means first: Putting the customer first literally means just that- putting the customer first. How? Give the customer a voice when it matters. That translates into giving the customer a voice before you decide on what products to invest in, before you determine technical feasibility for your device or software, before you put your messaging together, and before your sales force hit the streets.
  2. Problems not solutions: When you do give your customers a voice, be sure you’re not asking them to design the solution. That’s your job. Ask them to talk about what is and isn’t working, what problems they want solved, and what a better end state would be like. Don’t ask them what the product should be or what your marketing should look like. NTJ (not their job)!
  3. Direct connection: Get your technical people – scientists and engineers – involved with customers early on. Let them hear problems, concerns, likes and dislikes directly from the customer, not mediated through a report you give them. Help your technical team to experience customer pain points as much as possible. This is where qualitative research methodologies shine.
  4. Money metrics: Not all dollars are equal. Some come at the expense of long-term customer relationships, like through hitting your numbers by heavy end of year discounts. In companies committed to customer intimacy, the lifetime value of a customer trumps hitting quarterly numbers every time. Caveat: Shareholders may not agree. You have to balance the sometimes conflicting needs of two masters in that case: shareholders and customers. Ideally you have shareholders who see the value of long-term gains.
  5. Behavior before beliefs: Let’s say your CEO, doesn’t believe in putting the customer first. He’s all about the money and that mindset pervades the culture. You can beat this too. But don’t try to change his beliefs at first. Get his behaviors to change. Pitch putting the customer first as all about making more money. Speak in ROI terms. Because it’s true. Putting the customer first does make more money.

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More here:

3 Powerful “B4’s” that Put First Things First in Winning Innovation

“But We’ve Always Done It That Way” – Zen, Zero-Based Thinking, and a Fresh Approach

How to Get to Breakthrough Innovation: Desirability First!

Connectivity and Interoperability: Advance the Frontier… But Don’t Overdo It!

big_data_waveJames is a senior product manager in a med device company. He had a pretty typical business day last Thursday. Besides meetings and desk work, he was communicating online for about three hours on and off. During that time, James sent 34 emails and 15 texts and received 29 emails and 18 texts. He got 5 messages from LinkedIn, 3 Skype notifications, and over a dozen updates from various professional groups. He booked 4 customer meetings via his CRM and scheduled 17 tasks with his team on BaseCamp. He got invited to 11 events and was pinged with 14 calendar reminders.

Some of these things were really important to James, some mundane. However, all these activities went to the cloud, then to all his connected devices – cell phone, tablet, and watch. There was no discrimination as to what specific content was worth sharing, so virtually everything got distributed and was accessible on all his devices. When James saw 83 of the things he did online earlier in the day also show up on his phone, then on his watch, he growled: “Why are they telling me all this?!”

And whenever he was on his laptop and interrupted by text messages popping up on his screen, he felt intruded upon: “Why are they assuming I want this??” he shouted in his head. “Let me choose!”

Switch gears to healthcare. Connectivity and interoperability continue to be really hot topics throughout the industry. Health IT and med device companies are offering more and more connectivity and interoperability in their systems and solutions. GE describes the sharing of information between medical devices and information systems as “fundamental to GE’s healthymagination objectives of lowering cost, increasing access and improving quality.”

The core purpose underlying connectivity and interoperability is collaboration that improves care. HIMSS defines three levels of interoperability. The highest level is “semantic” interoperability, which requires that data is not just exchanged between systems (both IT and devices), but made available in a way that can interpreted and used by the clinician.

Done right, the technologies that enable connectivity and interoperability can help transform the industry by facilitating better health care and improved health outcomes at lower costs. That’s good for the healthcare industry overall and good for patients. Whether driven by Meaningful Use requirements, competitive pressures, or clinician needs, fundamentally, connectivity and interoperability are customer-centric ideas.

However, like with James above, be careful not to go overboard with connectivity and interoperability. This can happen when what is possible, i.e. what technology can do, trumps what is desirable, i.e. what customers want, need, and will use. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes it’s the discernment  of what information really matters that makes connectivity and interoperability so powerful.

Be sure you know what data (and in what form) your customers want, can interpret, and will use; and what data is just frustrating or confusing clutter. Do your homework, don’t assume. Just because all the data can be shared collaboratively doesn’t mean it all should be shared.

 

Earning Trust from Hospital Customers: 5 Tips

If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.       – Zig Ziglar

We regularly talk with a lot of doctors, healthcare executives, and key opinion leaders in our work, as we help med tech clients identify meaningful unmet needs, determine the desirability of new products, and create persuasive messaging.

One thing that comes out again and again is the importance of trust. As famed salesman Zig Ziglar pointed out, trust leads to sales. We’ve heard many clinicians say they don’t buy from a company, they buy from a rep.  Sometimes they don’t even know what brand of device they use. But they do know they bought it from Tracy, the sales rep they know and trust. And they know that next time they need devices they’ll contact Tracy, wherever she is.

Do your customers trust you and your company? Have you given them reason to?  What would you need to know to win and maintain their trust?

Here are five tips for earning the trust of prospects and customers:

  1. Grow a relationship, not just a transaction. Show up when you’re NOT asking them to buy.  We constantly hear that companies disappear and seem to no longer care, once the sale is made.
  2. Take it further and tell prospective customers they shouldn’t buy from you yet.  Tell them only when you have earned their trust, will you talk with them about purchasing.
  3. Provide them with value – white papers, referrals, relevant tips – without asking for anything back. Customize what you provide to their needs, desires, and situation.
  4. Be honest about what they should and should not buy from your company. You’ll earn credibility points when you suggest they buy certain things from competitors.
  5. Ask what specific things you can do to win their trust. Then tell them which you will do, and do those things. Remind them along the way that your aim is to earn their total trust.

Once you have earned their trust, you can grow the relationship further and your customer can be your ambassador within their hospital system and a great referral source. Then you’re not just a vendor, you’re a valued partner. And that’s the place you want to live in the hearts and minds of those you serve.

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Resources:

Earning Real Customer Loyalty: The Challenge for Med Tech Companies

The Promise & Challenge of Customer Intimacy for Med Tech Companies

Med Device Companies To Hospitals: Do NOT Buy Everything From Us!

Great Technology, Or Are You Drinking Your Own Koolaid?

kool-aidSandy, a senior marketing manager at a med device company recently confided: “We’re so convinced our new technology platform is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s like we’re drinking our own Koolaid!” She was greatly concerned that her team had lost perspective and any sense of objectivity. They had become so enamored of their platform that they were no longer thinking of what customers might want or value. Were they building something that no one would want, use or buy?

I’ve heard this same concern from savvy marketing and product managers at health insurance companies, health IT companies, and health innovation labs. It’s what happens when people, however well-meaning, spend years developing a product, program, or idea,  and become so immersed in what they’re building, that they lose sight of its appeal and value to customers. They’re so close to the product or service that they can’t even see the question. They’re drunk, on their own Koolaid.

If this sounds like your team or company… well, from one perspective, it’s not your fault. It’s human nature to believe deeply in what you make or market. Why wouldn’t you? It can actually be unifying and inspiring to drink your own Koolaid!

On the other hand, drinking your own Koolaid can be deceiving. You start believing your own “propaganda” without healthy questioning. The resultant deception can blind you to disparities between how you want things to be and how things are, to differences between your company’s desires and the market reality.

Bottom line, it is your team’s responsibility to raise your heads and verify your assumptions, check out how customers think and feel about the benefits your product promises, and assess its usability. Inevitably, your solution has morphed over time, and what it is now may or may not meet market needs. In short, you need to be sure you’re still solving a meaningful problem and developing a unique solution customers will use and pay for.

Can you stop drinking your own Koolaid? It takes courage because you have a lot of sunk costs – and not just money, but effort and professional reputation as well. But as any investor knows, sunk costs alone do not justify spending more time and money. That’s called a money pit. It takes strength too, because once you have momentum in a certain direction, it’s tough to put on the brakes, or even pivot. But again, going further in the wrong direction helps no one.

So, set egos aside, ask the tough questions, get customer feedback, and make smart decisions. And quit drinking your own Koolaid!

Does Your Company Win at Caring? Take the “Who Cares” Quiz

who_cares“People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”

You work in the healthcare space. Whether you’re a product manager, a marketing specialist, a software engineer, or an executive, you are in an industry that exists to provide care. It’s not just evident in the industry name (healthcare), it’s the core purpose of the industry.

If any industry should be able to live up to the axiom above*, it’s healthcare.  And by caring first, business improves.

How does your company rate at first showing you care, and reaping the rewards? Take this quick quiz to find out. Give your company, then yourself, an honest rating. (Scale: 0= Not at all, 1=A little, 2=Somewhat,  3=A great deal)

The Official “Who Cares” Quiz

COMPANY QUESTIONS

  1. My company genuinely cares about the well-being of our customers.
  2. My company demonstrates caring, before showing how much we know.
  3. My company is aware of customer perceptions about our caring.
  4. My company gets better results because of how we care.

“YOU” QUESTIONS

  1. I genuinely care about the well-being of our customers.
  2. I demonstrate caring, before showing how much I know.
  3. I am aware of customer perceptions about our caring.
  4. I get better results because of how I care.

Scores: Add up your scores on each set of four questions. This will give you a company score between 0 and 12, and a personal score between 0 and 12.

Making Sense of Your Score

The four questions represent a sequence – feeling, doing, knowing, and winning.

Question 1 is about what you feel toward customers; how much you care about their well-being (not just their money!). If you fall short here (a score of 1 or 2), the remedy is culture change so you become more customer-centric and less product-centric. That’s a big job.

Question 2 is about what you do; the extent to which you communicate that caring first. A low score here means your actions do not match your intent. Fixing this requires improved and more strategic communications and organizational behavior change to support right action.

Question 3 is about what you know (rather than assume) about how much customers perceive your caring. This requires customer research to meaningfully score. A low score means your actions are not being recognized. The solution is better understanding customers and what actions they perceive as caring.

Question 4 is about what you win as a result of your caring. This refers to achieving revenue and other business objectives. A low score here means you’re falling short on one or more of the three other metrics, or you’re not leveraging your caring into other business outcomes. The fix is developing specific strategies to translate your caring into better products, improved experiences, and more effective marketing.

Conclusion

If your company scored at least 3 on each question, you’re in decent shape. However, for many med tech companies, and health care payers and providers, that’s not the case. When companies lose sight of their core purpose and instead focus solely on hitting their numbers, caring about customers gets squeezed out of the picture. The same holds true about your personal scores.

If your scores were low, consider the fixes described above. Ideally, your relationship-building, the customer experiences you create, your marketing campaigns, and your on-the ground sales reps should consistently emphasize caring – before knowledge. That way, you get “on purpose” and generate lasting emotional connections with customers that can translate into long-term loyalty and increased sales.

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* This popular axiom from James Hind was cited in a post by Jim Guiffre, reminiscing how dear colleague and friend Gene Drabinski, who recently died in a tragic car accident, didn’t just frequently share this quote, but fully lived it. Gene was a nurse, Vietnam vet, and former president of Healthwise; and a good, good man that freely showed how much he cared. More reminisces about Gene  here.