Category Archives: research

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.

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.

 

Population Health: The “Make or Break” Behavior Change Promise

A key promise of the population health phenomenon, so important to payors, providers, and suppliers is this: We need the public to get healthier. That requires participation. If payors pay, people will take advantage of free preventive services to get healthy.

Here’s how the Kaiser Family Foundation put it in their recent Health Reform overview (see bold): A key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the requirement that private insurance plans cover recommended preventive services without any patient cost-sharing. Research has shown that evidence-based preventive services can save lives and improve health by identifying illnesses earlier, managing them more effectively, and treating them before they develop into more complicated, debilitating conditions, and that some services are also cost-effective. However, costs do prevent some individuals from obtaining preventive services. The coverage requirement aims to remove cost barriers.

The reality is that while cost is a barrier for some people, it’s not the only barrier. It may not even be the main barrier. Now you might be thinking, if preventive services have been proven to improve health and save lives, why would people NOT make use of them, especially when they’re free? What other barriers might there be?

In my two decades of experience working with CDC, CMS, FDA, and many public health efforts, behavior change is the holy grail. And maybe the hardest to achieve. The main barrier I believe is not money, but motivation. People will find all kinds of reasons (beyond costs) to NOT sign up for free preventive services, including: 1) I’m not sick, 2) I don’t need whatever those services are, 3) I’ll do it later.

Prevention has alway been a tough sell. The fundamental benefit promised is that something bad (illness) will not happen down the road. Many people don’t see that as compelling or personal relevant in a life with so many demands in the here and now.

The solution requires: 1) increasing immediate personal relevance, 2) making it simple to do. As my friend and colleague Peter Mitchell, head of Salter Mitchell’s MarketingForChange practice, says, make it fun, easy, and popular. Building on that, I like the FEFE acronym- Fun, Easy, Fast, Effective.

Research trends in the science of persuasion, behavioral economics and decision-making, social psychology, and marketing science, provide convergent evidence that motivating health behavior change and utilization of preventive services is no simple task, and requires far more than data, information, and logic.

Bottom line, population health players need to employ multiple approaches to motivate behavior change, and to not assume that a logical (and free) offer will do the job.

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FYI, here are a few more resources on motivating health behavior change:

Motivating Health Behavior Change: Three Dangerous Assumptions to Avoid

Getting People to Do What You Want: Two Paths to Persuasion

Ability-Motivation-Opportunity: Marketing’s Winning Trifecta

Behavior Change: It’s NOT Just the Person!

 

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!

Better Med Tech Marketing Campaigns: The “Donald Trump” Lesson

MTMUnlike the most controversial presidential hopeful Donald Trump, med tech marketing campaigns often shy away from saying what they really mean. Call it political correctness, fear of failure, legal restrictions, or CYA. But regardless of what is driving the ambiguity, the result is watered down messages and poorer results. Say what you believe as explicitly as you can – at least in your brainstorming and creative strategy development. Then (also unlike Donald!) tame it in your message execution if you have to.

In the 1990 movie Crazy People, Dudley Moore was an advertising exec turned mental patient who got his fellow patients to create wildly successful campaigns. Their gift was honesty – unvarnished, blunt, explicit honesty. For example, their Jaguar car campaign targeting men showed a scantily clad woman next to a shiny new Jag with the line “Buy a Jaguar. Get Laid.” Now most of us may not be able to get away with that degree of explicitness in our ads, but we can in our creative thinking.

I recently saw a billboard for a mortgage firm that boldly proclaimed “your loan sucks.” Which is more typically the unspoken claim. As always with bold messaging, you need to weigh the attention-getting effect against the turn-off effect.  Check out our “Think/Feel/Do” messaging framework here, for more guidance.

So, in extremely plain language, answer this: What is it that are you not saying, but you want customers to think? Then do your customer messaging research to see just how explicit you can be, while improving your reputation and increasing sales.

Better ROI from Your Marketing Research Investments: The Deep-Wide-Long Approach

Med device and health IT companies are constantly investing in new ideas, hoping to discover and bring to market the next game-changing product or service. That requires lots of market intelligence and customer research to get it right and avoid relying on risky guesswork and hunches.

A problem we see, especially with the larger companies that sell hundreds of products into numerous care areas in hospitals, is fragmentation. Even within a care unit, many research projects involving the same target audience and addressing similar needs are not coordinated and not taking advantage of cross-investigation.

For example, a company offering a range of cardiology products may have one business unit doing discovery research for new product ideas for stents and catheters, another BU validating value propositions for their special ECG monitor, and yet another BU getting reactions to messaging for a groundbreaking ultrasound device. Or all three BUs may be simultaneously doing research to answer the same business question, e.g. how to position their particular line of new cardiology products for launch. In either case, it’s likely – unfortunately – that none of the BUs are talking to one another.

The good news is that there are good strategic opportunities for collaboration that would benefit all the BUs, the company, and the customers they serve. Here is a framework we developed to help med tech companies leverage their investment in any and every customer research project for a better ROI. We call it Deep-Wide-Long.

Typically, a customer research project will go deep on the main topic, whether it’s understanding a specific set of problems customers are facing, getting reactions to new product concepts, or shaping marketing messages. With careful planning, the project can also go wide by investigating adjacent areas. And it can go long, by strategically reinforcing within the company the benefit of taking a customer-centric approach to product innovation and marketing. The incremental cost of doing so is small compared to the knowledge gain and its value.

For example, if we’re interviewing cardiologists to mainly gain insights into what they want ultrasound devices to do for them (deep), we can secondarily allow time to also investigate their use of ECG monitors as well as their reactions to new ideas for device integration (wide). Plus we can engage the other relevant BUs to understand their information needs as we shape the project, and then facilitate integration of the results across BUs (long).

The bottom line of Deep-Wide-Long is improving the bottom line by getting as much mileage as possible from every marketing research project, in a way that strengthens the company’s commitment to put the customer 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.

How to Unseat the Market Leader: Hit the Right Emotional Chord with Customers

Here’s a tough situation med tech and health IT companies face in healthcare: The maker of a particular technology has more than 75% market share; they are the undisputed market leader.  unseat_pull_the_rug_from_underWhen their device or software was introduced 5 years ago, it was groundbreaking. Now, it’s the standard. But you have something better.

How do you effectively disrupt the market leader’s longstanding domination and win significant market share? The answer lies in the hearts and minds of the clinicians using the technology. You need to carefully and precisely determine which emotional chord will open customers’ minds in order for them to consider moving from the market leader’s technology (the “status quo”) to your new and presumably better innovation.

To reveal the right emotional chord, you must ask the right questions: Are they happy with the status quo? Do they perceive any problems? Can they envision a better state?  These kinds of questions will reveal the “set point,” i.e. where customers are before they know about your better device, service, or software.

In simple terms, there are four main set points based on the idea that customers are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the status quo technology, and they are or are not aware of a possible solution (or better state) a new technology might deliver. Once you know the set point, you need to identify the corresponding emotional chord, so that your messages will connect with customers and resonate at an emotional level. That resonance leads customers to feel understood, which will then open their minds to consider alternatives to the longstanding status quo.

Example: Let’s say customers are satisfied with the market leader’s status quo technology. They aren’t aware of any problems, so they certainly wouldn’t expect new solutions. Your job then is to identify the meaningful problem that: a) your customers will care about once they know about it, and b) your improved technology will solve. (And if no meaningful problem exists, then there’s really no need for your improvement, right? But that’s a different story!).

Once you determine the meaningful problem, be sure to verify customers do care about it enough to take action. Now you need to find the corresponding emotional chord. It could be frustration, as in “why didn’t I know about this problem for all these years!” Or it might be concern, as in “I hope this problem didn’t hurt our patient satisfaction scores!” Or embarrassment at not knowing about the problem. Or relief at knowing about it now. Or hope for a solution to the problem.

There are numerous possible emotional chords, and sometimes the difference between them is very nuanced, like frustration vs. concern in the example above. It’s really important to know with confidence precisely which emotional chord to tap into. Your message to tap into frustration will be quite different than messaging for concern or embarrassment or relief.

If you miss the mark on the emotional chord, then your customers will feel you just don’t get them. You will have missed your chance to open their minds to letting to of the market leader’s technology and to consider your innovation as a viable alternative. On the other hand, when you tap the right emotional chord, you may hear as we have, “Finally, someone understands what I deal with everyday!”  That deep connection is the magic that can unseat the dominant market leader and win you significant market share.

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More resources:

Why Selling New Technology into Hospitals is Hard: Overcoming the Status Quo Bias

The Emotional Hook: How to Win Your Customers’ Hearts

Think or Know? Disarm Dangerous Marketing Assumptions With The “Sandwich” Approach

Which new idea should you invest in?  What’s the right value proposition for your portfolio? How should you position your game-changing product for a winning launch?

These are significant questions that if not answered correctly, can cost you a lot of time, money, and trust. Here’s the “sandwich” approach we use to help med device and other health tech clients avoid making risky moves based on unspoken assumptions.

The Bottom Slice: Identify your high-risk assumptions. Gather your team together for a hard-hitting work session, with all egos aside. Set the expectation that you’re going to identify the key assumptions that must be validated because they’re so mission critical that if you’re wrong, you’re, well, screwed. Here’s how in detail.

The Filling in the Middle: Validate your assumptions. Do the needed research with customers to determine which of your assumptions were on target, and which need correcting. To get the most from your investment, focus on your top priority, highest-risk assumptions.

The Top Slice: Refine Your thinking. Bring your team back together. Review the assumptions you had earlier identified as high-risk and in need of validation. Consider the customer research results by noting which assumptions were right on target, which would need fine-tuning, and which were way off base. No shame, no blame. Now refine your thinking based on what your learned.

This “sandwich” approach works because 1) it gives team members much needed permission to not know everything, 2) it acknowledges that customers can provide many answers, and 3) it lets your team refine their thinking together and get on the same page.

Most important, the “sandwich” approach efficiently and effectively helps you avoid assumptions and wisely answer the tough questions that can spell the difference between success and failure.