This post is part of an occasional series focused on the health care industry, where escalating costs are posing unprecedented challenges, new models are upending longstanding ways of doing business and the digital age is fueling a new era of innovation. Say you’re leading a large, well-known, long-established company. And suddenly you are faced with a new market, a completely changed way of doing business, selling your product to people in an entirely different way. And those people tend to view your product as a necessary evil, because they need you most when something is wrong. If you were a health insurer, that’s just what you’d be facing. The Affordable Care Act and market forces such as the rise of consumer-directed health care (designed to give people a greater financial stake in decisions about care) have forced health insurers to move to a B2C model, while escalating costs and disease management challenges have compelled them to engage members in new ways to promote health. For many companies, these shifts add up to a wholesale culture change. No small task.
Innovators whose ideas come from – and likely can inform – a variety of industries beyond health care are leading the charge. Innovators like Ingrid Lindberg, the chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics. She’s been employed by health insurance companies — and finance organizations before that – to help them transform so they can understand and meet the needs of their customers. At Prime in 2013 alone, she oversaw a 23% decrease in net effort score, the value assigned to the effort consumers had to expend to get what they were seeking from Prime. Here is a cheat sheet for overhauling your own organization to meet customer needs, Lindberg-style. Where are you going?
- Ask the right questions: The first question Lindberg says companies working to better reach consumers must answer is “what do your customers want from you?” She says most companies start inwardly focused, asking instead “what do we want to do? what type of a relationship do we want with our customers.” “Unless you’re a startup, I don’t think you have that opportunity,” she says.
- Listen hard to get the right answer: “What your customers say they want probably won’t tell you the whole story,” Lindberg says. “You need to look at the data and see what they’re not saying. Start with what you know and look at it as a whole to find things that are not being stated but are being inferred, and that’s where you start to find some really interesting ideas,” she says.
- What is your company about: “You really need to make sure you are marrying what you want with what the customer wants, and then overlay the corporate strategy,” Lindberg says. This can be manifest in a corporate purpose statement that helps keep companies on track. These purpose statements should have a maximum of 15 words with a lifespan of at least five years. At Prime, the purpose is “to help people get the medicine they need to feel better and live well.” The elegant clarity is by design. “The more you talk in people-speak, the more you remember that you are actually serving someone,” Lindberg says.
How are you getting there?
- Start at the top: “I am a pretty firm believer that if you don’t have CEO buy-in, you’re not going to get very far,” Lindberg argues. “If you don’t have a direct line to your CEO, find someone who does.” Make the case for your vision with scenario planning, workshopping, executive offsite meetings – whatever it takes.
- Sell it to the company: Lindberg takes her message on the road, visiting each site in person and customizing her message to her audience. “There’s got to be a lot of ‘what’s in it for me?’” she says. That’s delivered in town hall-style meetings, one-on-one conversations, and a great tool she calls the “customer experience room,” where employees walk first through a visual depiction of what it’s like for people to interact with a given company, and then through a representation of the goal scenario. Lindberg explains an example: She created a hanging mobile for a company that had more than 1,000 toll-free numbers. Every one of those numbers spun from the mobile. Dizzying for a customer. The goal scenario? A single number to have all a customer’s needs met.
- Make it happen: Once you’ve sold your CEO and the employees on the need for change, it’s go time – and everyone needs to speak the same language. “Every time the company talks to employees, the messaging has to be aligned,” Lindberg says. And it needs to be incentivized. Her company’s customer experience mission is tied to 25% of compensation across the company, so the company collects and aggregates data, and everyone has a stake in the outcome. This is a great way of bringing anyone reluctant on board.
- Adhere religiously to your purpose: At Prime, the company purpose is disseminated numerous times and in a variety of ways so that every employee is familiar with it. And it is frequently invoked during meetings to keep corporate initiatives on track. “People roll their eyes sometimes when we talk about it, but it’s true – it really is our guidepost. It helps you avoid a flashy idea that isn’t right.”
- Measure it: Lindberg relies on a mix of soft and hard metrics to track her progress. “Language is always on the forefront of culture change. If I can get people to change how they talk, I can get them to change how they act.” So, look at company messaging, executive communication. How often is the right language being used? Are people starting to ask the right questions without prompting? These data can be augmented with customer experience surveys and other more quantitative measures to evaluate whether you’re meeting your goals. “Your customers will tell you if you’re doing the right things – they will show you in their loyalty to you.”