Key Insights to Understand your REAL Customer Needs

by Jeannie Walters

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The following is a Best of 360Connext post.

I’ve sat in many meetings about how great products or services are. I’ve heard from leaders and product managers who RAVE about how this service will change a customer’s life. The only problem?

Customers don’t seem to know about it, don’t seem to care, or don’t get how to use it.

While we are constantly trying to unlock the behavior of the customer in hindsight through surveys and pop-up feedback polls, before we even get to that point it’s important to answer one question: What are your customer needs in the first place?

Last May, I was a live blogger at the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) Member Insight Exchange in San Diego. One of the speakers, Michael Bergman, Consumer Experience & Engagement Design Director from OptumHealth, presented how their organization used research to understand the emotional journey of their customers. The approach they had to take is about understanding needs first, then helping those who need the services find them.

OptumHealth is a non-consumer facing brand, which is a subsidiary of United Healthcare. And while technically the brand interacts with the client companies, the end result is interacting directly with members of the client company workforce. OptumHealth is a health and wellness service including a personal portal to track health information, an 800 number to call a nurse, and other services provided for someone who engages a health coach. Companies use OptumHealth to drive down healthcare costs of their members and promote wellness.

What they didn’t always know was why individuals weren’t using this service provided free by their employer. They weren’t sure what was working and what wasn’t, as well as the best ways to help individuals find the services. So they started with a basic question: What are your customer needs? They knew they had to help their client companies understand the motivations behind using these services. Here is what Michael Bergman shared about their journey.

Discovering Why Services Are Underused

How do we create more engagement? How do we communicate more effectively so members know what is offered? And how do we better understand what members are going through? Then how do we use that understanding to communicate to other members who could benefit? How do we help those who need these services FIND them when they need them?

Understand What You Know

  • Optum knew people who did engage really liked it (95% in top 2 box).
  • They knew there may be deeper emotional reasons those who didn’t enroll made that choice.

Identify What You Want To Learn

  • What are consumers’ emotional needs and barriers?
  • What triggers our consumer’s feelings for managing their health?
  • How do consumers perceive OptumHealth and UnitedHealthcare? (This was a big one. Perceptions didn’t correlate with past experiences.)

Listen to Customers

  • A key insight was understanding what happens to memories. They change based on priority and emotions. “Nobody came to visit me” is not necessarily true. What is true is the feeling of being alone. (I loved this insight. Too often, we rely on what people say instead of what they are trying to say.)
  • Understand what is being provided. The Optum nurses provided “a port in the storm” when someone was diagnosed with something unexpected. The discussions weren’t based on medicine or treatment. Customers told them the nurses talked to them about things the other medical team involved in management of diabetes, for example, wouldn’t. One example: A nurse asked a patient if he had considered getting a dog. The nurse had picked up on the way he wasn’t active and was feeling alone. It was a life-changing thing for that man to get a dog to keep him company and go for walks.

Creating a Strategy

  • Train and operationalize how to “be more human.” (Also one of my favorite insights. Learn from those who “get it” and help train others to be the best humans they can be.)
  • Focus on the nurses because that’s what Optum heard – they were a critical part of the experience and what mattered most to those receiving these services.
  • Validate the nurses doing a great job. They heard the nurses wanted validation as a reward.
  • Recreate best practices by recognizing the impact of good work. Watch the behavior of what worked (like asking about life instead of medicine all the time) and help other nurses understand how important that behavior was.

customers needsFocus on The Emotional Goal

  • The goal for Optum is to create hope. HOPE. (Simple, but so powerful.)
  • Allow for ways for consumers to be vulnerable. The telephone is personal but somewhat anonymous, which allows a freedom. Instead of moving with technology, they found the telephone was the best way to help patients feel safe.

I believe there is a lot we can learn from this example. Instead of fixating on the why of what didn’t work, or coming up with our own reasons for why our customers aren’t finding the services they need, how about starting with the basic question: What Are Your Customer Needs? If those needs are not tied to emotional outcomes, no amount of navigation or direct mail will work.

Image credits: geese,  essleecuizon via Creative Commons license

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators™ by 360Connext, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, a Forbes Coaches Council Member, a C-Suite Network Advisor, a LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com instructor, and a TEDx speaker. Learn more here.

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