Thursday, November 5, 2009

NACCM 2009: Innovating the Service Experience on a Dime: Overcoming Resource Limitations by Taking a Differentiated Approach

Experience and service are two different aspects of our businesses. We can’t create experiences, they happen based on multiple variables. Experiences are co-created says Ryan Armbruster, recent SVP, Chief Experience Officer for Oncure. The best we can do is to deliver great service, and Armbruster believes that should be our focus.

Oncure Medical Corp. is a nationwide network of free-standing radiation oncology centers. The CEO of Oncure was himself a cancer survivor and had first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing cancer patients. Oncure wanted to improve their services and began conducting research at their clinics. They included focus groups, staff interviews, and patient input. They knew they had to look at their cancer patients’ experiences and needs from both inside and outside the walls of their treatment centers.

Where do businesses start in creating a new value-laden service? Armbruster states that businesses typically follow one of the following approaches:

1) Use personal business experience
2) Borrow solutions from other companies in industries
3) Borrow solutions from companies in other industries
4) Use personal experience as a customer
5) Ask customers what they want
6) Understand unmet needs of your customers

There is a definite challenge with the fifth approach, says Armbruster, as it doesn’t always lead to innovation. He quoted Henry Ford to illustrate the concept of customer wants. “If I asked my customers what they wanted, I would have built faster horses” said Ford. If your job is to change context, you can’t have your customers tell you how says Armbruster.

Oncure designed a method to help them develop their services. The first step is to identify the spectrum of customers needs. The second step is to design and optimize services around HIGH VALUE needs. He identified three methods used to identify unmet customer needs:

1) Explicit – asking the customers what they need
2) Tacit – observing and gathering information by getting out and spending time with customers
3) Latent - uncovering needs that customers have that they don’t even know they have

The secret to competitive differentiation says Armbruster is the ability to
“connect with your customers at a deeper level than the competition”.

He discussed five ways to make these deeper connections. They included:

1) Going beyond asking customers
2) Discovering service prototyping with your customers – get them involved
3) Engaging employees in the process and have them part of the design
4) Encouraging business analysis early in the process
5) Committing to it even if you have only a dime to invest

Keeping your focus on improving your services is an important goal. It all begins with knowing the deep needs of your customers from their perspective. Ryan Armbruster can be contacted at

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