Customer Experience Innovation From The Outside In

Firms crave differentiation. But the truth is that even companies with dedicated time and budget for customer experience innovation focus most of their efforts on two things — whatever their competitors are doing and whatever the latest technology enables them to do. When companies blindly add shiny new features or trendy technologies to their mix of customer experiences, they’re innovating just for innovation’s sake.

To shed scattershot innovation efforts that produce little business value, customer experience professionals must examine their business challenges and associated opportunities in a different way — from the outside in. This first and vital step in the innovation process requires immersion in customers’ lives. The end goal? Developing empathy for your customers so that you can discover their unmet needs.

Someone who really understands this is Doug Dietz of General Electric Healthcare (GE Healthcare). Doug had been designing CT and MRI scanners at GE Healthcare for 20 years. As a product designer, he concentrated mostly on the aesthetics and the ergonomics of these machines, or what he calls “the shiny objects.” He was incredibly proud of these shiny objects. And he had good reason — on hospital visits, technicians would shower him with compliments.

But Doug’s machines didn’t so well work for one key customer segment: little kids.  

On one particular visit to a children’s hospital, Doug watched a little girl walk in, holding her parents’ hands. She took one look at the MRI machine, which Doug had been so proud of just moments before, and she started to cry. Doug learned that a huge percentage of children get so panicked about their procedures that they actually require sedation. He says, “I thought to myself . . . I’m kind of a failure.”

To be successful, Doug had to rethink the entire children’s imaging experience. So he teamed up with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the children’s museum of Milwaukee, and childhood development experts. He held design sessions in daycare centers. The design team members did simple things, like kneel down and look at the imaging rooms and equipment from the height of a child. They developed empathy for what these sick children were going through. And together, they designed a new experience to help kids feel less afraid.

The heart of the experience is a set of decals that transform the imaging room and scanner into an adventure landscape. For example, in the pirate-island theme, the scanner’s been made to look like a pirate ship. But the adventure doesn’t stop there. When the hospital technician greets the patient in the waiting room, she gives him a black-felt pirate hat and growls, “Aaaarrrr ye ready?” Then, as the child walks into the room, he doesn’t get hit with that weird hospital smell — he smells coconut that’s wafting up from an aromatherapy vaporizer. And when the procedure is over, he receives a hero’s award that he can share with friends and family.

Think about the benefits:

  • The kids are actually excited about their imaging adventure, and that means that a lot fewer of them need to be sedated.
  • You can only imagine what a relief that is for concerned parents.
  • The radiologists get more accurate images because the children are calm and cooperative.
  • Faster, easier procedures that don’t require an anesthesiologist help the hospital to increase throughput and save money. The hospitals also gain competitive differentiation — if you had a choice of which hospital to take your child to, wouldn’t you choose the one with the pirate ship?
  • And GE Healthcare, the company that Doug Dietz works for, also gains competitive differentiation in its B2B market.

This is a win-win situation. Or, really, a win-win-win-win-win situation.

And it all started with a seed of empathy.

I'll be speaking more about innovation at Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East, June 25th and 26th in New York. Hope to see you there!


A nice work for kids! This

A nice work for kids! This work reminds me a other similar project from Philips Healthcare 3 years ago. It's known as Philips Ambient Experience project and they tried to tackle same issues in different ways.

Personally, however, I prefer Philips's work in terms of design language and opportunity for other age groups.

Fortunately, lots of work in this space.

I agree that Philips does some nice design work.

And here's another example of designing the young patient experience:

The only way to become a winner in the Experience Economy

Way to go Doug!
I really like this blog post because it illustrates two things:
(1) That most companies are myopic and unimaginative when it comes to CX innovation, hardly ever looking beyond what the competition is doing, and completely submerged in their red-ocean strategies
(2) That most companies are set up (how they’re organized, incentivized, etc.) in a way that doesn’t encourage taking the outside-in, customer experience centric view
The results are way too often customer interactions that are designed for transactional cost efficiency, rather than the quality of the (customer) experience. Passionate professionals like Doug Dietz will sometimes disrupt the pigheaded, transaction oriented, company centric corporate ways ( with projects like this one. I am convinced that the winners of the Experience Economy will be companies that are able to build this kind of CX focus into their organizations’ DNA (i.e. their goals, strategy, incentives and ways of working, etc.).

Really good one!

A good example of how keeping customer at the center of product design can change the whole experience.
I agree with Ivar that organizations are myopic and unimaginative to come up with innovative styles of reaching to customers. The issue is that most of the times even customers are not aware of their needs. I am sure very few customers would have thought of such a scanning machine.
Hence, it needs lot of dedication and brainstorming from organizations to fulfill the latent needs of their customers. It is difficult, but once done, it really gives a competitive advantage.