By Anna Caraveli and Andrea Pellegrino
Click to read Part I
How many associations have been unpleasantly surprised at having to cancel a program that members or customers had asked for in a survey or in an answer to a direct question? They were so sure it would work! After all, it’s what the members said they wanted! So, why are they not responding? Why are they not flocking to the program you designed just for them—with their input
? How did this program, which seemed like such a perfect fit, miss the target so badly?
Missing the target
Experience management consultant Lewis P. Carbone
talks about the fallacy of companies investing in painstaking and expensive customer research only to find out that asking customers directly what they think about their products, services, or experiences does not reveal their real thoughts and needs. “The assumption,” he says, is that “customers will accurately report their thoughts and desires. Yet time and time again, these companies find that consumer behavior in the marketplace bears no resemblance to what their research indicated.” He cites the example of New Coke. While the company’s research showed that consumers were very willing to welcome and buy the new product in place of the “Classic Coke,” their actions demonstrated the opposite, soundly rejecting the New Coke. For Coca Cola the result of relying on what customers said
they wanted rather than deciphering what they actually
wanted was a well-known strategic planning, sales, and public relations catastrophe.
The problem is that conventional research does not help identify what truly makes a person “tick” because it fails to capture the key contributors to engagement and decision-making–underlying emotions, goals, motivations and values, as well as the elements and dynamics of different contexts.
Numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. It is the nature
of your connection with your members/customers rather than their numbers that determine everything else: the marketability of your products; your profitability, market value and capacity for growth. The deeper the connection to what most matters to your members, the greater their engagement and retention and the more solid your foundations for growth.
Understanding vs. Data Gathering
In the end, your thousands of members are individuals first. Even companies are made up of individual people making individual decisions. Understanding just a few of them as unique persons will give you a much better basis for extrapolating about the whole group. This is what anthropologists do, utilizing what they call “participant observation
.” They immerse themselves in their subjects’ lives as participants while maintaining objectivity and applying specific methodologies for observing behavior, analyzing and synthesizing data and deducing patterns that may apply to the larger group.
An association using the participant observation method of research, for example, might select five to ten target companies to study in depth instead of (or in addition to) surveying hundreds or thousands of them. Utilizing a framework for discovery that takes them outside habitual assumptions and ways of thinking about their members, they would visit the companies and interview a range of executives and employees, paying attention to relationship dynamics among them and observe behavior and practices. The goal is to understand the way individuals actually experience problems, view opportunities, define success, make use of resources, look for help, relate to each other and look for solutions; and to deepen their grasp of customers’/members’ business and industry.
This type of immersion will not only uncover what truly makes your customers “tick” but will also deepen and change the tone of your relationship with them in the process.
In short, associations, like social scientists need to map out and understand what a typical “day in the life” of their target member or customer group looks like—what they do and think about, why, when, how and to what end; what relationships are key to their success and who brings what value to what. Immersion in a “day in the life” of members will clarify where and how an association, or other service provider, can deliver the most value to them and what distinctive role it can assume in their larger value ecosystem.
The following case study shows how true immersion in members’ lives on a daily basis uncovers nuanced details that allow the provider to continuously deliver indispensable, “must have” value within a continuum of needs.
Case Study: The Veterinary Information Network (VIN)
To remain indispensable to its members’ success, VIN literally and metaphorically lives in its members’ space, using the same platform members use for all aspects of its own operations; monitoring and participating in members’ conversations.
Instead of standard products and benefits, VIN’s members are
the “product” in that they ask and answer each other’s questions and serve as co-developers of content and value. VIN sets in motion a continuous stream of value-generating exchanges among its members; captures, synthesizes and leverages their insights, cases and research into an ever-growing, collective dynamic body of knowledge that is constantly applied and renewed.
Immersion in the day-to-day life of its members is the reason that VIN’s services and solutions are seamlessly integrated with the way its members think, learn, communicate and work. VIN has positioned itself as “the world’s largest virtual veterinary practice”—a strategic partner to its members’ ability to practice and stay in business, rather than a vendor of add-ons for whenever there is time or money to use them.
For the members of VIN, daily visits to its online community platform are indispensable to their ability to practice.
Welcome to a day in the life of a VIN member
All through the day:
- First thing in the morning: checks headlines on VIN’s online newspaper. First he questioned the need for a separate newspaper but sees the value of understanding headlines and news stories from the vet’s perspective.
- Mid-morning: posts a couple of questions on treatment to the appropriate message boards and receives a total of 8 responses.
- Lunch break: fatigue sets in; is refreshed by login into VIN and checking insights on various message boards. Checks on clinical updates to be prepared for afternoon visits.
- Afternoon: tough case. Needs to check with specialist. In the past he would have to search local universities and place numerous phone calls to identify a knowledgeable, willing and available specialist. Now he can have immediate answers from the appropriate specialist out of a group of 258 vetted consulting specialists that VIN identified from among its members, developed and organized into a consulting core.
- Consults with VIN’s Food Recall Center to stay on top of products that have been recalled; checks clinical updates to cases he has worked on.
- Browses through archived discussion to check if anyone had positive results using a particular drug for the kind of case he just diagnosed. VIN has a comprehensive searchable online source for veterinary information accessing, integrating and curating information from thousands of research data, publications, conferences, past discussion etc. Members can access research on multiple levels of depth depending on their needs.
- Checks into a new board on bankruptcy and practice re-design
Can your association say it is this central to its’ members’ professional lives each and every day? But this is the kind of indispensability that is increasingly necessary for a member or customer-based organization to thrive in today’s fast-paced, interconnected competitive environment.
Connection vs Short-Term Sale
Do you want to be “nice to have” or indispensable to your members’ ability to succeed?
The key to uncovering the member/customer needs that truly matter and creating products, services and solutions that hit the sweet spot is forging long-term relationships with them rather than gathering data, and seeing the world through their perspective. It is understanding the customer in action, rather than in frozen snippets of time; in the context of daily life and the motivations, values, beliefs and practices that shape choices.
Mapping out a day in the life of a member brings into focus what members actually do and what resources they actually need to do it, instead of what they say
they need. And, understanding how members operate and think throughout their professional day– what problems they face, and how they view and solve them (including when and if they turn to the association) — provides invaluable information on where an association’s benefits are falling short, whether they are being utilized or ignored, how they might be reconfigured or optimized to meet member needs and what gaps might provide opportunities for new products, services and solutions.
Viewing a working day through the perspective of members is a powerful gateway to what makes them “tick;” can transform the way we think about, create and deliver value to them and, hence, engage them.