Whenever you’re making any customer-impacting changes to your product or service mix and/or to the experience you offer to customers, it’s really important to get customers’ input and ideas beforehand. There are some companies that seem to be able to make major product launches and updates and/or customer experience changes without checking in with actual customers or with the target audience – Apple comes tomind – but most of us aren’t Apple.
I’ve been actively involved in a local community uproar that ensued when the parent organization of our local hospital decided to shut down our emergency room and change the service mix. While the changes may be necessary and logical, they were introduced so badly (with no attempt at community input or outreach or even employee involvement), that they unleashed a huge and prolonged activist resistance effort among the people in the four affected communities. “Hell no, we won’t go!” is a good way to summarize the locals’ feelings—particularly since they view the affected hospital as “theirs.” The hospital’s land and buildings were donated to the town by a local doctor, and the hospital has been upgraded and supported by locals’ philanthropy over the years. But, along the way, its Board decided to affiliate with a larger “healthcare system.” Apparently, when they did so, they ceded complete control and essentially sold out (although no money changed hands) to Maine Health, which is based in Portland, Maine. Maine Health has a different vision of the future of healthcare in Maine. They want a few large multi-disciplinary hospital hubs in the state and doctors’ offices in local communities. There are other health care systems in our state that actively support emergency healthcare in rural communities, believing that essential services should be close to home and distributed.
What should you do if you goofed and didn’t engage customers at the outset of a change that produces a lot of bad will? My answer is: go back and start over. Honestly solicit input and ideas. Get your customers engaged in solving the problem you’re trying to address. People love to complain. But they also love to roll up their sleeves and try to create something new that meets difficult constraints, budgets, and timelines. In the case of St. Andrews Hospital in Boothbay, Maine, the community members are collecting their own VOC and doing their own business planning and co-design.
Our Task Force also hired a lawyer who prepared a great position paper making a case to the Attorney General in Maine, that Maine Health and Lincoln County Healthcare have violated the trust of our community and ignored the needs of the people the charitable organization was established to serve.
The parent organization has responded by stepping back and saying, “OK, we’ll give you more time to convince us.” It’s not ideal; it’s not true co-design; but it’s a step in the right direction.Read my case study. Read the VOC Report, The Community Speaks Out. Read the Legal Position Paper.