ServiceExperts™ is a series of contributing articles from recognized industry professionals offering their thoughts, viewpoints and opinions on the latest trends impacting the service industry. John Ward leads Cigna’s Enterprise Insights & Experience function, which includes the Company’s Market Research, Competitive Intelligence, Experience Design, Voice of Stakeholder and Segmentation capabilities. John and his team are responsible for enabling the company’s growth via stakeholder-driven solutions across all lines of business, channels and audiences. John joined Cigna in 2017 as the the Head of Customer Experience and expanded his role in 2020 to include the Company’s Insights functions as well. Prior to Cigna, John spent 14 years at American Express in various customer-focused roles including Digital Marketing, Product Management and Service Delivery. Over the last 7 years of his tenure at American Express, John led Customer Experience & Operational Excellence for the US Consumer Card Group where he was responsible for end-to-end experience and quality. John holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
I don’t like starting posts with an admission, but I have to in this case because the title of this one may be unintentionally deceiving. I do believe there are just 5 questions that, when answered well, will deliver better results more efficiently (more on that below). The real trick though is not just in knowing what the questions are, but rather in demonstrating the commitment and discipline to answering them consistently as a team as part of execution and delivery.
Why do I say that? Because paradoxically, awareness almost always precedes behavior change, but is also never a guarantee of successful behavior change. Or, to put it more simply, change is often easier said than done!
Anyone who has ever tried to lose a few pounds by eating healthier, stop smoking or get to the gym more consistently knows exactly what I am talking about. The ‘easier said than done’ rule pertains to many aspects of our professional lives as well. We are creatures of habit and habit serves an important purpose, but even habits themselves need to evolve and progress as the needs of the business and of users change. Successful behavior change always starts with small steps and my intent in sharing these 5 questions is to generate awareness that inspires small changes in the way that teams execute and deliver. So, here they are:
- What is the problem(s) we are trying to solve? If there is no problem then there’s definitely a better use of time, money and resources. Likewise, if you can only articulate the problem from an internal (e.g., your company) or external (e.g., your customers’) perspective, that’s concerning as well. Work worth doing must minimally serve an end-user need and a business objective. It can feel pedantic going through the exercise of documenting the problem(s) to be solved, but it’s the north star of any worthwhile initiative and a fantastic unifying mechanism for complex, cross-functional work.
- What data & insights do we have to illuminate the problem(s) and inform the solution(s)? I’m not a religious person, but there’s that old saying “In God we trust, everyone else must bring data” and that second part is absolutely true. Intuition and hypotheses are great, even necessary, but they have to be validated to ensure that problems are well understood and that solutions directly address the problems. The unwillingness to solve known problems is commonly understood as bad. Less commonly understood, but equally bad are solutions that address the wrong problems due to either or both being misinformed.
- What constitutes minimum viability? The corporate habit of reducing the formal names of things into acronyms is often fatally dilutive. Case in point: at too many organizations the acronym MVP (Minimally Viable Product) has rendered minimum as a noun instead of an adjective that describes the real subject of the term – viability! Teams must be deliberate about this. Minimum viability is not an absolute thing, it should always be defined relative to the needs and expectations of users and of the business for the work being done (and informed by insights that tie clearly back to the problems being solved… see how this builds?).
- What tradeoffs are required and how are we making and communicating those decisions? Every initiative eventually comes to a point where tough decisions need to be made in light of timing, budget, capacity, risk or some combination thereof. Teams are best to prepare for this eventuality in advance so that work isn’t totally derailed by the swirl that making tough tradeoff decisions can create. Clear answers to the first three questions above will help here, but tools like a principles-based decision framework and if-then impact models can also effectively support efficient decision-making and also help to ensure that the communication of decisions up, down and across doesn’t itself become a barrier to progress.
- What does success look like, how are we measuring it and who is accountable? I cheated a bit here and rolled three questions into one, but they’re all related to the critically important roles that measurement plays in this system. Role #1 is as a gauge of success; how are we doing vis a vis what we expected? The ‘what we expected’ part is often neglected when planning measures of success, typically because it can feel uncomfortable to set thresholds without perfect data. Don’t let that be a Catch-22 though because without some kind of barometer results can be hard to contextualize. Role #2 is the diagnostic function of measurement which helps to explain the ‘why?’ behind the measures of success so that continuous improvement can happen. That last piece is what closes the loop and makes the whole process iterative. Measurement and learning should inform new problems to solve (or better ways to solve existing problems) in a data-informed way, with clarity on what “good” looks like, the tradeoffs required to get there… you get the picture!
I have employed these questions successfully and seen how they can fundamentally change both how work gets done and the outcomes it delivers. Is greater awareness a guarantee of success? Of course not, but successful change is almost impossible without it.
John Ward will be a keynote speaker at the 2023 Smarter Services Executive Symposium, September 11-13 in Chicago, IL. To learn more about the event and view the agenda, click here.