Success is hiding in your customers’ untold stories

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Oct 21, 2021

Imagine that it’s 10:40 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and you’re sitting at your desk. You have 20 minutes before a string of meetings lasts from 11a.m. – 5 p.m., and you’ve been battling what is likely a sinus infection for ten days. Thanks to the at-home test you took, you know it isn’t COVID-19. You are hosting a small birthday party for your daughter on Saturday, and you don’t want to postpone it again. You had to do that last weekend. You need a solution now, so you Google “sinus infection remedies.” Among the results, two ads catch your eye. 

The first ad reads, “Virtual Visit – the care you demand.” The second ad says, “Feeling sick? Virtual Visit is the path to your weekend plans.” Which ad will you click on?

The answer to this question depends on your job to be done, or the progress you are seeking to make in this situation. 

Jobs Theory

People pull products and services into their lives, or “hire” them, to help them achieve their desired progress. 

As Clayton Christensen outlines in his book, “Competing Against Luck,” understanding the customers’ job to be done is critical to successful innovation. As an established company, organizing around your customers’ job to be done makes it significantly harder for a new entrant to disrupt you. Once you understand your customers’ job, you can create solutions that help them achieve that job better than any alternative. 

When a company does this, it becomes the preferred brand for that job. Lowe’s is one example. They have a deep understanding of their customers’ job to be done and cater their organization’s processes to deliver on it. This is reflected in their tagline: “do it right for less.” Compare that to Sears’ tagline, which reads, “Sears has the best tools.” Sears is bankrupt. Lowe’s stock price has increased 218% in the last five years. Twitter’s strategic application of Jobs Theory provides another example of impressive growth, which David Duncan highlights in his recent HBR article.

Shifting the viewpoint from “Who?” to “Why?”

If it pays to understand customers’ jobs, why doesn’t every company organize around the job? Listening to customers seems intuitive, but when compared to traditional market research, it is time-consuming and resource intensive. As a result, incumbent organizations are not set up to get feedback this way. Incumbents are much better at looking at demographic data and performing mass surveys. They are well-versed at asking, “who?”, and tend to divide the market based on demographics, products, and pricing. This information is more readily available and processes already exist to analyze it. But what if that’s not the best path to success?

Unfortunately, asking “who hired us?” doesn’t tell us “why did they hire us?”. Effectively understanding customer, consumer, and patient jobs requires building new organizational processes that many companies do not have. 

Too often in healthcare, well-meaning provider organizations focus on who and what is in front of them at the expense of focusing on the root cause behind why they are there – that is, the patient’s job to be done. When we listen to consumer and patient stories, the jobs they are trying to accomplish emerge, and we understand why individuals make their decisions. These stories reveal the underlying causal mechanisms that led them to hire or fire a service. As an organizational leader, understanding that causality is powerful information you can use to shape services, helping your patients and your organization achieve progress and attain market leadership.

Effective application of Jobs Theory in healthcare

At Atrium Health, my prior employer, we put Jobs Theory into practice to understand why people hired or fired our on-demand care offerings. With the help of Jobs to Be Done co-founder, Bob Moesta, we interviewed patients who had recently hired on-demand care services – either ours or those of our competitors. We found decisions to hire on-demand care were not driven by a desire to achieve progress in health or care. They were driven by consumers’ desires to achieve progress in their lives. Examples included the desire not to miss work (functional job), to be able to say “yes” when a colleague asked if they’d been to the doctor (social job), and not to miss their child’s game (emotional job).

The scene I asked you to imagine at the start of the post is based on a story we heard, and Atrium Health did create both ads. However, they weren’t deployed at the same time. The first one “care you demand” launched before we listened to consumer and patient stories. The second one, “path to your weekend plans,” was created after we identified their jobs. 

When the ad spoke to individuals in their language, we saw a 40% increase in positive conversions. That means 40% more people were on the path to achieving their desired progress. They succeeded because they hired care that got them back to their lives, and we succeeded because we got their business.

Service personalization and messages using customers’ own language increases conversions and captures more engaged leads. Applying an understanding of jobs allows you to understand why customers hire you and how you can better serve their needs. The power to do so lies in listening to their stories – in focusing on “why” not just on “who.”

Ann Somers Hogg is a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute. She focuses on business model innovation and disruption in healthcare, including how to transform a sick care system to one that values and incentivizes total health.