“Dislistening” – the questionable art of listening to your customers without listening. (Episode 45)

Interview with Bart Jordens, Global Head of Innovation at Cigna International Markets.

It would be fair to say that Design Thinking has revolutionised how many companies approach product development and innovation. But what comes after Design Thinking?

That was the topic of conversation as I sat down with: Bart Jordens, Global Head of Innovation at Cigna International Markets.

As Innovation lead he is responsible for accelerating innovation and helping execute innovation programs across 30 countries and jurisdictions. Cigna a global health services company with more than 70,000 employees and 180 million customers around the world.

Bart has been with the company for 18 years, and he has seen how the company has become increasingly focused on partnering with customers in product development, particularly since they started using Design Thinking, especially the first phase of Design Thinking which is to Empathise.

Bart: “To really create solutions together with the customers was quite a big mind shift for our company.”

This is a common response from companies that have begun to embrace Design Thinking. Ultimately they experience a much better connection with their customers and their needs.

I asked Bart, why this customer focused mindset was not always there and he replied: “It’s a mix of reasons: At the time you thought you were doing great, but looking back you realise there was some complacency, perhaps a bit of arrogance, or a sense of knowing best. Maybe there was a fear to really hear what the customers are saying – perhaps a bit of trying to avoid conflict and confrontation. Doing the new development yourself is often a much easier way.”

All these reasons are all too familiar with employees in, and customers of, many companies.

But Cigna is committed to continually improving. They embraced Design Thinking in order to fully committed to better understanding their customers.

Bart: “Empathetic interviews with customers are not easy to do. You have to be vulnerable, be open to let down your defences and really train yourself to listen. But when you do, you hear totally different things.”

While Cigna evolved, many companies still seem happy with doing customer surveys and similar activities – they feel that by doing that they have “listened.” You may learn what people are doing but not why they are doing it.

But when you have experienced the insights you can get when you really listen to a customer through empathetic interviews, you understand that customer surveys are not listening at all. We need a different word for what that is “Artificial listening”, perhaps. Or even “Dislistening” – as in hearing but not listening. And then we have the worst companies that do not even bother with surveys, who are totally uninterested in listening to their customers or even giving them a venue or channel to vent their frustrations.

For Bart product development and innovation at Cigna is now about “becoming a partner of a customer”.

While talking to Bart, we discussed how Empathy Interviews are valuable, but how they still have their limitations. After doing a certain number of deep interviews you start to get the same feedback over and over. So what is next? Bart: “It’s not about doing twice as long deep interviews with twice as many customers. You need to have more engagement points with your customers to better understand who they are and what they need.”

There is a lot of talk about Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence at the moment, but data can not only be used to make computers smarter, it can also be used to make us smarter about our customers. Let’s call it “Behaviour Learning”.

By using data to better understand the customer, their needs, and behaviours we can take our understanding beyond what they themselves know about themselves.

A simple example is to give an Apple Watch to people in return for getting access to how much they actually exercise and build the offerings based on the data – not on the customers estimates of how much he or she thinks they move in a day. This approach of Behaviour Learning raises new technical, communicational, ethical, and moral questions, but when we combine this with empathic interviewing there are huge opportunities to better understand customers and build innovative products and services. 

True listening can be a dramatic step forward in how you innovate for customer experience. How are you going to listen to your customers?




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