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The Customer is Always Right

In 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge's Department Store in London, coined the phrase “The customer is always right.” In healthcare, we typically say, “The patient/user comes first.” Given that they always come first, why don’t we always do so? Ask any executive at any healthcare company and they will say that they listen to patients and clinicians, but are they actually listening and learning from them?

Recently I did a primary research project for a medical technology company that is a leader in their space. Let’s call them GreatProduct, Inc. Their customers, specialty clinics, have historically been believers in the quality products and the high level of service the company provides. They were consistently ranked higher than the competition in these areas. Great to hear, right? Yes…but… Getting results like this, while is great fodder for the national sales meeting, is actually a failure of research. I believe, the point of customer research is to understand the customer, not just hear that you are doing a good job. What else do they want? What can be improved? What can you do to meet their needs? Use that information to either change direction or adjust what you have in place to make it better. Just hearing you are doing a good job is in fact, no good.

While the clinicians interviewed for GreatProduct believed in their products, they needed more. In their busy practices, it became more and more difficult to use the time consuming product that they trusted. They started to look for a way to fulfill the clinical needs for their patients, while also addressing the need to be more efficient. Turns out the competition had already figured that out, leveraging all the good work that GreatProduct did to create demand and train clinicians. The competition offered improved tools and a streamlined process to get the patient from identification through result faster and more efficiently.

When GreatProduct heard of the need for tools their first instinct was to say “We already have that.” While it is true that they have some tools, clearly they were not meeting customer needs. Insights gathered in the research phase set them up for future success by adjusting what they have available to keep their customers and retain their leadership position.

Along the way they just need to remember that “the customer is always right.”

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