You want to deliver a new, innovative customer experience. But when you’re blazing new trails, not everything is predictable. How can you provide customer-facing teams with guidance that’s applicable across a wide range of contingencies — and that empowers them to take initiative on behalf of customers?
We were recently faced with that challenge in designing a radically new healthcare experience for men. We found that an ethos, a high-level guiding concept for how teams will serve customers, patients, or users, turned out to be a valuable tool. (The dictionary defines ethos as “the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community.” Since we think of service teams as a community, the term seemed to fit.)
Developing an ethos helped us:
- Onboard service teams quickly and align them to the same values and concepts
- Empower the team to deliver an new type of experience that gets at the heart of customers’ struggles
- Create a consistent experience even though it is new and different in many ways
We’ve translated the process that we used into the step-by-step guide below.
WHAT IS AN ETHOS (AND WHAT IS IT NOT)?
In the same way an individual’s personal ethos guides their actions, the ethos for a user experience is a high-level guiding concept that shapes its development and execution. It captures the essence of how you will fulfill your customers’ fundamental needs, and translates that into actionable principles. You should be able to trace an unbroken line from your users’ problems through the ethos to the experience you develop to help solve them.
How is an ethos different from…
- Company values: While values guide your company as a whole, your ethos guides a specific user experience.
- Your brand promise: While a brand promise sets expectations, an ethos helps frontline teams fulfill them.
- A marketing tool: An ethos doesn’t determine how you speak about the experience, but rather how the experience speaks to users.
FIVE STEPS TO DEVELOP AN ETHOS
An ethos shouldn’t take months of careful refinement. It aims to define the core of an experience you and your team have probably already thought a lot about. Harness your team’s knowledge, think about what your users have said, get something on paper, and iterate it a few times.
In our project, we developed the ethos through five steps that start with the essential customer problem and ultimately lead into specific touchpoints. We’ve outlined that process below.
To help illustrate the process, we’ve created a hypothetical case study:
LocalCare, a primary care clinic, has a problem. Though they are in the heart of a college town, their patient population is almost entirely older adults. Not only are college students an untapped market, but they can also greatly benefit from preventive care to set them up for good health later in life.
LocalCare plans to develop a patient experience that can engage college students with healthcare. But it’s easier said than done. To truly engage the students, they know they’ll need a big idea to help them shape and focus the experience.
1 | UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM YOUR SERVICE ADDRESSES
An ethos should aim at the most fundamental needs of your users — the deep desires from which their everyday needs grow. Try this general framework to get you started:
If only we could enable our users to do [what?] and feel [how?], it would be a game-changer.
For instance, in a project for one of our clients, we discovered that home care professionals wanted to be able to work at the top of their license. In another, male patients wanted to feel more in control of their healthcare experience, like they are in other areas of their lives.
Before designing a primary care experience for college students, LocalCare needs to be sure what problem they’re solving. By reflecting on their experience and doing some focused online research, they are able to pin it down:
For many reasons, college students seek primary care at rates far lower than older adults. If only college students could discover a fulfilling relationship with a provider and make regular visits, they would set themselves on a healthy course for life, while helping LocalCare to grow its practice.
Keep your problem definition to 50 words or less. If it runs longer, that’s a sign it may be a “bag of ideas” rather than a single coherent concept.
2 | UNDERSTAND YOUR USERS’ BARRIERS TO ENGAGEMENT
Once you know the fundamental problem you’re solving, explore what’s getting in the way. Consider the experience through the user’s eyes. What do they really want? What gets in the way of them using services like yours? Do they not feel in control? Are they afraid of making the wrong choice? Are they mistrustful of the result?
If you can, now is the time for customer research. You may think you know your audience well enough to make decisions for them, but there is no substitute for hearing it straight from the source. Knowing their thoughts and feelings up front can multiply the yield of your initiative.
To understand why college students don’t go to the doctor, Local Care interviews students from the local college about their relationship with their health care and how they feel about going to the PCP. Through these discussions, they discover a few factors that keep them from going to the PCP:
- Not enough money
- Not enough time
- Lack of understanding of the healthcare system.
When talking to your users, don’t just listen to what they’re saying. Read between the lines to hear the emotional needs at the heart of the issue. Solving for these will drive more connection with your service.
3 | DEVELOP YOUR ETHOS
Your ethos is the essential thing your audience needs to resonate with in order to embrace your services. Does their hesitance to use your service come from a fear of doing the wrong thing? Then maybe what they’re looking for is Empowerment. Did they say they’re afraid of doing it alone? Maybe what they want is Partnership.
Think of the companies you know whose ethos’ are obvious. Disney: magic. Subaru: adventure. Apple: simplicity. For each of these, everything about their experience comes back to this core concept. Express the essence as simply as you can — as little as one or two words will do.
Students said they’re often short on cash, pressed for time, and unfamiliar with the healthcare system. They need an experience that is free of added fees, free of friction, and easy to engage with. With the addition of a little creativity, LocalCare has their Ethos: Freasy.
Have fun in naming your ethos. It should be “sticky” — and can even be a little weird. You want it to spread and to stimulate thought and discussion.
4 | BUILD OUT YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES
An ethos aligns your team to a shared mindset, but it’s not really specific enough to guide action. So the next step is to develop guiding principles. Think of these as broad objectives that put the ethos into action. They tell teams what to achieve, if not exactly how. They answer the question, What can we do to fulfill the promise of our ethos?
It’s good to start each principle with a verb, to frame them as actions team members can take to deliver on the new experience.
To deliver on the promise of Freasy, LocalCare brings their experts together and brainstorms objectives to make healthcare accessible for college students. Here are some of their ideas:
- Limit or eliminate surprise fees
- Minimize waiting time
- Offer digital communication 24/7
- Explain every step
- Simplify patient tasks
- Send follow-ups and reminders
- No judgment
Don’t get too prescriptive, like saying “Always greet patients at the door.” Instead focus on big goals, like “Attend to patient needs throughout the visit.”
5 | DEVELOP TOUCHPOINTS
One way to think of touchpoints is as the “wow” moments of the user experience, where you have a chance to fulfill user needs in a big way. In a health care setting, these might include when the patient is greeted, settled in the exam room, or checked out. (The exam itself is a critical touchpoint, but bound by protocol and harder to influence.) It’s worthwhile to plan these “wow” moments down to the smallest details. Who handles it? What must we communicate? What tools or tech can we employ? How do we check for success? The principles are a useful guide for keeping each touchpoint on track with the ethos.
Acting on the guideline “Explain every step,” LocalCare planned the checkout touchpoint to fit college students, who are newbies to seeking care. Students are met after each appointment by a “health coach” who confirms that they understood the outcome of their exam, helps them schedule follow-ups or fill prescriptions, sets them up with a telehealth app or activity tracker, and gently probes for latent issues and concerns.
No ethos is perfect. Every year, convene customer-facing staff to discuss what they’ve learned about delivering the experience. What principles have been most useful? What needs still need to be addressed? Have any new challenges arisen? Create your Ethos 2.0.
WHAT ABOUT MID-STREAM INITIATIVES?
Of course, the best time to develop an ethos for a new user experience is at the outset of its development. However, teams don’t always have that luxury. If you find yourself mid-stream without an ethos, take a few beats and explore. The makings of an ethos are probably implicit in the work you’ve already done. Pull on those threads and work together as a team to articulate the ethos and identify principles for applying it. When working mid-stream, team-wide communication and alignment becomes paramount — otherwise the effort may sow confusion.
But no matter where you are in the process, working with a skilled facilitator to develop your ethos helps to:
- Motivate and excite your teams to come together around a shared goal
- Understand your users’ deep motivations
- Bring a fresh perspective to your development process
- Remove your team’s biases from the end service