Is the customer really always right?

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Market research has been quite a stumbling block for us here at HeadUp – and not just for us, but for the insurers we work with, too. I appreciate that the old adage; “the customer is always right,” has value. But we’ve found that it’s blocked innovation and it seems that this is because, in essence, customers aren’t visionary enough

We have this quote attributed to Henry Ford, framed and hanging up in our offices:

 “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This isn’t a criticism of customers, it’s not the customer’s job to know what they want. Our job as innovators and a data science company that’s focused on improving people’s wellbeing, is to figure out what customers really need. A part of how we do this is by gathering data on customers, but it rarely extends to asking them for product or feature ideas or solutions.

Instead, it’s about us deeply immersing ourselves in people’s worlds and understanding their problems. In fact, our focus is mostly on problems, rather than solutions (which is what everyone else is focused on). Why? Because people are biased towards ‘easy and familiar solutions’ – but not the ones they need.

I’ve worked in employee/group health for a couple of decades and what employees say they want is never, ever reflective of what they actually need. Employee wellness surveys say people want ‘healthy vending options in the cafeteria’ and ‘discounts on gym memberships and supplements’. When these things are put in place, utilisation is in the low single figures and none of them address what employees actually need.

At a personal level, when we ask people who download HeadUp what they want to work on, it almost never squares up with what they need to work on.

Looking more broadly at what life insurers are doing, we see this with the more delicate issue of mental health. Many say they want yoga and mindfulness but 50% of people drifting into anxiety and depression are getting there because of money. Nobody is asking for financial literacy. If they did, it would shift the needle more than any other intervention. 

Market research won’t tell you everything.

This is why there’s a big possibility your market research won’t provide the clarity it should. For example, an insurer asking people if they want an app, is bound to deliver poor results because most people’s idea of what an ‘app’ is, is limited to the ones they don’t use.

A good percentage of the population has downloaded a ‘health and fitness app’ and it’s gone the way of the rowing machine that’s under the bed, the exercise bike out on the nature strip and the unread book on juice cleansing.

The funny thing is, the apps people do use, they don’t think of as apps. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Messenger, Weather, Calendar, Uber, Menulog, Maps etc, aren’t really thought of as ‘apps’. People think of them as platforms that fix a problem. Which is precisely where our solution sits in the minds of the people who use it.

These are the questions we focus on:

  1. What jobs are our people trying to get done in their lives?
  2. Are they succeeding or failing at these jobs?
  3. If they are failing, why?

We believe that these problems create space for innovation. 

I acknowledge that there are quite enough Steve Jobs quotes in the world today, but I think he made a good point when he said:

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

That’s why I don’t rely on market research. And that’s why I believe our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. 

One of our partners showed people what they need and this is what happened.

Recently, we’ve had some quantitative user feedback (Feb 2021) come out of independent research that was undertaken on behalf of an insurer who has partnered with HeadUp to power their solution.

Now, let me take this back 2 years. A member of our client’s team, as part of their diligence process, did some customer research that featured questions like:

  • Do you use health and fitness apps?
  • Would you like us to provide you with a wellness app?
  • Would you want a wearable provided by us?
  • Would you trust your insurer with your private health data?

All of this was in the context of what people knew about insurance (low or no interest and limited trust) and apps (outlined above). So unsurprisingly, the results were inaccurately skewed, and it slowed things down for a few weeks. 

When this insurer focused on its members’ real problems and needs, and those of the business, they quite rightly pushed ahead. Here are the results of the independent research that helps explain why they’ve just been recognized and awarded for this initiative. 

App Usage and Engagement – frequency of use
User Satisfaction
Qualitative Quotes

Maybe I sound like I’m name dropping here (and I suppose I am), but I spent time with Sir Richard Branson when he bought my old business (GCC) and I asked him about innovation and asking the customer what they want. I’ll never forget his answer:

“In 1990, years before any other airline, Virgin Atlantic was the first to put a TV screen on the back of every seat. Everyone has them now. You couldn’t imagine flying without them. But here’s the thing: nobody asked for them, ever, in any research. We had to do the thinking for people”.

And that’s exactly what we strive to do at HeadUp Labs.

More to explore

Man in a white t-shirt is facing away from the camera. A snake is peeping over his shoulder looking towards the camera.

The deadliest animal in the world isn’t what you think.

“Dad, what’s the most dangerous animal?”.  Now this is a a good question for a Dad who runs a data science business focusing on human health and well-being, because helping people identify and quantify risk so they stay alive (and healthy!) is what we do. At HeadUp Labs, we’re really good helping people identify what their big risks are. But what are the biggest risks to your kids? It’s not something like heart attacks or strokes… so, what is it? Hint: it’s something much bigger.