The power of stories in the customer experience

As an English major working in digital, my heart skipped a beat last month when Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Conversations and Influencer, came to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota to talk to our leadership team. He is an incredibly gifted speaker and writer, and has built this reputation based on the premise that those who lead through influence are storytellers through and through. (Aha! I knew it.)

Over the last year, I’ve been working to radically change our digital presence in the eyes of our consumer: to stop thinking about ourselves, digitally speaking, as a hospital and start thinking of ourselves as a content publisher.

Only by providing highly relevant and easy-to-navigate information for our patients and families can we reshape the customer experience so the web truly become the front door to our hospitals and clinics.

Insights before architecture, selling before design

This means that we needed to really understand our customer before we ever put pen to paper on information architecture or site functionality.

We spent six months on that work, and it generated significant qualitative and quantitative insights on the patients, families, doctors, nurses, donors and employees that rely on our site to navigate their experience at Children’s.

More importantly, it generated a collection of stories that I could use in influencing my internal stakeholders at Children’s to push the project forward. Over the last six months we’ve been deep in design, development and content organization for our new website, and I’ve been on a roadshow that never ends.

This act of constant “selling” our ideas internally has enabled me to set aside much of the resistance I might have otherwise experienced in pushing for such significant change.

Humanizing the technical details

As I engage with people about the significant changes that will come when we launch our new site in a few months, I back it up with a story.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. As I was making the case for project funding, I spent a lot of time in front of our executive teams talking about why we were investing first in a responsive site before moving into native app development. That sentence I just wrote? It made zero sense to the health care executives listening to me. But when I asked one of our C-suite leaders to pull out his phone, and showed him what all those words meant in terms of the apps and sites he used daily? He got it in an instant and became an evangelist for us with teams that will be experiencing the most significant changes when we launch the new mobile-optimized site.
  2. One of our most insightful interviews during our research was with our welcome desk staff at our two hospital campuses, which are notoriously challenging to navigate when families arrive for a visit. They came to the interview with a long list of needs they knew families had — needs that never would have surfaced in direct consumer research. Their insights led us to make some decisions about how content should be organized on the site we might not have otherwise made.
  3. A group of our patient families were brought in to see our early thinking on user interface designs. And after about an hour of talking about how the site would be organized and where people might click for various actions, one mom asked us — somewhat out of the blue — about photography on the site. When we pressed for background on her question, she noted that our site typically features happy kids and happy outcomes. When she was in the thick of working through a very difficult diagnosis for her child, she wanted some of our content to come without a happy face staring out at her. “I didn’t know yet if I was getting a happy story, but I wanted to know I wasn’t alone if I didn’t.”

It would be easy for me to simply talk about responsive design, our plans for content governance, or our approach to humanizing the technical nature of our content on these roadshow presentations. But these stories — and many more — demonstrate those needs in hugely personal terms, and they have softened resistance and made advocates out of even the most skeptical of colleagues.

Meet Jen 

Jen Swanson is the Director of Digital Marketing at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and blogs at on issues related to women and leadership, closing the gender gap and work/life integration. Follow her on Twitter at @jgswanson

Hear Jen speak at MobCon.

Photo courtesy of Bloomua.