People Need Solutions, NOT Products

by Louis on November 5, 2013

People have problems. They need solutions.

Products can be part of solutions but they are not the same thing.  I am worried about mom falling is a problem. Where and how to install grab bars, maybe the installation, along with the bar itself,  is part of a solution.  A grab bar alone is not a solution. It is just a product. The customer, standing in a store, looking at grab bars is not presented a solution. They probably know it is some part of what they need. But seeing it and buying it doesn’t solve the problem.

On a pro bono home accessibility project I ran a few years ago I handed a really smart PhD biologist who knows how to use tools a grab bar and everything he needed to install it. I came back into the bathroom later with the client, a double amputee using a wheelchair, to see that the grab bar was solidly installed…at shoulder height! He wasn’t stupid. He has seen grab bars installed in public rest rooms…but he needed it spelled out. He is not unusual.

What is a CNA, RN, home health aide? Are they different? Which do I need?

What is assisted living, independent living, CCRC? Even in these categories I see different offerings. What is right for mom? How long will it work for her?

I called the county senior transport service. But I am not clear they will help her into the house and carry her groceries into the kitchen.  I found a volunteer ‘village’ agency too, of people from her cohort in the neighborhood. Will they help? I don’t want mom to feel she is a burden, but I have to go to work.

An example from parenting. The doctor says, “Fill this prescription as soon as possible. Do not expose any others to your kid for at least 48 hours.”  You can’t leave them in the car while you run into the drug store. You can’t take them into the store. You can’t drop them home and run back. How do you do it?  The prescription is a product not a solution

A lot about Aging in Place is like that. People need solutions. It is pretty good to offer information, but since they don’t have any experience in this arena and the situations they face are constantly changing they need curated information. From advisers they trust. Who tell them what needs to be done, who to hire now, when a different product or service is needed…or that what they have is the best they can do even if it is only half working. These points may be obvious to us working on the inside but it is a big mystery to those facing these issues for the first time.

Because my work involves design I often show pictures or sketch the ideas I am proposing to a client. If they are looking at me rather than the paper I know their experience is not eureka, but befuddlement. I am not giving them a solution even though the drawing describes the right product for their problem. They need more of what I know. The drawing may represent the solution to me, but that is not paying attention to their experience.

Obvious example are jargon, acronyms and terms of art. What does assessment mean? Clearly it is different to those in medicine and social work than it is to lay folks. I stopped using that word years ago.

Solutions are developed when you look more deeply at your customer’s experience than just identifying their problem. “Walk a mile in their shoes” and all that. Really. Try to understand what a customer is going through, thinking, feeling. What help would you want in that situation?

It may be a solution when your client sighs, through relief that they know what to do or at least they know they have done the best they can do. People have problems. They need solutions.


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