question mark in front of face
PHOTO: Anemone123

The Western Energy Institute’s Annual Meeting in Carlsbad, Calif. had (as usual) great programming on the future of the utilities industry, but the opening keynote speaker, Duncan Wardle, engaged us all in some creative thinking about ways to make innovation a part of the work we do.

Wardle covered a lot of topics, but one stuck out to me: asking the wrong questions. He shared examples of what asking the wrong questions can do to an organization and, on the flip side, what asking the right ones can do. He shared some really compelling examples from his career at Disney, but also had us break into groups and come up with our own examples.

For this post, I thought I’d dig into this idea of asking the wrong questions to give you all some inspiration to push your organizations to stop asking the wrong — and start asking the right — questions.

The Wrong Questions

We’re asking the wrong questions when we’re focused on what we want, need or do as an organization rather than what our customers want, need or do. I don’t think Wardle's point was that what we want, need or do as an organization isn’t important — it absolutely is. But, to me, his point was unless you understand what your customers want, need and do, you can’t be truly effective in what you want, need and do as an organization.

So what are examples of wrong questions? There are likely countless ones depending on your industry, product and more, but I think all of them fall into one of the following general areas:

  • How can we generate more sales?
  • How can we increase revenue?
  • How can we save money?

You may be wondering why these are the wrong questions. After all, organizations are in business to make money, and the answers to all of these questions help an organization make more money, right?

Yes, but not nearly as much as asking the right questions does. Because when you ask the right questions, you focus on your customers and what they want, need and do, which has the potential to unlock disruptive, exponential gains — whereas asking the wrong questions leads to incremental gains at best, or putting you out of business at worst.

Related Article: Why Customers Are the Real Drivers of Digital Transformation

The Right Questions

Now that you know what the wrong kinds of questions are, let’s take a look at the right kinds of questions to ask.

As with the wrong questions, the right questions will depend in part on your industry, products, etc., but in general, we can bucket them into the following high level questions:

  • What are our customers’ biggest problems?
  • What are our customers’ biggest needs?
  • What do our customers do when they do business with us?
  • How could we change the rules of how we do business now to address our customers’ problems and needs and make it easier to do what they do (and do more of it) when they do business with us?

So, for example, if you were a property and casualty insurer and you were looking to mobile enable the claims process, the wrong questions to ask are:

  • How do we use mobile technology to enable insureds to submit their documentation, check claim status and communicate with claims adjusters?
  • How much efficiency can we gain by replacing paper, email and phone channels with mobile?
  • How much can we lower costs through mobile enabling the claims process?

Calling these the wrong questions doesn’t mean the goals of cost savings and efficiency are bad ones, just that you will be more effective at achieving them if you ask the right kinds of questions, such as:

  • What do insureds in the midst of a loss event need most?
  • What do insureds in the midst of a loss event want most?
  • What do insureds do in the midst of a loss event?
  • How could we change the rules of a loss event to better address insureds’ wants and needs and make it easier to do what they do during a loss event?

You can see how if an insurer successfully addressed these questions (rather than the previous ones), they would succeed in creating a mobile service that went far, far beyond simply moving the claims process to a mobile device. Instead, it would represent a sea change in how insureds were able to interact with an insurer during a loss event. Imagine something like an app that helped insureds deal with the issues and challenges of, say, a flooded basement: from how to stay safe and mitigate the damage to finding in-network service providers for clean up, replacement purchases, etc., and that also got the claims process started and moving behind the scenes.

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Asking Is the First Step

As important as asking the right questions is, it’s only the first step. You need to answer them and then use those answers to drive action, which is easier said than done. But hopefully this post gives you ideas on how to encourage your organization to ask the right questions … we’ll turn to how to answer them and catalyze action in upcoming posts.