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This Blows

Creative_Confidence_BookI've been getting back into a reading kick of late... lots of great books released in the past 3-4 years, and I'm just now getting around to my long-ignored stack. One of the first up has been Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley, which is a Stanford/Ideo love-fest with a lot of great ideas around design thinking. One of the big themes I've seen emerge over and over again (which is nothing new from my other reading, but still great to see reinforced) is empathy for the end user. 

I bring this up for good reason. If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'll remember I suffer from sleep apnea. Last summer, I had grown tired (pun intended) of sub-par performance of my then-current CPAP machine, so my doctor arranged another sleep study (I hadn't had one since my original study eleven years prior). For those not familiar with how this works, one of the potential treatments for apnea is a machine that blows pressurized air into the nose and/or mouth to keep the passages clear and allow the patient to breathe (we humans love this breathing thing... it sort of keeps us alive). The sleep study revealed that I needed almost double the pressure I was getting previously, and so a new machine was authorized by the insurance company. (In an ironic twist of fate on this pre-existing condition, my neurologist's name was Dr. Trump... but I digress.)

Resmed_airsense_10Now at this point, I was VERY excited for a new machine and the potential for better sleep... until the first couple of nights of use. One feature of most CPAP, BiPAP, and AutoPAP machines is a humidifier tank to keep the air moist. It seems that sending pressurized air into a person MIGHT dry them out. Well guess what, with the increased pressure, I drained the tank pretty quickly. Hence, the past year has been a long case study of "how can we keep Tim asleep without the machine drying him out?" Being a systems thinker, I've played with EVERY possible variable setting on my machine to no avail; after about 4-5 hours, I'm awakened with a painful dry mouth. In talking to professionals at the doctor's office, the medical equipment supply place, and the sleep lab, it sounds like I'm stuck (How many times I've heard, "You're not the first person to complain about this, but there's really nothing we can do"). ResMed has created the "New Coke" of AutoPAP machines: it works according to specifications but it does not make the end user happy. The humidifier tank is just too small.

Here's where my earlier reading comes into play. I wonder if anybody at ResMed actually tested their machine to prototype the boundaries of the humidifier. Did they attempt to achieve empathy with the end user, or did they just expect us to buy stock in Biotene products (which, for me, work as well as the AutoPAP's humidifier)? To my curious mind, I wonder if ResMed's competitors (Philips, HDM, Fisher-Paykel, deVilbiss, and the like) are also experiencing this pitfall in customer satisfaction? Unfortunately, brand shopping isn't an option in the world of insurance-driven treatments (unless one has a few grand to slap down on multiple CPAPs and AutoPAPs).

My point is simple: what are you doing to anticipate opportunities to delight the customer and accomplish a new plateau in the relationship? Are you designing to simply work or to delight? Are you listening only to your customers' praise, or are you paying attention to their complaints as well?

As for me and my ongoing battle with sleep apnea? Maybe the Stanford d.school students can tackle this issue. 

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