Designing for Life’s Changes Meghann Dryer, Gretchen Wustrack, Caroline Stanculescu

Helping people navigate change can win deep loyalty

Change is never easy. Whether it approaches gradually but inexorably (retirement), is the result of a conscious decision (going back to school), or is thrust upon us suddenly and without warning (health crisis), change casts us into unknown territory and demands of us new knowledge, skills, and behaviors. During periods of acute change, people feel particularly vulnerable. Companies that can help people weather storms, adjust to new conditions, or meet their personal goals will earn trust and build deeper relationships.

Today’s tough economic times present companies with a huge opportunity. Many people have found themselves caught in the turmoil of job loss, tightening credit, or vanishing investments. No one knows what it all means, and no one can say what will come next. Companies that support people during times of transition will differentiate themselves from their competition today and secure the foundations of a thriving business tomorrow.

The Evidence — Stories from around the globe

Giving birth, giving back

As her due date approached, Kalina was a wreck. She was pregnant with her first child and had decided that she would buy only organic products for her baby—everything from clothes to toys and especially the mattress—but she was overwhelmed by conflicting claims. A friend pointed her to the Golden Gate Mother’s Group, a nonprofit social network for new mothers in San Francisco.

The GGMG was there for her when she couldn’t find answers elsewhere. Now she turns to the group first for down-to-earth advice about any baby-related question. She has become an active member and is dedicated to giving back to the community by posting her own opinions, learnings, and comments.

How might companies enable people to tap a larger network for guidance during times of transition?

Wii not?

At the age of 63 and recently divorced, Lynn elected to have gastric bypass surgery. She had struggled with her weight all her life, but was never able to stick with a weight-loss program. This seemed like her last chance to make a change.

Eligibility for the procedure requires that she stay in shape physically. Lynn was prepared for this, but didn’t know where to begin.

In a support chat room, she learned about the Wii Fit. It seemed less intimidating than other exercise regimens because it gave her goals and broke activities down into small segments. Now, she’s a convert. She loves that the little character that represents her changes shape as she does. “It’s so encouraging. It lets me laugh at myself!”

How might we make the process of change less intimidating and more engaging?


Robert runs his household finances according to the same pragmatic principles he learned in engineering school. When he was laid off three months ago, he and his wife Sandy evaluated their options.

Cutting service expenditures topped the list, so Robert called each of his service providers to see what they could do to help his family through this tough time. “AT&T had us over a barrel,” he recalled. “They had us in a contract and that’s that.” But the Comcast rep listened and responded by lowering Robert’s monthly bill by $30—guaranteed for the year. By working out an accommodation and warmly wishing his family good luck, the cable company turned Robert from an indifferent customer into a loyalist.

How might we build flexibility into our offerings to accommodate the changing needs of our customers?

Image credit: Meija Jacobs

Better than summer camp

Amy lives just outside Boston and has been going to HealthWorks for years. One thing she appreciates is the gym’s summer policy. Recognizing that many members travel, work, or just want to exercise outside during the summer months, HealthWorks allows them to put their memberships “on hold.” During these three months, Amy pays a nominal service charge and when she comes back, she doesn’t have to pay a reinstatement fee.

Guidance for individual needs

Wegman’s, a premium East Coast grocery store, provides an in-store nutritionist to ease the burden of new diets, medical conditions, and health goals. Each week, Wegman’s posts a list of educational “tours” the nutritionist will offer: low-sodium products, smart choices for those with allergies, or options for people who are trying to watch their cholesterol. Free individual appointments are also available for those who have more specific dietary or health needs.

Pink-slip protection

Recently, Hyundai introduced the Assurance program, a promise to protect people during tough economic times. The plan lets customers return new Hyundai cars if they lose their jobs within a year of purchase. Now just a few months later, it seems like everybody’s following suit: Virgin Mobile features a “Pink Slip Protection Plan,” JetBlue will refund plane tickets, and GM and Ford followed Hyundai with programs to cover car payments during job loss.

This can’t be the DMV

When Lisa moved east, she was reluctant to surrender her California driver’s license. It represented her long-held ties to her home state. Four years later, Lisa moved back home and went to apply for a new license. To her surprise, the DMV not only waived the driver’s test, but also gave her the same license number she had when she left. This small gesture helped welcome her home.


st louis

August 9, 2010

very interesting takes on change. I think that more people could capitalize on the potential (and often existence) of the liberation that comes with change (often more negatively - associated change, such as the loss of a job). This idea is being explored by millions of people across the US, as they are re-designing their lifestyles in relation to the economic crisis of the past few years. More people are staying in, and valuing experience and relationships, rather than the next expensive thing.

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September 10, 2010

I concentrate on people wanting change in comparison to your very good article that focuses more on the unvoluntarily aspect of change. What I found is that in order to change you really need the WILL to do it. So many people claim to want change, but when it comes to actually ACT for change most of them creep back into their warm nice familiar old bevaviour patterns. In the end you need to have the bold BELIEF that you are able to change. Once you have made the 1st step and feel some progress, you’ll ask yourself relievingly: “Why have I done it only now and not before?”

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