This one is personal – and will involve some information about me that you might not really care to hear – or maybe you do. If you don’t, either mentally redact it (though to do that you’d have to have seen it) or don’t read this. If you do read this, think about why I’m writing this. Not to be too personal, but to show you how deep the impact of positive customer experience can be. Trust me, this is a good story, not a TMI one…or maybe TMI but good, nonetheless.
The big picture
In case you hadn’t noticed (if you know me or have seen me), I’m overweight. I know it’s a shock – most of you say, “how can that be? He’s so…he’s so….hmmm, overweight works.”
I’m also 63 years old, heading rapidly to 64. When you reach this age, young in spirit and heart, notwithstanding, you realize that you need to do some things that you wish you didn’t have to think about.
To change the pronoun’s case from “you” to “I”, I realized that it was time to lose weight, not because I’m ashamed of it – I’m not. My weight really isn’t a big psychological impediment to achievement or a constraint to my engagement with life. But it is a health concern that has to be taken seriously because of a very simple principal. I love being alive and get real joy from the relationships and activities in my life. So I want to be alive for a long time to come.
I’ve tried many times to lose the weight and have but have that classic weight yo-yo or if you prefer a different metaphor, weight roller coaster problem. I lose, I gain, I lose, I gain. Wheeeeee! Well, not wheeeee! really.
Part of the problem is that I spend so much time on the road (I’m writing this on a plane coming back from San Francisco, for example…and continuing to write this on a plane going back to San Francisco and now on a plane to Lafayette, Louisiana and now on a plane back from San Francisco again) that any rhythm or as some of my friends like to say, cadence, I get into, gets broken by travel. Second, I seem to have a metabolism that quits on me. My standing punch line in a not ha-ha funny way is that I can inhale air and gain weight. More on this later; its part of the story.
In any case, I’ve tried to lose weight many times. Actually in the early 90s between strength training and cardio and watching what I ate, I got down to 11% body fat. Additionally, in 2006 through diet and cardio I reached 190 – which I thought was my ideal body weight. Please note this comment too. It, too, bears on things later.
But here I was, at an impasse. How am I going to create a program that incorporates my lifestyle and at the same time does what I’ve been unable to do, despite my best efforts? I truly didn’t have a clue. Not a friggin’ clue.
So I decided in July, one day, to start doing something about this. I have to take it out of the hands of the amateurs (me) and put it in the hands of the professionals. But who are these professionals?
I began a pretty focused investigation of who these superstars, who were going to save the day for me, might be. I had a clearly defined structure for this investigation – despite my normally ad hoc approach to life.
- There was a problem to solve – I needed to drop 50 pounds in a healthy way.
- To do that, I needed a program that I could adhere to once I had it in my hot little hands.
- I needed this program to take my lifestyle i.e. continuous travel, into account.
- I needed the program to be personalized though I had to assume it would be a modular version of that – built on best practices of “people like me.” I doubt someone put some program out there that was labeled “Just Waiting for Paul Greenberg – The CRM One” and hoped that I would find it.
- I needed to commit to it, once I had it to get the outcome I was looking for (see #1).
This is far better project development and management than I’m capable of professionally and better planning than I ordinarily do, but it seemed to me that this was important enough for me to actually add rigor to my thinking, something I’m not exactly known for. ☺
So, dig I did. Of course, when you enter the realm of health and wellness, the amount of crap is super high and that ranges from the obvious garbage like “you can lose 100 pounds in 3 days drinking this herbal supplement (and taking a chain saw to your belly). I was looking for a combination of science and spirit. The former to help me get the data I need to make intelligent decisions on what to do; the latter because my extraordinary wife of 32 años, Yvonne, convinced me about two years ago of the value of centering one’s self and living in the moment. I knew this had to be a program component or what I was looking for wouldn’t be sufficient.
So I hunted and hunted and hunted and didn’t really come up with anything that made immediate impact or even obvious sense. (Note this too, has some bearing on this story). Then one day, the story goes, Paulie was reading an article on obesity and fitness on line and he saw a reference to something in the article called the Duke Diet and Fitness Center (DFC). So, being of sound mind and overwrought body, he found the Center and BAM! it nailed it –and him. This was the place. Interestingly, and this will have a bearing on the customer experience/CRM lessons learned later, I only saw one reference in an article that happened to cause me to look at this.
The reason that DFC seemed to be the place was the mixture of science and spirit, of training and education, of compassion and rigor. Their website wasn’t really adequate to the task but there was just enough to convince me to make it a contender – the only one. It was competing with me doing nothing about my weight issue but continuing to let things ride – up the scale. However, it was kind of no contest but you know how it goes, affirmation and validation are always necessary when it comes to making decisions that not only might change your life, but change the way you do life.
So, while I was trolling around about the DFC, I found the lodging that was adjacent to it – a place called Trinity Commons – and I spoke to the guy managing the DFC portion of Trinity Commons (it was otherwise, as I found out later, used for Duke off campus student housing) a down home guy named Eddie O’Brien who told me he was a graduate of the program and “it saved my life.” Eddie it turns out lost 160 pounds being in the program and was a healthy man now.
I was convinced. I called them and was sent a packet of information and forms to fill out - a 13 page medical questionnaire, a 6-7 page (I forget) mental health questionnaire and some other forms including a food tracking form that wanted me to track every single thing I ate for 3 days including a weekend day. That wasn’t terribly hard since I typically (when on) tracked the food I ate using MyFitnessPal, a great app BTW. They also wanted me to bring a copy of my medical records. I paid them a relative boatload and now seemingly cheap price (all in context, isn’t it?) and off we went for the 5-day program.
I went down to Durham N.C. and checked into the Trinity Commons apartments because that was what these were – really nice apartments in a facility that was about a block away from the DFC and was actually off campus housing for Duke students minus a few of the apartments set aside for the program. The stories associated with being in what was effectively a dorm at the age of 63 are a trip, told over a drink of choice. Ask me sometime. In any case, I went on a Saturday as recommended and stayed through the next Saturday. But the program was from Monday through Friday.
While there I met an extraordinary group of people in those who attended and the staff. The weights of the attendees varied from very heavy to slim and trim. Why slim attendees? They were former not-slim attendees who came back to the program on a regular basis and used it to not just see friends but to make themselves accountable. One young guy whose name I’m leaving out deliberately had been coming back since he started in 2005 and had lost 100 plus pounds and looked terrific but his bonds with others who were there and had traveled on their own journey with him was something to behold.
I could describe some of the terrific people here but in the interests of their privacy and because this is a customer experience and marketing tale with lessons to be learned, I won’t. Suffice to say, that I remain in touch and they literally all were truly great, warm, intelligent, friendly people, whose lives I’m glad have touched mine.
For me, it was, come out of the five days there with a program to use when I left. That meant one that took into account my lifestyle, which as you know means traveling like a maniac and insane amounts of work and busyness.
Honestly, what I expected and what I got were two different things – all to the beyond good. Even though I intended to fully participate, I am by either nature or training, don’t know which, a bit of a skeptic, when it comes to personal things being helped by outside “forces.” So what I expected was pretty modest. I would learn some things and I would attempt to apply what I learned “on the outside” after the five days were up.
I got so much more than that. While I’m not going to detail all of it, let me give you a brief energetic overview.
In that five days, I had one on one meetings and classes and training and exercises with medical staff and fitness instructors and health psychologists and nutritionists. I did a variety of required things including blood work, and weigh-ins. I did some optional tests including the “bodpod” and a test to determine my actual as opposed to calculated resting metabolic rate (more on that later). I got a great massage that used a number of different techniques. I received fitness instruction that took into account what I was looking for – a plan to sustain me on the road.
I can’t say that all of the classes were ideal. For example, there was one that looked at the issue of weight and shame – and that just isn’t my problem. I’m not ashamed of my weight (I’m happy to say the bulk of that weight is now gone) and never have been. I’m not lacking confidence – god, no. For me, this was and is a health issue – one I have to deal with as my age increases. Hell, I’m in my 60s now (don’t feel it but am) and health is something that has to matter. In the beginning of the 5 days, there was a session in which each participant (about 15 of us) were asked, “why are you here?” My answer, “I like my life.” I was being modest actually. I love my life – not everything but on the whole. Its amazing and I’m blessed or lucky depending on your proclivities, to have it. So I want to live and long time and too much weight can be an impediment to that.
What did I learn?
I had some eye opening results that have made this something that I had to do rather than just something that I wanted to do. Though its both. Okay, if you don’t want to get all personal now, eyes down to the lessons section. But if you’re okay with NTMI – nearly too much information – then read on.
- I found out that I am pre-diabetic. Diabetes is indicated by a glucose level of 126 or more – in two fasting glucose tests in a row. I had 124, barely below the threshold. No second test necessary. The solution is, ta da, lose weight. So no reason for me to freak and I didn’t. Just doing what I have to do.
- I found out that I’ve been operating under a misconception for years. To explain: When you figure out how many calories you should consume per day to lose weight, for the most part its based on a calculated resting metabolic rate (RMR). That means the amount of calories that you expend in a day if you do nothing but sit (in effect). My calculated RMR has always been between about 1880-1900. I took a test and found out that my actual RMR is 1400 calories per day. That means that I’ve been eating 500 calories more a day (translated to 3500 per week – a full pound up a week!) than I should have been. That means with exercise I was pretty much on a permanent plateau.
- I learned to slow up when I eat. It takes the brain 20 minutes to register that you are full. Imagine how much you can pack into your stomach in that time. Far beyond mere satisfaction before it registers as “OMG, my stomach hurts.” Simple solution. Take a bite, put the fork down. Pick it up, take a bite, put the fork down. That simple thing is sooooo easy to do – and you eat less.
There was much more, but I came out of there with a clear personal mandate. Lose enough weight to get to 195 (five pounds under the bodpod determination that my ideal weight for my size, body composition etc is 200. Hey I’m a little vain, okay?).
So where am I? Down from 245 to 216 as of this writing (since late August – and I’m not starving by any means). Please, do me a favor and don’t congratulate me or give me kudos or support. I’m good. If you comment, please focus it around the customer experience and marketing parts on this or on the institution. There are lessons ot be learned that I want to point out and will from here on.
The customer experience lessons
This is a successful program – with one big caveat as you will see. They have an 85% success rate because the change is to your life and lifestyle. Its not implementing a fad diet. It is a combination of smart programming and an incredibly well thought out environment, populated by people who not only care but are good human beings besides.
What is/was mission critical to this program and the experience of each participant is two things:
- The mixture of the elements of the program – Medical, behavioral, spiritual, physical, emotional. They have evolved a holistic model that is appropriate to the 21st century citizen. They take all facets of a human being into account and build the personalized programs from a combination of medical data, behavioral and emotional knowledge, nutritional information and physical training and planning. They balance all of it with spiritual centering via mediation and other programs for and from the soul.
- The highly deliberate environment – built around two principles that I can see – 1. Community 2. Treating adults like adults – letting them control their own choices while guiding them to the right place. – During the time you are there, the environment is deliberately focused around fostering a sense of community and support –from each staff member who are clearly chosen for their combination of expertise and their humanity to the way that the program participants are encouraged to do things with each other. I went to a Durham Bulls game with one of the participants, for example. They had alumni who were there for round 7 or 8 for example, speak on their history at the Center – and two friends who met at the center who spoke together emphasized not just the DFC’s work but the evolution of their friendship and how they have sustained since 2005. The second aspect of the environment is that they didn’t force anyone to do anything. Everyone there was treated as a responsible adult who was accountable to themselves. No one had to do anything they didn’t want to, though there were constraints nonetheless. So, all meals were chosen from a specific set of choices on menus. The server staff at the cafeteria gave you ONLY what you chose – no changes possible, no bigger a portion than that provided. Choose it yourself, but live with your choices. You should know why you are there.
The lessons of public presence
One thing puzzled me from before I went and was reinforced over the five days there. Why did I have to look so hard to find this program when I was doing the research to find programs like this? I found it buried in a newspaper or online journal article of some kind. My curiosity and my desire to do something drove me to investigate this – or else it would have remained obscurely buried.
When I got there, I found out that the attendance for this extraordinary program was down somewhat in an era where obesity was rampant. Now its cost might be a factor – it isn’t cheap – but there are enough heavy people who want to solve the problem who can afford this program out there So I don’t think that was much of a factor.
The actual problem was marketing – or at least, marketing defined as via a public, visible presence. As I told one of the senior staff – you have a program that sells itself…but it doesn’t broadcast itself.” They tended to be almost too humble about the benefit they brought to people – at least in a public forum. For example, they have a partnership with the National Football League (NFL) for athletes as they and after they retire. Imagine what a public endorsement from one of those athletes can mean to a program like this Yet if you go to the NFL retirement program web pages – you can barely find mention of this relationship. Ugh.
The second egregious problem – is the unrealized potential of the post-care environment - meaning the DFC didn't recognize what it was - or at least wasn't doing anything about it.
What I mean by this is that there is clearly a sense of community from the graduates. For example, several of them – a pretty high percentage I’m given to understand – come back for follow up sessions even when they are down to their “normal” weights. Some of it is for the former customer making themselves accountable to someone other than themselves. Some is planned together with other grads to be able to reconnect. The sense of community at the site is so strong that it creates a desire to go back to this safe, nurturing environment that not only treats your health but handles you as an adult, not a child with a problem. That was there.
BUT…. Other than a few alumni Facebook pages, there is no real online community to go to and to continue the relationships between alumni and staff and between alumni. There is no subject matter expertise provided except some webinars once in a while. In other words, customer retention isn’t being considered to put it in business terms. The efforts are left in the hands of the alumni to do whatever – and while laudable, it is ad hoc and from a business standpoint for the DFC is minimally valuable, though certainly helpful for the alumni.
Things to be done
So what can be done by the DFC to make itself visible as the world-class institution that it already is?
- Stop being so humble. Obesity is an issue that hurts millions of people. This is likely the most effective program in the United States, maybe the world. The results are measurable. The value immeasurable. Tell people this.
- What #1 means for marketing. If you have programs like the NFL Retirement program, get a well known player who has been through the program to endorse it.
- Build an outreach program through a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Participate in user forums and other social channels as subject matter experts in groups specific to medical, healthcare, wellness, obesity, and other appropriate topics.
- Continue the webinars but as a series rather than a random group of events and experts. Get the word out via your outreach program and via more traditional media.
- Build a community for your alumni and for guests who are exploring who you are and what you do. This is a community you control, not a Facebook page. It should be a place where alumni interact and renew old acquaintances; where the staff participates and comingles. The staff also should be available at specific times to be subject matter experts (SMEs) who (within reason) will answer questions that community members have. There should be content available on site and a link library for people that takes them to valuable information. Make this both a nurturing virtual community and a community center where important knowledge on diet and fitness, obesity and other conditions is aggregated.
Aside from one or two events, I’m not sure that I have ever done anything as important or valuable for my health as attend the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. Aside from me endorsing it, which I wholeheartedly and without reservation, do, there is a strong CRM story to be told here that I think not only can benefit the center but benefit any company that has a great story and provides a benefit, and as is often the case in especially the non-profit sector, they are too humble to tell it and forget as often as not that they are a business – albeit one with a purpose that benefits people, more often than that. I trust that there is something here beyond just my personal journey – and that the DFC and the institutions like it can take this and start their own journey.
You rock, DFC.