Whether she’s helping employees gain a better understanding of the customers they serve or developing strategies to optimize health care processes, a focus on human-centered design is at the heart of Leah Emanuele’s responsibilities. We caught up with Highmark Health’s customer experience strategy consultant to pick her brain about productivity hacks, where she finds inspiration, and how we can all be better communicators.
How do you set the tone for your day?
Typically, my day starts with a five-mile outdoor run, a trip to the gym, or having coffee on the couch watching the news.
When are you most productive?
After 9 a.m. and before 3 p.m.
Can you share any productivity tips or hacks?
I take short breaks throughout the day—I’ll either go for a walk, make lunch and share it with my partner, or play the piano.
You work in customer experience (CX). How would you describe what you do?
I’m a CX strategist focused on employee enablement. My goals are to ensure employees who impact customer experiences are aware of available insights, understand them, and have easy access to them.
I also focus on skill development—ensuring teams can adopt and develop the skills necessary to improve customer experiences in the work they do at Highmark. That looks like education and training: working through problem spaces to align on the right problem to solve, using customer research from the customer perspective to inform strategies/designs, helping align stakeholders, facilitating workshops, etc.
Other tactical examples include conducting research to understand how employees think about customers and use our current tools, how they apply our research, tools, and processes in their work, and improving how we support them by developing strategies to optimize our tools, processes, etc.
Additionally, I’m a human-centered design certified instructor. I’m certified through the LUMA institute, and we teach a practitioner course to employees at Highmark. It’s essentially a design-thinking course that teaches students how to apply a set of methods that help them better understand the customers they’re serving, so they can solve the right problems for them. In other words, we teach employees how to solve problems for people in a human-centered way.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Podcasts, Pinterest, books, traveling. I tend to find it while running through Pittsburgh.
From a design and strategy perspective, what are some common CX challenges you face?
1. Getting alignment from leadership
2. Integrating CX into business processes
3. Making sure what we design is easier for people to understand and use
What’s one piece of tech you couldn’t live without?
Probably my phone or AirPods. Phone because of the connection it enables to people and AirPods for my mental health (getting lost in anything audio related).
We recently collaborated with you on Highmark’s new CX tool. Can you speak about how it applies the core tenets of good CX to improve the health care experience?
Our CX principles are: you make it simple for me every time, you’re there when and where I need you, and you’ll fight for what’s best for me. They are core to how we develop and improve our experiences. These principles are how we communicate and empower employees to show up for customers. They communicate our customers’ unique perspectives on how they experience our health and health care system back to our employees. The only way we can truly improve CX is to listen to our customers, relate their perspectives to people creating experiences or designing solutions for them, and support business leaders as they make decisions that impact them. Our toolkit is essential for improving the health care experience.
At its heart, CX is really about communication. What are your best tips for effective communication?
1. Use language that people understand—no jargon.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Give people information at the moment they need it.
4. Communication should come from the people they trust.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Although this isn’t advice per se, the best question I was ever asked was, “What brings you joy?” After going through a joy exercise and better articulating my values, it changed my perspective on life and my career. It helped me focus on what matters, what energizes me, what I can let go of—a filter for hard decisions. There is a difference between what you enjoy doing and what brings you joy. Living your life based on what brings you joy is the ultimate form of happiness.
Is there a lesson you wished you had learned earlier in life?
Stay curious and be open to new ideas, thoughts, and actions. You never know where or to whom it might lead you.
Finally, the way brands relate to their customers has changed tremendously over the past few years. How do you see the customer experience evolving in the future?
I believe organizations have to be CX-focused so they can understand what people value, what they care about, and how to show up for them. If they don’t, they’ll be left behind. The answers to these questions will evolve with new generations. Given the technology, wealth of data, and analytical capabilities being developed, I think customer experiences will become more holistic, predictive, personalized, precise, and (hopefully) more closely tied to business/customer outcomes, so they continue to be a priority. We’ll still need to learn about the people we serve as they evolve, but I think that it will be easier to get that information, share it, and make customer-centric decisions based on it.