Chances are good that you have seen an invitation to CaringBridge from friend or family member who was experiencing what they call a “health journey,” whether that was a difficult pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, or an accident. Since it’s founding in 1997, over 740,000 websites have been created across 235 countries and territories globally. From its humble beginnings, it has lived at the intersection of technology, community, and medical incidences, when the founder Sona Mehringwas asked to update people on the status of her friend’s premature baby. “Instead of making dozens of emotional and time-consuming phone calls, she decided to use her computer science background to create a website,” recalled Brigid Bonner, chief experience officer of CaringBridge responsible for all aspects of product development and marketing. The child only lives a few short days, but left a legacy known as CaringBridge to help other families and friends in similiar situations.
This non-profit organization has lessons for other marketers, especially those who have customers experiencing trauma or stress.
Everyone is Battling Something, Be Kind
We have all seen this phrase on bumper stickers or on social media memes, but it is especially true for CaringBridge. “Our customer is anyone, whether it be the patient or their caregiver, who is experiencing a health journey,” said Bonner. This diverse set of constituents can be challenging. “Our service helps anyone, anywhere going through any type of illness or injury - mental or physical, long-term or short term – who needs to connect with their family and friends and receive support.”
Roughly 90% of the several hundred thousand daily visitors to CaringBridge come to visit a friends’ site. “Users tell us, and research has proven, that the value created for both authors and visitors connected to each other through CaringBridge is therapeutic and immeasurable,” reported Bonner. The site has demonstrated that by connecting us at a human level, caring can go viral.
Advice you can use: “As families and friends increasingly live in far-flung places, and with our increased reliance on technology to connect us, CaringBridge is a revolutionary leader in filling a need through the power of community,” said Bonner. Everyone can use community and the more than your offering and customer experience replicates this kind of care, the more it will be shared.
Community Can Be Capital
“Ninety percent of all funding comes from those who have experienced the power of CaringBridge firsthand,” Bonner stated. For people at their most vulnerable time, “a CaringBridge site is literally a sanctuary of communication and helpful support that afford users with privacy controls which determine how, when, and to whom their information is shared, if at all.” Choosing this business model allows them to remain a free platform and to be advertisement-free, which they feel critical for building trust and a great user experience.
Advice you can use: People will support causes, tools, and approaches that make their lives easier. There are a number of different business models that might apply to your organization and that could have been considered by CaringBridge. Finding the one that best serves the mission, honors the customers, and serves the financial needs of the business is critical.
Customer Experience is Everything
“Convenience, control, safety, and trust is at the center of how we design our user experience,” continued Bonner. “Health journeys can cause a huge upheaval in the lives of individuals and their loved ones and the last thing they need is a stressful experience. Coming to terms with the life change they are going through, and the often confusing medical and financial jargon that comes with it is challenging.” At a time when people are reeling from bad news and learning new vocabulary, they don’t want to have to learn a new technology. Setting up a new website in less than 3 minutes, without automatic selections or complicated choices, is critical to making the CaringBridge experience work, without sacrificing privacy and control.
As you might imagine, CaringBridge cares a lot about privacy. Although everything is self-reported, the information that authors are trusting to the organization and the friends they invite to read it is incredibly sensitive. There are multiple privacy features that allow the content to be as private or public as the author wants. They can track visitors, decide the level of interaction they want, and they can change the setting at any time.
Advice you can use: Life is stressful enough, your user experience shouldn’t be. CaringBridge user survey feedback, usability labs, and user testing to refine their experience. Knowing your customers well is the key to simplifying the experience.
The Experience Extends
I recently had an experience where a contact of mine was mentioned for work anniversary in an email from a shared social media platform, when in fact he had died a few years ago. It made me sad and caused me to think about the implications of death in our digital world. Bonner agreed that the remembering or celebrating of “milestones can be delicate, especially for those who may have been in an end of life journey.” As a result, they do not auto-trigger messages on key dates, however, they do let the author (who is in many cases the caregiver of a loved one) determine was those “milestone moments” are and it is their journaling activity that triggers notifications to family and friends. “In this way, we know there is always a substantive update, and the CaringBridge community is still there to offer love and support. Some authors will continue to journal for months or even years after a loved one has passed.” In this way, the experience is extended in duration, along an axis of time.
And the extension of services and care also add breadth to the offering in the midst of the health journey. CaringBridge has a “Ways to Help” area that users can use to coordinate the myriad of other types of help they may need in one convenient place. For example, “users can set up a planner to arrange visit schedules or request meals. They can indicate which medical facility their loved one is in. They can also connect or start a GoFundMe campaign straight through their CaringBridge site for cases where personal financial support is needed to offset medical expenses.” It is this expansion of services that make it
Advice you can use: The community that arises around an experience can extend both in breadth and duration and is powerful. This has implications for other industries or services who can be challenged to think beyond their immediate product adoption or use cycle to extend to other offerings and services.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com