A few weeks ago, I came across the story of Akbar Cook, the principal at a Westside High School in Newark, New Jersey. He transformed an old storage room at the school into a laundromat his students could use to wash their clothes, free of charge. The project was largely funded from third parties. The impact on the students was profound. 

The principal implemented this unconventional solution because he realized students were getting teased, bullied, or not coming to school at all, because they didn't have clean clothes. He knew he and his staff couldn't help the students academically if they didn't address some of the external barriers that impacted their preparedness to learn.

This challenge isn't only applicable to schools. It's relevant to your business too.

As a leader, you're in the transformation field. When you're trying to get a customer from where she is to where she wants to go, it's good practice to look at her as a total person, rather than compartmentalizing her as someone who has a problem your business can solve.

Why you shouldn't view your customer's needs in a vacuum.

Last year, I worked with a client who had a product for people with type 2 diabetes. As we were mapping out their customer experience to get their patients to their goals, it became clear that to support patients, it wasn't enough to just give them access to medication.

The brand needed to provide tools to assist patients in making the diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes associated with managing their condition. And that often meant giving them resources to deal with social and family situations that could derail their efforts.

Nike sells athletic apparel. But they recognize there are a number of factors that go into whether a person moves their body or not. So they implemented Nike run club to give people community to support them in their fitness efforts. People can find a group to run with live, or they can do so via the app, which also tracks milestones. The more people move, the more they have a need for athletic gear. But they have to start moving first.

Wistia makes video software to help brands with their video marketing. The company acknowledges that people face technical challenges when making quality video, so they provide a number of free and fun tutorials on their blog that tackle important topics such as cost-effective lighting setups, sound, and creating an attractive video set.

Why customer intimacy is the key.

The stronger the relationship you have with your customer, the easier it becomes for you to get the insights needed to understand her behavior. And once you understand why she takes or doesn't take certain actions, you can put the mechanisms in place to reduce any friction she encounters on her journey with you.

The answers aren't always obvious. But the more you spend time engaging with your customers, the more in tune you'll be to what they need most from you.

The solutions can be education, community, mentoring, or even more unconventional methods such as a free laundromat in a school. The ideal path will start to unfold more clearly as you develop a deeper degree of intimacy with your customers.