A few years ago I worked on a team to re-invent an Emergency Room experience. The ER is a place you don’t want to go, you never plan ahead to visit, you dread either as a patient or a caregiver—and it is likely to cost a small fortune. But, to hospitals, ERs are a crucial part of business. Aside from the word-of-mouth they generate in the community, they are a vital source of patients to fill their beds.

Where would you have started? We began with the fundamental understanding that people make choices based on what they value, not just on the goods or services they offer. We interviewed patients and caregivers about their ER experiences and what they drove their choices—even under the stress of an emergency. The results were not what we expected. Choices were not based on local advertising, reputations for speed, or even clinical skill. In fact, clinical care was assumed to be a given. Patients and their families were seeking three things: reassurance (Should I have come to the ER or waited?), empathy (Will these people care about me or my loved one?) and connection (Will we just be a number or will they connect with us on a human level?) We put creating a “reassuring, empathic, connection” at the center of the new ER experience. Starting with what people value is critical.

Apple knows this, too. Back in 2001 while planning the first Apple Store, Steve Jobs asked his task force to think about the best retail experience they had ever had. They all agreed it was a great hotel—they valued the hospitality—the greeter at the door, the knowledgeable concierge, and the sense of order.

The idea of beginning with what people truly value in an experience is slowly taking hold even in unexpected ways. A Dutch company, 2theloo, is offering a re-invented public restroom experience: spotless floors, in-stall art and a kid-friendly environment along with toiletry products, storage cabinets for your things, and light refreshments. The experience costs about a dollar and in return you get a dollar coupon that is redeemable for any of their products. 2theloo is offering what people value: safe, clean and secure.

Businesses and organizations from fast food to organized religion are rethinking the experiences they offer. Too few begin with first understanding what their guests truly value.