Try the three activities listed below to think critically about how to forge the connection between your customer and innovation pursuits.
Steve Jobs was onto something when he said: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”
As a recognized innovative leader, Jobs saw the link between customer experience and innovation. He knew that customer experience compliments innovation. You need to commit to understanding the first one to have the other.
You know how I know? Not just because Steve Jobs called it. But because over the past six years I’ve committed my time and energy to contribute to the advancement of that concept at Centric Consulting. Those efforts led to expanded responsibilities, leading our Innovation Advisory team and innovation efforts across the company.
Now I’d like to help you make the connection between the customer and innovation – and share some tips you can follow at your company.
The Intersection of the Customer and Innovation
Still not convinced about the connection? I don’t blame you. I’ll build a more compelling case, throwing one caveat out there – this won’t apply to 100 percent of companies or customer relationships, but it will make sense for a majority.
Customers demand solutions, even if they don’t know it. They want easy-to-work-with offerings that solve their day-to-day challenges. This applies to the consumer market, where most of the Customer Experience (CX) discipline is focused, but it also focuses in the business-to-business market.
So, innovation – the introduction of new methods, products, and ideas – must consider the customer. It’s critical to not only consider known customer needs, but also their unspoken needs and experiences.
Often times, customers may not know what they want. What they need may not even be in focus for them. Think back to what Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
My point is that you need to listen to your customers to serve them, by applying the CX discipline, and you also need to go beyond feedback and apply observational analysis, creativity, and insight to drive innovation.
Since they’re critical to not only your present but also your future, customers deserve an outsized allocation of attention when considering the inputs and variables that drive your firm’s decisions.
In our client work, we’ve seen companies shift their mindset from customer strategy centered on increasing wallet share to that of bringing value to the customer, not only with products but across the entire relationship. Looking beyond the transaction is a start that allows a firm to consider innovation opportunities to pursue.
Here’s a chart, created for our own innovation pursuits, which plots the magnitude of the stakeholder – the size of the bubble – against its importance to the firm – the x-y axis. This is an example of how we consider the customer in service to our strategic objectives.
If you need more proof, the chart in a recent Recode article also shows how innovation lies at the intersection of the customer. All of the companies listed – Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, General Motors and the likes – are household brand names. And, not surprisingly, many of the top 10 are also household CX-focused companies, too.
Three Tips to Identify Innovation Opportunities
All of that leads us to this conclusion: To maximize your company’s effectiveness in an ever increasingly connected world, you need to recognize where natural connections between customer needs and opportunity occur.
From there you can determine how to influence those connections – such as new products or services, taking a different approach, joining distinctive aspects of your business to serve future customer needs.
Honoring the complementary relationship between your customer and innovation allows you to overlap and impact your goals in both of these areas.
Here are three activities you can take to start generating ideas for innovation:
#1 – Mine your customer feedback channels for underlying insights
Just about all companies ask their customers to complete surveys. When reviewing that feedback, it’s common to look for trends, but your innovation team needs to pore through this information for customer needs that are implied or unspoken extensions of what they’ve shared.
#2 – Explore your client misses along with your hits
For example, it’s one thing to learn from your sales losses to change your processes, but seldom do firms challenge what’s missing from their product suite that may have contributed to those lost sales. Gaps in your product suite may be a sign of future innovation opportunities.
#3 – Challenge your colleagues to share customer insight
Ask them to share one thing they would do in service to your customers – if there were no restrictions. The most enlightening insight won’t be from what they come up with, though that’s valuable too. It will come when you follow up with the second question – Why? An innovative idea may lie in that response.
One of the most difficult things for companies – firms, enterprises – to do is mobilize beyond singular objectives. It’s natural and easy to put objectives next to one another on an annual strategic plan, but to establish the connective tissue between these objectives invites any number of additional variables.
Through dedicated, intentional focus though, you can drive meaningful collaboration between complimentary objectives like customer experience and innovation pursuits. Try the three activities listed above or think critically about how to forge the connection between your customer and your innovation.