Customers drive Innovation

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow”. – William Pollard

It is unwise and regressive to rest on laurels and forget about trying to better things or create new things. Innovation and creation will be vital in moving forward. However, the toughest challenge is being able to predict what customers would want and what they would be willing to buy even at a slight premium. When customers drive innovation companies reduce the risk of creating for the sake of it and actually can innovate to produce things that would benefit the customers and increase profitability for the company too.

When customers drive innovation, it will not be a one-off event and neither will it be a fluke. Innovation driven by customers will become a habit, culture and mind-set of your company. If your company truly cares about its customers it will create and innovate so as to produce value added products for them. New product designs, far reaching services and a continuous focus on the customer’s needs will mark the way the company does business. The company that allows its customers drive innovation will stand a better chance at winning in the competitive market and also stand out from the others.

Before companies can focus on innovation driven by customers, they must:

– Understand and monitor customer behaviour and also be able to fluently articulate the unsaid customer needs

– Put themselves in the place of the customers to perceive the issue from the customers point of view

– Create a culture and environment in which each employee contributes at least one idea for products that would be useful to the customer and would reflect that your company believes that customers drive innovation. Encourage each person to experiment and appreciate calculated risks – keeping ‘within’ the lines will never create anything new

– Speak to some of their oldest and most loyal customers and ask for their suggestions before the final product

– Ask these loyal customers to help test the prototype of the ‘creative and innovative’ product and carefully note their comments

– Form a core team but keep all employees engaged by letting them know the feedback received from customers before and after the new product is launched.

– Once the product ‘hits the market’ closely monitor customer feedback and have a robust team of customer service agents ready to take on the surge of queries. Ensure that all feedback is duly noted so that your company is completely aware of what is working for the product and what needs to be changed

– Keep these practices regular within the company so that ‘customers drive innovation’ becomes a company mantra and culture that everyone follows and lives.

– Drive passion and dedication for customers, starting from the top. The employees at other levels in the organization keenly observe what the top management does and would follow suit.

– When customers perceive consistent passion and a desire to innovate and create products that are helpful and value added to them, they too will learn to love your company and will keep coming back to you

– When customers drive innovation, each product will be different and distinct. This will make all the difference between outstanding and ‘just another product’ in the market.

– Don’t be afraid to think in unconventional ways. By its very definition innovation is something new and if the same old ways are followed, innovation will not be possible.

– Continue to improvise, find creative solutions to ‘regular’ problems and remember that what you do is for the customer and customers drive innovation in a way that may not be possible to conceive internally in the company.
True that customers drive innovation and the more companies focus on this the easier it would get to come up with products that will ‘fly right off the shelves’. However, with advantages and ups come challenges and downs and companies must take cognizance of these challenges before they proceed to ‘innovate’.

– Assuming that they have understood the customer’s needs is a major stumbling block. Often different departments have varied understandings of the customer needs and if there is no cohesion between the teams, the understanding would remain incomplete. For companies to move forward in the realm of innovation, such cohesion is necessary.

– No careful analysis of the costs, risks, audience and profit margins often leads to an unstructured and unmanageable approach that is most likely to fail. Innovation is not a game of luck but rather must be systematic and structured endeavour that will get the customers what they want and reap rich benefits for the company too

– The leader at the helm of the innovation project must be strong, determined and dedicated. Willing to lead with action and unafraid of risks and unconventional approaches, this person would be able to successfully lead the project to fruition. However, in the absence of such a leader this radical thought process is bound for failure and the project would collapse even before actually taking off.

– If your company is a ‘conventional company’ – the kind that has no tolerance for deviations from the ‘tried and tested’ methods, don’t go down the road of innovation. For innovation to be possible, cut out the red tape and the bureaucracy, tolerate mistakes down the road and encourage new ways of thinking and doing.

As Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

– Does your company take calculated risks or is it risk averse. Getting stuck in regular processes and the methods to carry out business is sure to impede growth. The market and the customers are changing almost every day and for companies to remain smug in their traditional approaches is a sure way to fail and never be able to produce offerings that would be considered innovative in the current market.

– Failure to understand the problem of the customers is a sure way to fail. If customers drive innovation then by understanding their issues companies would be able to increase their chances of succeeding and delivering products that would serve the current needs of the customer. As we said innovation for the sake of it is useless and unless your company must understand why they need to innovate and what the purpose of the product should be from the customer’s point of view. An understanding of these changing needs and wants is what defines ‘customers drive innovation’ rather than spending all their time and resources on developing products that the customer would ‘value’.

A crucial component of overcoming these challenges is often overlooked. That is to simply make time to talk directly with customers. These interactions should not be sales or marketing focused nor should they be to ‘fix a problem’. Interact with the customer to just get an understanding on whether anything has changed for them since the last visit, what their current needs are, what would help them move faster towards their goals and how your company can partner with them in this endeavour. Making time for these relationship building interactions will make customers have a heightened sense of confidence in your company and also be convinced that in your company – customers drive innovation. If creating something new, exciting and innovative is your company’s goal then put together a plan with the requisite technology to achieve this goal sooner. Ensure that your ‘innovative product’ is aligned to your customers and their most critical issues and goals. In fact, target the issue that no one including the customer has been able to solve for themselves. That is innovation at its best and will be sure to tell your customers – both current and prospective that your company upholds that customers drive innovation.

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