Customer driven innovation is becoming increasingly more important in today’s competitive marketplace. In yesteryears it was always about creating innovations for the customer.
More and more so it is now about working with your customer as a partner in the innovation process. No longer can you keep a wall between you and your customers.
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In many cases some of your customers may be super users of your product or service and when I say super user I am referring to the fact that they may have almost as much knowledge if not more (from their everyday use) than yourself or your team members.
To identify super users enlist the help of your marketing resources if you have some. They should be able to provide you with demographic data about how your customers are segmented. Location, spend, willingness to purchase new products, etc.
If you don't have access to marketing resources then consider surveying your customers. You should be able to determine your big users from the survey plus the ones that respond are more likely to respond in terms of helping you to innovate.
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This knowledge can be used to great advantage when it comes to innovation. For example what do your super users like best or worst about your product or service? How do they utilize it? Do they do anything different than what was planned for it? Are there any gaps in the product or service which if added would improve your customer’s experience. Do they have to perform any workarounds to meet their original intended objectives?
Gaps or workarounds could highlight future enhancements (incremental innovations) to your product or service.
Host a customer seminar or workshop to get your super users (customers) together in a place where you can seek out answers to such questions. You want to be able to learn as much as possible about your product or service from the perspective (or eyes) of your customer.
Ask your customers to demonstrate their use of your product or service and question them about what they think could be improved or done better.
Some big organizations have product research centers particularly for this purpose where they bring customers in to simply observe how they work with a particular product. Microsoft does this in order to make enhancements to their user interfaces. They get customers to perform specific tasks and then observe if the task could be completed with little or no guidance just be using what they hope to be an intuitive interface. Of course if the individual cannot perform the task then its back to the drawing board as the interface clearly wasn't intuitive.
You can also ask your customers to provide feedback and experiment with any prototypes that you might have in development – this is a great form of customer driven innovation as they can give you immediate feedback to enable you to make important changes before you progress too far down the innovation process.
Google let their customers experiment and provide immediate feedback of their new products from their Google labs page.
If your customers are too geographically dispersed to justify the cost of bringing them together for a workshop or seminar event then you might want to consider some web technologies to aid in communication and collaboration. Add a web portal, chat room, forum or wiki to your organizations web site. These are a great way for customers to share their experiences of using a particular product or service with yourself and / or other like-minded users. Don’t dismiss other forms of communication too; consider calling your customers on the phone or emailing them.
On the same web site you should also consider adding a suggestion box type web page. Get a web development team to put you a simple application together that enables customers (or simply the public at large) to suggest new ideas or improvements to your products and services. To make your selection process easier you may also want to implement a simple voting procedure for each idea submitted. A thumbs up / thumbs down type response should suffice. Perhaps offer discounts or free products to people who have the top ten ideas after a particular timeframe.
Large businesses are using the web more and more to collect information, to communicate with their customers and to assist with customer driven innovation. Some have sophisticated systems in place in which they perform data mining and / or advanced statistical analysis in order to come to some conclusions about their customers and their future purchasing habits.
Customer driven innovation is often an essential modern day strategy. You include your customers in the innovation process by communicating with them, bringing them directly into your existing innovation process or by actively encouraging them to participate in improvement projects.
Ultimately you should look for your customer driven innovation products or services to do just that i.e. be driven from your customers knowledge, problems, ideas, insights, workarounds, thoughts, etc. In doing this don't just restrict yourself to current products, try and use or direct the customer based information that you receive to help you with forward looking future products or implementations too.
It is always much easier to sell a customer something that they actually want or need and that will make their lives easier than it is to try and simply convince them that they need what you have developed. Listening is a core skill in customer driven innovation.
Sales staff can be important with customer driven innovation as they often interact directly with your customers. Incorporate ways for your sales team to ask questions and get direct customer ideas and feedback back into the organization.
Keep your customers motivated and sales high by implementing the ideas they put forward quickly.
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