I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast recently, titled “In Praise of Incrementalism”. It struck a chord with me on several different levels, not least of which is the fact that as we’ve observed, many customer experience ‘breakthroughs’ are the result of tiny steps taken over time.
The reality is that while innovation is the word at the forefront of most executives minds, the work (and radical change) often required to drive disruptive ‘moonshot’ type (vs. incremental) innovation is way beyond the capabilities and outside the comfort zone of most organizations.
But taking things one step at a time, over time? And ending up with services and experiences that drive greater customer and employee loyalty, as well as greater revenue and profitability and lower costs to serve? That’s a concept all of our clients can get behind.
Small improvements can lead to big advantages
Put another way, by making a series of small improvements to existing products, services and experiences over time – in response to a deep understanding of customer wants and needs in the context of your competitive market – you’ll improve your ability to compete.
As we’ve seen, this is something almost any organisation can do, with the right frameworks in place and a willingness to both listen to and learn from their customers.
Consider customer experience leaders across industries; from Zappos and Amazon to USAA, QVC and Edward Jones. In nearly all of these cases, their leadership positions (and loyal customers) are the result of a relentless focus on those customers, and a replicable, systematic approach to making the customer experience better, one persona, journey, channel or touchpoint at a time.
Building your ‘customer-led innovation’ muscle, one capability (and step) at a time
By following a structured approach to ongoing (yes, incremental) improvements, your organization will also learn to build the ‘customer-led innovation’ muscle, driving increased organizational capabilities in the areas of customer understanding, customer experience strategy and design, and an increased understanding of how to align and deploy your people, processes, technology and data to deliver on these improvements.
I read an article a while ago that suggested innovation defined in the context of continuous improvement loses the power to generate completely new and disruptive products, services and business models. I have to disagree. Even in a moonshot world, the one step at a time, increment by increment approach can lead to near unassailable market advantage. Simply consider the leaders listed above.
Incremental improvements are both easier and more economically predictable than “moonshot innovation”
The fact is that incremental innovation is far easier to achieve and more economically predictable than disruptive or radical innovation. And remember – if you get good at it, your ever-stronger ‘innovation muscle’ may well lead you to the kind of improvements that can disrupt your industry, or even create new markets.
After all, in the world you compete in today, 9 out of 10 companies in your industry plan to beat you on the quality of the customer experience. And digitally-adept customers will continue to demand more as their expectations for better experiences continue to increase.
In this world, the ability to continually improve your processes, products and experiences will enable you to continually and more effectively compete for – and win – the hearts, minds and wallets of your customers.
About Michael Hinshaw
Michael Hinshaw is President / CEO of McorpCX, a customer experience research, brand and strategy consultancy based in the San Francisco area. An innovative executive, consultant and educator, he has over 20 years’ experience in marketing, brand and management consulting. His perspectives on creativity and business performance measurement have been honed through the lenses of brand, touchpoint and customer experience mapping. For more information, view his blog on Customer Experience, or follow Michael on Twitter.