Think like a customer: The four free sources of innovationby
Are you intimidated by the word "innovation"? Does "innovator" conjure up images of hip pony-tailed people in California who listen to edgy music? Think again. As Lior Arussy explains, the ability to innovate is inside all of us - we just need to start thinking like a customer.
- Frustration – We are all consumers of various products and services. Ask yourself to recall the times when you, as a customer underwent an unacceptable experience and thought to yourself "there’s got to be a better way", or "why don’t they just do this or that?" Your personal frustration with a confusing phone menu, irrational process or asinine policy is a terrific source of innovation because it forces you to think about what needs to be done differently so that the experience can be made excellent and memorable. Before telling yourself that something is not ripe for innovation, identify specific sources of customer frustration and you will surely find countless opportunities to innovate and differentiate.
- The anti-establishment – As founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson is notorious for entering businesses about which he is relatively clueless. By doing so, he brings to these new endeavors, his greatest competitive advantage – naiveté. His philosophy is that being new to an industry frees him from established industry thinking, so that he can approach his business with a fresh set of eyes and ideas. Mr. Branson routinely deploys his secret naiveté sauce to any aspect of business which he perceives as not being customer-centric, with an eye towards innovation. His anti establishment approach is an excellent source for innovation because he does not think like many industry veterans and is not bound by limitations that others have accepted upon themselves as a result of previous failures. The guiding question that new players and industry veterans should ask themselves when seeking to innovate is "What would you differently if you entered a brand new industry you know nothing about?"
- The "Will Never Do" list – My good friend and author of 'What a Great Idea', Chip Thomson, has a novel approach to awaken the hidden innovator in every person. He suggests that people make a list of all the things they would never do. He then asks them to use the list as an opportunity to innovate. Through this exercise, Chip tries to alert participants to the mental limitations they place on themselves. Try this exercise (and check out Chip’s book) and you will discover opportunities for innovation that you never considered because you mentally placed them in the "will never do" list.
- Observations – When was the last time you met a customer and simply observed him use your company’s products? Did you see what happened when he opened the box and read the instructions? Was he able to put the product together? Where did he store the product? In what way did he use the product? Are their certain things he does before or after using it? There are myriad questions you can ask yourself about customer behaviour that will provide a never-ending source of innovation. For those of you still hoping for a case study, consider this: Starbucks first offered skim milk for its beverages after CEO Howard Shultz witnessed a female jogger enter a store and leave without making a purchase because there was no skim milk. There may be no better source of innovation than observations of customers. Starbucks, like many other companies, discovered new usages for their products and services as a result of this important exercise.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His new book is Excellence Every Day: Make the Daily Choice-Inspire Your Employees and Amaze Your Customers.
Customer Experience: Stop talking, start doing!
Join Lior Arussy at the forthcoming CEM Certification in the UK. From experience innovation to employee engagement, discover the complete strategic framework for success. Over 200 templates and checklists included. Special $250 discount for MyCustomer.com members. Visit www.cemcertification.com and enter code “MyCustomer”.
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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.