It doesn’t take long for consumers to get bored. Even just a month or two after the latest product release or the most recent service update, many consumers begin clamoring for something new — something innovative — and business leaders must respond, or else allow their customer base to slip away.
Innovation is among the most important goals of good leadership, especially because of its importance in retaining customers. Yet, while many business leaders enjoy talking about innovation, few are consistently good at practicing it. Modern consumers demand an iconic, innovative experience, and here’s how modern business leaders can deliver.
While some business leaders question the efficacy of stepping away from the real world to pursue an academic degree, the truth is education forms a solid foundation upon which experience and innovation can build. Business school provides fundamental knowledge about business systems, strategies, tools, and more, giving educated business leaders an advantage in the real world. Perhaps most importantly, business school is a safe environment where business leaders can experiment with innovation, so they can fine-tune their ideas before launching them on consumers.
Even better, modern business leaders don’t have to abandon their careers for years while they pursue education. Online universities allow students to organize classes around their existing schedules, so business leaders can devote nights to learning and days to applying their newfound knowledge and skill. Yet, the best MBA online programs still offer outstanding practical opportunities to learn and grow, so students will lose nothing by fitting a degree into their daily lives.
One of the most valuable lessons of MBA programs is the why and how of performing market research. An effective business leader knows exactly how to collect data and analyze his or her target market to glean prudent information. Ideally, this information will inform leaders about precise customer needs, which can drive innovation in more productive and profitable directions. At the very least, it will put business leaders into contact with real customers, giving them a greater understanding of their target market.
One significant mistake that many of today’s business leaders make is allowing technology to direct innovation. Indeed, technology has almost limitless potential, and eager to be ahead of the curve, many business leaders force innovation using technology that their customers can’t, don’t, or won’t use. The customer is always right, which in this case means business leaders must listen to customer needs and respond rather than guessing at or pushing innovations that don’t fit. It is vital that business leaders understand their customers before taking any steps toward innovation, or they will likely lose hoards of customers who are unable or unwilling to adapt to uncomfortable changes.
Well-performed market research also helps business leaders avoid vague phrasing and goals. Often, lacking a foundation in business knowledge, business leaders will set objectives for customer service and retention that lack any quantifiable aspect, making it supremely difficult for different teams to understand or achieve. “Delighting the customer” sounds easy enough to accomplish, but that phrase tends to mean something different to every professional in the company: Engineers might see additional features as “delighting,” while the finance department might see lower prices as “delighting.” Without strict direction, innovation becomes disorganized, uncontrollable, and ineffective.
Therefore, business leaders must be specific in their innovation plans. Customer service goals, like any other business-related goals, should be measurable, realistic, timed, and employ precise language. Perhaps most importantly, goals should be determined based on customer needs and wants rather than business leaders’ whims and fancies.
While it is important that products are generally high-quality, well-priced, and applicable to the market, war amongst brands is more often waged on more minute territory. Typically, the smaller details differentiate competing businesses’ products from one another, which means some seemingly minor issue in one product might send hordes of customers to another option. Business leaders must be willing and able to innovate on different scales to address customers’ major and minor (which are often unspoken) concerns. Sweating the small stuff might seem like a waste of time, but if it means keeping more customers around longer, it is an important task for business leaders.
Not all ideas are equal, but any idea that addresses customer retention using data on customer needs is bound to be an important one. Business leaders have the power to keep customers loyal — if they can only be innovative in the right way.