The new reality is that innovation must start with customers. To effectively leverage innovation to fuel customer-centric growth, companies need to do three things:
Develop and regularly refresh an extraordinarily deep understanding of customers’ needs, wants, desires, and attitudes regarding their products, services, and the company itself
It isn’t too hard to find out what customers need, want, and are willing to pay for these days: customers are demanding to be heard, across an unprecedented proliferation of channels and platforms. Unfortunately, not nearly enough companies make sufficient effort to systematically capture and utilize available customer insight, choosing instead to operate “from the gut”, or rely upon outdated third-party research.
To effectively listen, you must speak with and learn from customers, vendors, partners, and others, wherever they can be found. You need to scour the social web, public forums, and user communities to woo influential users, bloggers, exemplars and advocates who can meaningfully contribute to your growing body of knowledge. Of course you need to solicit information about product issues, too, but there is far more than that to be gained. You must delve deeper into customer attributes, perceptions, dissatisfiers, and how they reflect upon your business processes. That data will enable you to quantify, justify, and defend the value you provide. It will also hep you fortify customer purchase and retention drivers, as well as to discover new, profitable opportunities.
Assign executive champions for innovation initiatives
Great leaders are those who can recognize significant innovation and successfully evaluate it, vet it with customers, and commercialize it. Executive leadership alone has the ability to understand potential, forswear risk, fund great ideas, and remove obstacles. Companies must create executive-level support for well-qualified initiatives so they see the light of day and have a chance to contribute to the company’s bottom line. As well, these contributions must be formally measured and rewarded to ensure that the desired results are achieved.
The CCO Roadmap identifies innovation as one of the key responsibilities of the chief customer officer (CCO). The CCO is in a unique position from which to identify, evaluate, and refine customer-centric innovations to ensure the greatest success. World-class CCOs have at their fingertips data identifying the most valuable and profitable customers whose needs are most important to consider. In addition, these CCOs have the strongest B2B customer connections and the greatest B2C credibility to garner participation in customer listening activities that discover, test, and refine innovative ideas. Leveraging their in-depth customer understanding, CCOs can effectively ground the most promising innovation efforts in reality.
Create a unified process for identifying and qualifying new opportunities for products, services, markets, or segments
With the seemingly unending supply of new business opportunities, how do you go about evaluating them all to determine which ones are viable? For Proctor & Gamble, the process was relatively straightforward: it identified the five biggest customer issues for each its divisions and then spent time with key customers to identify the desired experience around each issue. It then began to source solutions from innovation marketplaces, evaluating each according to potential profit contribution, strategic fit, and overall improvement to the desired customer experience. While your process may be different, the most important thing is to ensure that there is a unified process that everyone in your organization understands and can follow.
It is clear that sustained, profitable innovation must come from customers. Those companies that strive to intimately understand their customers’ needs, wants, and desires and profitably satisfy them better than their competitors are those who will win in the customers’ eyes and in the marketplace. Let your customers guide your next strategic move so you can grow profits as you attract more of the best customers and keep them longer.