The Recipe for Innovation Done Right

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The importance of innovation can’t be overstated in the business world … but it’s also far from easy. That’s why I’ve broken innovation down into a quick-and-dirty recipe – three simple steps to keep your business moving forward.

The first requirement for innovation is empathy – which means truly putting the customer at the center of your universe, understanding the customers’ emotions and journey, and forming lasting relationships that will transcend momentary challenges or threats.

If you’re skeptical that this is the right place to start, consider Steve Jobs. We all wish we were as daring, visionary and innovative as Jobs … but we don’t always realize there was a secret sauce to his bold moves. And first and foremost, Jobs listened. One kernel of advice from the legend was this: “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”

But beyond putting the customer first, Jobs also was aggressive and iterated. That brings us to the other two key ingredients for innovation: Experimentation, and iterating quickly. You must constantly be trying new ways to improve the customer experience … and then you must be aggressive with progress and base your moves forward on rock-solid evidence not just intuition.

Of course, if innovation was that easy, everyone would already be doing it! But again, it’s challenging … from the very first step of listening to the customer. Your business goals don’t always match what the customer needs; there is often literally a chasm between you and your customers. You are asked to save money, not spend it. You are bound by the systems in place and most likely don’t know the full effect these systems and processes have on the customer experience. And perhaps the biggest issue of all? You, like most people and most businesses, are probably thinking from the inside out, not outside in.

What does that mean? Well, it means you might be surveying your customers … but you’re only asking them what you thought to ask! You likely don’t leave open-ended unstructured areas for the customer to tell you what they want you to hear. And if you do, and are like 95% of businesses, you don’t take the time to read that feedback. For the cherry on top, even if you do collect customer feedback, that data may be trapped in organizational silos. Maybe your customer care team gathers data but doesn’t share it … maybe marketing does post-transaction surveys and monitors social feedback but then doesn’t compare it in any strategic way.

How can you remedy this? To start, give your customers a voice by asking what they think via surveys, making sure you use the latest approaches to less structured and more free-form responses. Also, listen through a variety of channels. Collect the customer voice through employees. Collect it through focus groups. Collect it on recordings with your support team. Collect it through partners. And make sure you are not just doing one of these – as I mentioned in this recent post. You have to do a little of all of them. Then, once you have the data from all your listening posts, pull it together. This is a simple but critical step.

Next, show the customers you are listening. When you demonstrate to customers that their voice is actually heard, you can expect more feedback to follow. Plus, you can expect 46% of people with bad experiences to return to your business if you show them you listened. Yes, you heard correctly — you don’t even have to fix the bad experience to prevent nearly half of the churn. Just listen!

Finally, create a team in your organization — either on your marketing social team or you customer care team — that actively engages with customers that complete surveys, and that take time to mention you on social channels and review sites. Just as doctors say that the secret to fast metabolism is continuously eating, the secret to continuous customer interaction is continuous acknowledgement of the feedback. As little as a 1% increase in engagement can yield 11% more positive feedback. Again, people just want to be heard!

And there you have it – a few easy ways to make that first innovation ingredient of empathy and listening to your customers become a reality. From that point on, you simply need to use the voice of the customer to push for iterative, strategic change. Think from the outside in using every bit of feedback from customers, employees and partners that you can dig up. Plan your marketing efforts based on the customer voice. Follow the recipe for innovation.

When you do this, you’ll be innovating like Steve Jobs.

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