Want to innovate? Pay attention


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Companies are looking for new ways to collaborate with their customers to co-create products and services. But customers are already telling companies a lot about what new products and services they want. Too many companies just aren’t paying attention.

I had an errand to run over the weekend for a new bathroom rug. I hate running errands, but figured this would be quick. I wanted something fun so I headed to Cost Plus. There was an assortment of bath rugs about the right size and in a few different colors, but with no backing. I am sure there are people who buy bath rugs and then find the appropriate non- skid backing, but I am not one of them. I want a bath rug with a non-skid backing. Seems like a simple wish. There was no one around to ask or to care that I was not finding what I wanted. I looked at the long check-out line and gave up.

I had a similar experience at Target a 5′ drive away. There was a big assortment of bath rugs, but the fun rugs had the slippery backs, and the rugs with non-skid backs were in the usual boring bathroom colors. I opted for the boring color with the non-skid back, since I was running out of patience, but the size/color combination I wanted was out of stock. And just like at the first store, there was no one around to ask or to care.

I am now two stores and too many minutes into what should have been a simple errand. Maybe this is why I hate running errands. Even what seems like a simple errand isn’t. I am making the ultimate expression of customer loyalty – I am in their store wanting to buy something – but there is no process or system that cares whether I find what I am looking for.

Here I am walking around these stores with practically a neon sign on my forehead saying “I am your target demographic”, and yet I am completely ignored. Is it really too expensive to collect information from customers in your store?

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, writes in “Delivering Happiness” about the telephone being “one of the best branding devices out there.” Tony goes on to say, “You have the customer’s undivided attention for five to ten minutes, and if you get the interaction right, what we’ve found is that the customer remembers the experience for a very long time and tells his or her friends about it.” I would think a customer in your store would be an even more powerful branding device.

Companies have a huge opportunity to drive innovation and customer loyalty through the emergent intelligence of their people and their data. But emergent intelligence requires companies first and foremost to be listening. This means companies need to interact with me in a meaningful way during my shopping experience and capture that data in a useful way.

I’ve written about how big online retailers like Netflix and Zappos can improve the customer experience through Emergent Intelligence. These companies have a lot of information about their customers and their products that they could use in more useful ways, by listening and paying attention to what their customers are telling them through their calls to customer service and through the kinds of returns they are making.

Big box retailers could do the same if they would blur the line between the online and box shopping experience, letting customers have easy access to the same kinds of useful information in store as online. Best Buy, a company that also excels in social media, has made online product reviews and recommendations available in store as well, merging the online and offline experience and taking advantage of customer-generated content. Of course a retailer could rely on me using my smartphone to get this information, but when I do so I am also checking prices and locations for all of their competitors. Most companies are giving up this store “real estate” without a compelling in-store alternative.

And box retailers can do more. I’m in the store! I’d love to see retailers trying new ways to engage and interact with their customers. I’d love to see a button on the shelf that says “I would have bought this” for out of stock items, or even a simple “out of stock” slip that I could hand to the checkout. I’d also like a store to try out the idea of placing easy to use, fun and interactive displays all around the store that let me tell the store what I am not finding, and that use game mechanics to incent and reward me for doing so.

Even better, I’d love for a store employee to have a meaningful conversation with me about what I am looking for, and to capture that information. Imagine how a company value that “our stores are our best marketing device” would change employee recruitment and training as well as the shopping experience.

Meaningful listening and data capture would let companies seamlessly collaborate with their most loyal customers to co-create new products and services. And what’s more, customers would take away a positive and memorable shopping experience.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Meri Gruber
Meri Gruber is the VP of Business Development at Decision Management Solutions. Decision Management Solutions provides consulting services in all aspects of Decision Management, predictive analytics and business rules. Meri blogs on the intersection of business execution and innovation at Competing on Execution.


  1. Meri, thanks for an insightful post and welcome to CustomerThink!

    Companies want to innovate and too often only look internally for new ideas. Yet customers (and their data) are a great source of ideas too. But business leaders need a strategy to listen, identify the best ideas and turn them into new products, services and experiences … before their competitors do.

    The solution: Listening + analytics + innovation management.

  2. Hi Meri, I really liked your post especially the displays idea.
    I only wondered how can retailers deal with the displays they got in terms of supplying. In other words what if the client doesn’t come back to buy that product?
    I always wondered about how similar strategies work and I’d love to have your opinion. Thank you!


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