As we hear increasing amounts about innovation as a driver of differentiation and competitive advantage, CX expert and blogger Annette Franz considers how customer-centric companies can embed innovation alongside the customer as a key pillar of the company culture.
Expert by Annette Franz, CX Expert and Blogger,
I was recently honoured to be a guest on #innochat, which is a weekly Twitter chat about innovation and covers a wide range of topics and angles. The topic when I was on the show was one of my favourites: customer experience, of course. Not just customer experience, though, but how customer experience drives or fuels innovation. This is a hot topic. We want (we need) to see companies innovate for the customer, but many companies still struggle with what that means, how to do it, and what it takes to be truly innovative; instead, they imitate. I think Kerry Bodine said it well in her 2013 Harvard Business Review article:
You’re not innovative if you imitate; innovation is all about creating a clear differentiation between you and the next guy. What value does your brand bring to the table that no other brand does? How does it make customers’ lives – and the jobs they are trying to do – easier?
The questions posed to the group were pretty straightforward, yet thought-provoking, and all businesses interested in innovating their customer experiences should start thinking about them:
- What role do you think that customer experience plays in innovation?
- How does customer experience relate to user experience?
- What is the relationship between customer service and customer experience?
- How does the view of customer experience from the outside-in compare with the inside-out view?
- How do we balance the importance of customer experience with other issues?
Whilst you think about those, here are my tips:
1. Understand your customers
In order to innovate for your customers, you need to engage with them, listen to them, understand who they are and so much more – but most importantly, you need to understand what they are trying to do: what task, what job, what they are trying to achieve.
2. Create a culture of innovation
The culture needs to allow employees to be creative and entrepreneurial. Don’t stifle new ideas and innovation. Allow employees to pose, develop, and try new ways of doing the same old thing. Encourage efficiency, simplicity, and killing old rules and making new ones. I can speak from experience when I say that that stifling creativity, growth, and innovation is painful and kills employee engagement quicker than anything.
I’ve previously written about fostering a “culture of curiosity”, and perhaps that’s a place to start. Advocating and driving such a culture throws inside-out and outside-in thinking aside for the moment and calls for upside-down thinking. Toss everything you know out the window for the moment, and think differently. As the Walt Disney Company put it:
If employees are constantly asking questions and being curious, they get to:
- Learn more about their customers
- Better understand customer needs and, more importantly, the jobs they are trying to do
- Learn about partners, the market, emerging trends, etc.
- Ideate and innovate
- Create new/better products, features, and services
- Eliminate processes and policies that are harmful to the experience
- Change the way the company does business (for the better)
“The problem is that, at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.” -Elon Musk
If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep getting the same results, right? With some of the statistics about customer experience as bad as they continue to be, I think companies are continuing to do the same thing. So it’s time to start asking some serious questions and not be afraid of the answers – or the consequences and changes as a result.
Innovation and change go hand in hand. That’s a good thing. Don’t stifle it.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” -Steve Jobs