Category Archives: Customer Satisfaction

7 Rules for Improving Innovation: #7 Customer Input

Improving Innovation: Customer Input.

To fuel the innovation engine, companies need to pay extremely close attention to their customers and form strategies based around everything they can possibly learn.

To accomplish this, most organizations spend a chunk on R&D, market research, focus groups and feedback programs, simply to gather insight and suggestions for “potential” innovations.

To survive and remain competitive, regardless of your industry, your company needs to be the first to market with new offerings.  That means understanding what your customers are like.  Naturally, customers’ needs and wants are ever-changing, but you need to do everything possible and know as much as you can about your users.  Earmark the time, money, and people to find out how customers interact with every aspect of your product, service, company, delivery, support, and so on.

And ask their opinions.  It sounds rudimentary, but so many companies fail to do it, and make the information they find out actionable.  This devotion to the “voice of the customer” could set you apart and become the gamechanger for your business.


What are Your Innovation Metrics?

You’re measuring progress in every major area of your company. How closely are you watching your innovation metrics?

A recent survey of managers in large organizations showed that close to 70% of executives track absolutely NO metrics for innovation on a regular basis.  In a very small percentage, some claimed to manage only three or less statistics in this area. Realistically, this is just not enough benchmarks to get an accurate picture of how you’re doing innovation-wise.

On the other hand there are companies that track FAR too many numbers. An innovation consultant cited an example of a company he’d worked with that were using 85 different metrics in their innovation reports. He admitted it was “mass confusion”; the end result being that none of the numbers made sense to the majority of the management team. Furthermore, it was very difficult to regularly collect this data, so it often went unreported or ignored.

Innovation experts say “make it measurable, but keep it simple”. 8 to 12 metrics seems to be a good sweet spot for consistent, meaningful innovation reporting. That’s about the the correct number for Samsung. On the whole, company leaders there manage things like ‘time to market’ and ‘success vs. failure rates of new products’. Also watched closely are ‘customer sat ratings for new releases’ as well as ‘percentage of revenue from new products’, ‘benefits from internal improvement plans’, and a few more. They stick to these because they’re useful and relatively easy to capture.

Of course, all of these are crucially important indicators of how well your organization is doing from a new product and innovation perspective. It’s just as important, however to NOT get bogged down in too many details. Keep it straight forward, concise, and meaningful and you’ll be able to better allocate and leverage your innovation resources.

Take-away: You can’t improve upon what you’re not even measuring. What are the “go-to” numbers on your innovation dashboard?

Source: BusinessWeek

Customer-Centric Innovation: Challenge Yourself!

There’s no lack of opportunities for businesses to “create” – creating new products or service offerings, creating new markets to pursue, creating new advertising, and so on.  But “creation” doesn’t always mean you’re innovating.  The difference between creating and true business innovation is that the latter involves taking a serious, hard look at the needs of your customers and doing only that which you know will change the game for them and for your business. 

For this reason, you only want the innovations that are going to be meaningful to your customers and profitable to you - two things that are not typically mutually exclusive.  Creative endeavors are a crucial piece of this model, but if it doesn’t make a measurable impact on some aspect of your business and drive you to get more customers, then why do it? 

Customer-centric innovation begins with examining every point at which you interact with customers (current, repeat, and prospective) and asking yourself this set of questions:  What are the barriers that stand in the way of how this person or business becomes our customer, obtains our product, etc.?   What can I do to eliminate that barrier and make it easier for them?  How can I do this in such a way as to remain true to my business’ core values, and stay focused on our critical essentials?  How can I do this with the fewest complications (a.k.a. keep it simple)?  How can I do it better than any of my competitors?   When you can answer all of these questions, you’re firing on all 8 innovation cylinders. 

These things go MUCH deeper than “let’s create our next big product because our customer is asking for it.”  Take the time to look at things like: pricing, delivery methods, your suppliers, materials costs, systems in use, inventorization, materials, your investors, your accounting, your sales methods, your marketing team, and everything else you can possibly think of.   If it seems like too much work, just remember: this is what your competitors are already doing.   You’ll quickly find ways to improve quality in all of these areas, and these improvements will aggregate to impact how your customer becomes your customer, and how you keep them as your customer.

Assign people in all of these areas to create “challenges” for their teams on how to improve something in their department.  These can be as simple as “How can we improve our purchasing practices?”, “Has anyone seen a better system that we can use for billing?” or “How can we save money on shipping?”,  “How can we fill orders faster”, and so on.  

Allow their teams to answer the challenges with ideas and suggestions.  Take time to encourage these folks to vote and comment on ideas received.  Make sure to follow through implementing the best ones, and reward folks for sharing them.  After all, the best solutions and improvements will invariably come from the people who deal with the issues you’re trying to solve on a daily basis.

The key is asking the right group with the right expertise to answer your challenge.  The possibilities for “challenges” are limitless, just like the areas for improvement in a company.

Some of the innovations that you find and implement using challenges may impact your customers or improve their experience in ways they will never even know about, and that’s just fine!  Let them just be thrilled to be your customer and wonder how you do what you do so well!

Flagpole is an inexpensive, easy-to-deploy application built around the above-described challenge model.  You can use it to query your employees, partners, even customers out in the marketplace to find focused, impactful ideas and innovations to implement.

Finding New Areas for Innovation

In many companies, innovation is only focused on finding ways to directly improve the product or service they offer.  In reality, there are many opportunities to innovate that you may not even be thinking of.

By analyzing the entire breadth of the customer’s interaction with your products, you’ll uncover new strategies for differentiating hidden aspects of your offering from your competitors’.  You can begin to do this by asking customers (and employees that interface with customers) key questions like these and analyzing the findings…

  • How do customers discover their need for your products?
    Are customer aware that you can satisfy their need?  Do they even know they have a need in the area that your product or service covers?   There may be a better way to create the feelings of need or desire for your solution.
  • How do customers find and purchase your offering?
    You may need to make your product easier to search for, find, order, or purchase.  Can you make the availability of your product more prominent or your advertising more ubiquitous?
  • How do customers make their final selection?
    Maybe you can find a new way to help your customers narrow down the possibilities, or make it easier or more convenient for them to make a selection in your marketplace.
  • How is your product or service delivered?
    How does it get in the hands of the customer and what happens once it’s there?  Can you make this experience better, faster, or less costly for them or you?
  • What is your customer using your product for?
    Can you change or add new ways for them to use (or reuse) your product?
  • What are the difficult things about using your product?
    Can you make this experience better?  What are the common Customer support issues?  Can you change something to make it easier to use?
  • How is your product supported or repaired?
    Can you change the methods of fixing products or resolving issues?  Can you eliminate some problems entirely?  Would spending money to change or redesign something now save you a lot in support costs?

These are just SOME of the many areas you can improve by learning more about people’s experiences and interactions with your company’s offerings.   It all starts with gathering feedback and interacting with customers and employees.  They KNOW what the problems are and they WILL tell you if you ask.

With Flagpole (, you can present questions like these to your audience to get honest responses that could help you innovate in new areas that your competitors aren’t even thinking about.

Invite Others to Solve Your Problems

Up until recently, the standard formula for most companies to innovate probably consisted of a closed-loop, if not clandestine, team of individuals to brainstorm and develop ideas.  While some great projects will undoubtedly come out of this approach, the ‘innovation group’ can only do so much.  That fact alone could become a barrier for a very large organization trying to solve a host of internal problems.

In the software arena, of course, there exists the movement of Open Source development.  It’s powerful because it invites users themselves to get involved and to essentially become “co-producers” of the products they are consuming.  The pride of ownership that comes from seeing the project as “your baby”, and watching it grow and develop, is fulfilling and inspires a sense of loyalty among participants.  What if you could do that, in some respect, for your company and its products?

Although Open Source has never become the industry coup some may have predicted, the concept is a strong one that can be applied to other industries:  By letting “outsiders” get involved, you’re able to pool the talents and unique experience of the best people you can reach, in addition to the specialists in your own Innovation Team or R&D group.

When companies open up the innovation process, great things start to happen. You increase the likelihood of finding the “good” ideas: the ones that are viable, core to your business, and will produce ROI.  Now you’re gathering input from folks that offer unique perspectives on your business – maybe an approach to a problem that your “usual suspects” would never even think of.  Finally, and no less importantly, you’re spreading goodwill and increasing loyalty among the participants.  Customers continue to buy from companies that understand their wants and needs, and employees need to know that their input is valuable.

Invite others to help solve your problems and contribute to your products with Flagpole (www.flagpole–  Flagpole is an easy-to-implement web tool for gathering ideas and feedback from your audience: employees, product users, partners, and suppliers. Flagpole guarantees that our product will provide you a return on your investment (ROI), or we’ll refund your costs, 100%.  We also offer a free version so companies can get started immediately with absolutely no risk.