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.