In the first two parts of this series we looked at the current innovation paradigm. That paradigm consists mostly of two primary approaches being an incremental one that looks more like continuous improvement and a free for all that is more like chaos. We also looked at a possible approach to innovation by leveraging existing marketing infrastructure to produce a future state narrative. That narrative acts as a future state blueprint for product or service development to move toward.
Innovation Begins with Customer Collaboration
Customer collaboration is more than surveys, polls, focus groups, or social media input. Even though these can all be components of a collaboration strategy, several of the approaches are one way when what is needed is a customer dialog and customer engagement. Outlets like Twitter, Facebook, or some type of forum software help create a dialog but if a company is not ready to hear the truth about their products they may be in for a shock. For example, see the second half of the following post under the section entitled “A Technology Change that will Force You to Work More Closely with Customers .“
For any company that does not already have an open forum it will be critical to add this to your application portfolio. This external forum is the first real bridge to customer integration. Full collaboration integration into ERP applications like SAP is possible by taking a focused approach to how the application is used (SAP, ERP III, SOA — Learning Organizations through Social Media Collaboration). Properly deployed collaboration tools do not need to be expensive, complicated, or difficult and properly implemented they can transform organizations (ERP III – Is the Integration of Collaboration the Future of Enterprise Applications).
SAP has been very successful at creating a pair of portals which integrate customers, consultants, and vendors into the process and product development through its customer ASUG (Americas SAP User Group), SCN (SAP Collaboration Network), and their partner Eco System (vendor participation). These are all tremendous examples of how SAP as a company is integrating meaningful social media tools and collaboration initiatives fully into the Enterprise.
Just how successful is this?
Although media outlets made a huge issue out of the ASUG based “rebellion” of the customer base over SAP’s proposed maintenance fee increase, it is a testament to the importance and power of collaboration with end customers. Although SAP may have considered the backlash over maintenance fees a failure, it should be considered instead as satisfying customer expectations. After all, the global economy has been struggling, competitors like Rimini Street have targeted application support, and customers have long questioned what they get for the support. A successful press to increase maintenance fees would have likely led to wholesale defections of customers to Rimini Street and would have created a massive market opportunity for other support vendors. The mass defection to support vendors like Rimini Street could have easily cost far more than just the lost maintenance fees, it could have cost significant upgrade revenues as well.
What can You Do to Create Customer Focused Innovation?
The first and most obvious place to start is to glean a measure of customer intelligence to understand their frustrations with the current marketplace and their desires (Business Strategy and IT Strategy to Reproduce Apple Innovation). Some type of forum, or other discussion mechanism freely available to customers for feedback is a good place to start. Company managers and employees should be required to participate in those forum discussions to begin to gain greater insight into the customer perspective, including their frustrations, desires, and concerns.
From that exchange many of the customer drivers can be derived to begin assembling the innovation narrative around new products or services, or around significant improvements to existing products or services.
The thing to remember here is that you don’t have to create the “miracle” product or service. You don’t even need to create the product or service that meets the “ideal state,” you only need a product or service that is noticeably better and different than your competitors. Within the framework of the narrative you can continue to move your products ahead by making them more and more like the “ideal state” narrative over time.
Great Employees Make for Great Customer Experience
Facebook as an Inexpensive Marketing Outlet and Employee Recruiting Tool
Facebook may work well as an inexpensive marketing channel for promotions and offers. As such, properly constructed, you might be able to “train” an extended customer base to visit Facebook for new offers or promotions. However, I personally see a different application for Facebook in particular. I believe its utility is best served as an employee recruiting tool.
Tools like Facebook have a legitimate place in the enterprise even though a recent Harvard Business Review case study demonstrated that their use for businesses with huge customer bases is limited (Social Media Fads and the Risk to the Enterprise). They do serve a purpose if properly connected to a specific business purpose. Toward that end, Facebook in particular can generate a “tribe” of loyal customers who might make the best pool of potential employees to recruit from. What the Harvard study showed was that Facebook was most likely to attract those who are already fans, and who would make the best employees of your company? True fans as employees are far more likely to be satisfied and far more likely to produce a good customer experience for others as your employees. They are also much more likely to defend the brand and to actively engage in meaningful dialog with customers to understand where there might be opportunities for innovation.
I’ve provided a few examples and a starting place for a framework for customer focused innovation. As I previously laid out in a post entitled “From Collaboration to Innovation to Market – Toward a Working Model” there is a rational approach to innovation in the enterprise:
- Collaborate (technology integration)
- Gather intelligence and research
- Ideas (customer immersion narrative)
- Socialize (customers, employees, other stakeholders)
- Prioritize (emerging trend or fad)
- Prototype (mock-ups, story boards, paper prototypes, actual working models)
- Pilot (finalize design, costing, materials or talent, etc.)
- Market trial
- Sales Campaign
This collection of posts has been an initial attempt to bring some definition or a starting framework to an area that has little guidance and little academic research. The whole area of innovation seems to be a black box to most. This has been a bit more of a challenge than I had originally expected and I expect that as I continue to toy with these ideas and approaches that something more concise will eventually emerge. To that end I would be curious about your feedback and input if you have been so courageous as to look through the material.
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- Customer Focused Innovation