MAD Perspectives Blog

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 Are Your Customers Helping You Innovate?

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, July 27, 2011



Innovation - the magic word that inspires loyalty, adoption and disruption. It drives loyalty by employees to develop market shifting product and services.  It invites users to try a new way to address existing problems. It shifts the market landscape by providing a friendlier, smarter, cheaper or faster solution. Many consider the televison to be the greatest innovation of the 20th century.  In general, Apple is the company that comes to mind today, when considering innovation. They changed the way we buy and consume music through the introduction of ITunes and the iPod. What was so innovative about the service and the device? Ease of use. Apple was laser focused on the customer experience.

Other companies have been known for innovation (Google, IBM, Microsoft, Ford, GE, Facebook). Many continue to be innovators while others have become followers.  It's not easy to maintain a culture of innovation.  R&D budgets can be costly and don't always show significant ROI, at least not in the short term.  Subsequently these budgets shrink and grow as does the economy.  Is there a way to drive innovation in a more cost effective way?  One option is to leverage the collective intelligence and innovative spirit of the general marketplace.  Many would call this customer driven innovation.

This is not a new thought.  However, in today's social world, there are new ways to invite your customers to help you drive innovation of new products, services and business models. Social networks provide a new channel of communication with customers.  Whether you are interacting with them directly or they are talking about your company, product or industry with others, they are sharing their needs and concerns.  It's up to you to channel this intelligence.

A commonly referenced story is that of Dell and its customer support challenges.  Poor Dell, they had a great business model for quickly delivering customer defined PCs to their customers.  However, if that customer had a problem, they could rot in "Dell Hell" forever.  Dell used social media to encourage their customers to share their concerns.  Dell was overwhelmed with data, but turned around and asked these same customers to help them prioritize their needs.  This helped Dell to address the most important challenges first, with a significant improvement in their customer support model and ultimately, customer satisfaction.

How can your company use social media to drive innovation? As always, start with your business goals.  What are you trying to innovate?  Are you responding to customer satisfaction issues?  Are you hoping to launch a new product?  Have you disrupted your market and need to continue doing so?  Once you've define your goals, think about the pros and cons of crowdsourcing ideas.  The number one concern is that everyone will know what is being said.  Their is NO privacy in the social arena.

However, companies can invite debate on product initiatives.  They can discuss product features and the needs of their customers related to the product and its functionality.  Customer feedback can help prioritize the introduction of new features.  Customer comments can help improve online customer support and align support organizations to the real needs of their customers.  By using social monitoring tools, companies can quickly see market trends. 

Remember, social media happens in real-time.  Traditional market research, while valuable, is based on historical data.  Social networks are capturing conversations that reflect the current and immediate needs of your customers.  Your opportunity is to act quickly enough to deliver the solution that meets their needs.

In following the tech space, I'm saddened to see the news of Nokia's coming demise.  They provided my first mobile phone.  It was utterly reliable and easy to use.  Then there is the news of RIM's layoffs. The Blackberry was THE market changing device that created an expectation for 24x7 connectivity for business professionals.  when was the last time Hewlett-Packard, the Silicon Valley stalwart, announced something earth shaking?  Remember, this is the company that changed enterprise and consumer printing forever.  They led the UNIX charge which enabled companeis to consider viable alternatives to large mainframe computers.

I wonder, are these companies paying attention to their customers' real needs?  If so, perhaps they would still be considered innovators.  If you want to innovate, pay attention to your customers.  They are online and they are not shy.  Leverage the power of social media to help you innovate the next big thing!

What's your perspective?