How to use your customers as the innovators of your business
These days, the most successful and valued businesses are those that use customer-centric innovation. Whether you need a new product, service concept or ideas to develop your brand, customers are often the truest and most engaged source of insight.
From involving your customers early on, to giving them the tools to create new products, here are simple ways you can use them as innovators and move your business forward.
Give your customers the tools to create
Some successful companies have abandoned their efforts to try and understand exactly what products their customers want. Instead, they’ve actually equipped them with the tools to create their own products. These tools range from software-based computer simulations, to physical tools in innovation workshops.
For example, LEGO is using the internet to turn their customers into innovators through LEGO Ideas – an online community where members can look at creations by other fans and submit their own designs. If a project gets 10,000 votes, LEGO reviews the idea and picks a winner to be sold worldwide.
On a more practical level, DHL, a global leader in the mail and logistics industry, hosts workshops with customers in Germany and Singapore. More than 6,000 customers have engaged in the workshops to co-create solutions for the DHL’s delivery problems. In fact, one of the inventions that came out of a workshop was the Parcelcopter, a test drone delivery service that could potentially change DHL’s service method forever.
Customers innovate and add their own spin to products every day, whether it’s stone washing their jeans or putting eucalyptus oil in the washing machine. The bottom line is – actively seeking out collaboration (through technology, experiences or otherwise) is an invaluable way of gaining new insights into what your customers are looking for and ultimately, making more money.
Give your customers a voice
The best way to interact with your customers is to listen to them. With the continuous rise of technology, customers have more opportunities than ever to express their opinion – and to have that opinion heard. In fact, they’ve come to expect that brands and companies will respond to their demands.
While the customer isn’t always right, they are often the best judge of your product or service. So it pays to listen and interact with them on their level. That’s why leveraging the power of social media is so important.
Posting questions about your products and services on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or any other platform invites your customer in on equal footing – to allow them the opportunity to give direct, insightful feedback. You can also create and moderate online discussion groups, target influential customers, and use the tools and apps available within social media platforms, such as polls and surveys.
Keep your customers involved
The early stages of the innovation cycle are vital. Unfortunately, many companies don’t involve their customers in this phase – even when they need customer insights to help refine and support their ideas, products, and services. But to get the best ideas, it’s important to talk to the people you’re designing for. That’s why LEGO, DHL, and other innovative companies are having so much success.
While the early stages are certainly important, so too are the middle stages. Some customers are better at coming up with ideas, while others shine in suggesting improvements. In order to continually innovate, businesses need to learn to love complaints. When a customer isn’t satisfied with a service and decides to voice this (especially on social media), it’s a safe bet many customers feel the same way. That’s why customer feedback and engagement is just as important as co-creation.
To keep your customers properly involved and engaged, it’s important to understand what kind of customer intelligence sources you have access to – from social media and focus groups, to software-driven customer relationship tools. Whatever methods you use, they have to dig deep and build stronger relationships with your customers.
Transform your business
No matter how big or small your business is, your customers will always be an invaluable and constant source of innovation. That’s why it’s important to not just listen to them, but to involve them from start to finish.
At the end of the day, it’s the people who use your products and benefit from your services that can give you the greatest insight. They can tell you what is working and not working, suggest improvements and changes, and even develop your next big idea.