By Arwen Petty
Connecting with consumers on a basic level through newsletters, email campaigns, and social media is a standard business tactic that sits squarely in the box. It’s important, but a given, and primarily used for sharing content, promotions, and company updates. But, in addition to being a run-of-the-mill approach, it’s one-sided, frequently spammy and sales-centric, and is more informative that innovative. It leaves virtually no room for gathering customer feedback, and no way to start a valuable conversation.
However, opening up the gates and involving users in your internal innovation processes allows you to ideate, create, and innovate alongside them, and develop products and services that not only meet their needs, but fully exceed their expectations. Here are 3 great ways to turn your customers into innovation resources.
1. Go Beyond the Product
If company leaders ever get into the mindset that they only have one thing to offer their customers — i.e., their product or service — they’re sorely mistaken. If what you’re selling lives up to the hype, the clients who only care about getting it and getting out are going to do so with relatively little prompting. Save the heavy advertising for prospects, and focus on building a customer-based innovation culture. Inviting your customers to participate in events, content creation, webinars, blog posts, social media discussions, and product sneak previews can rapidly open up the innovation network way beyond your internal team, providing an expanse of new ideas and true, front-line suggestions from the people who know your product best.
Says the team over at the Stanford Graduate School of Business: “The processes organizations use to pursue innovation can actually erode their capability to innovate. Systems built on stages and reviews simply bureaucratize the process and deflect attention from the user experience. Then, by limiting responsibility for innovation to a specific department, these organizations actually under-utilize the creative capabilities of other employees. Companies must create a culture of innovation that harnesses the creativity of its customers, users, and employees.”
2. Make it Worth Their While
Incentives are an obvious go-to when trying to ramp up voluntary participation in activities and events, but beware: not all payment needs to be, or even should be, monetary.
While gift cards and the like are both convenient and well-received, valuable customer engagement is more often a result of something more — like asking your users for feedback that you actually intend to consider. This isn’t about traditional surveys, which are great for capturing numerical and demographic data, but pretty awful at deriving meaningful insight into what your customers want. Crowdsourcing ideas from your market, through existing users or targeted prospects, allows you to collect information about what’s really working and what isn’t, and what you need to do to fix it — rather than whether or not someone is simply satisfied, dissatisfied, or indifferent. That kind of feedback doesn’t provide any of the details necessary to drive change.
Entrepreneur’s Michael Morton offers this example: “The idea is that my company looks at a large number of user experiences and strategically decides which issues should be resolved first to benefit the greatest number of community members. This process of automatically and dynamically collecting information requires no effort from users but provides them with value. With this form of crowdsourcing, the greater the number of users and the longer they use the system, the greater the insight that can be gained.”
3. Be Truly Transparent
A lot of the time, company stakeholders cringe at the thought of sharing proprietary information with their customers, fearing that doing so will weaken their market position or result in data leaks. But it is possible to be transparent without over-sharing, and there are several benefits of cultivating an open, communicative relationship with your users. Namely, they’ll trust your organization a lot more, feel confident that their needs are being internalized, and believe in your product and its longevity. This type of loyalty is an excellent foundation for bringing customers into the fold of internal innovation programs, because dedicated advocates truly care about what’s going on with your company. They not only have great ideas and unique perspectives on products and services, but they want to see the organization do well.
“It seems simple, but it’s not,” says Inc.’s Dave Kerpens. “There is a difference between honesty (tell the truth) and transparency (tell everyone everything). Transparency is one of hardest values to approach in business, as many people are stuck on secrecy and fear. [But] customers want to give their business to transparent companies, and great talent wants to work at transparent companies. The moment you…embrace transparency is the moment you gain that advantage over companies that haven’t.”
“Many companies have the fear of being criticized publicly or getting bad reviews. Having customer feedback and third-party product reviews right on your site is a radical approach for many,” writes Teemu Arina of Megasignals. “[However] unpredictable and risky it might seem, the benefits of doing this are the tremendous cost savings in finding early about wrong pricing models, defective products, usability issues, and unnecessary features. If you are honest, transparent, and let people to see that you are serious about getting their feedback, they will increase their trust, engagement, and eventually you will gain greater reputation and profits.”
The bottom line? Understanding customer needs in detail dramatically improves your chances of innovating successfully, and there’s no better resource to turn to than the very people you’re trying to help. And, being able to collect and analyze large amounts of customer data straight from the source results in major strategic opportunities to turn individual ideas into breakthrough innovations.