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How Customer Voice Drives Innovation

Chief Executive Officer at InMoment, overseeing the transformation of brands’ customer feedback into overall business improvements.

Since Ford’s recent announcement of two revolutionary electric vehicles, the F-150 Lightning and the Mustang Mach-E, I’ve been thinking a lot about innovation — and one of my favorite quotes, which is often attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Whether or not Ford actually made this statement is irrelevant; the fact remains, there are two ways to interpret it. On the one side are people who believe that true innovation requires a visionary to create and introduce a product, technology or solution that previously didn’t exist. On the other side are those who believe that to deliver what customers want, all we need to do is listen and they’ll let us know.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between.

Reading Between The Lines When Solving Customer Problems

When it comes to SaaS, customers will often describe what they want: a report that enables a specific view or real-time alerts that trigger seamless workflows. But every request, every bit and byte, is driven by problems they have — problems they desperately need to solve.

If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they may have said “faster horses,” but only as a way to describe what they actually meant: a desire to get to their destinations faster. The fastest method of transportation at the time was the horse. The idea of a combustion engine didn’t exist in their minds. So, they used words and concepts they were familiar with to describe what they actually wanted. The difference is subtle but important to consider and understand.

Your customers won’t necessarily know what product or application you should run through R&D next, but they’ll happily tell you their business problems and the goals they’re trying to achieve.

Take the iPod, for example. Consumers didn’t know they wanted a wallet-sized device that would enable them to listen to thousands of their favorite songs at a moment’s notice. But they certainly could have expressed a desire to compile and have access to their favorite tracks off of hundreds of compact discs, negating the need to carry around a 10-lb binder of said CDs.

The key to customer-informed innovation is ensuring you have a methodology in place to capture, aggregate, interpret and prioritize customer input.

Innovative Solutions Come From Customer Relationships

At InMoment, we run a robust customer and employee listening program that informs every decision we make.

We send surveys, conduct interviews and lead roundtables with industry experts. We ask very pointed, engaging and vulnerable questions. We ingest data and feedback from existing sources (e.g., Glassdoor, G2 and Gartner Peer Insights). We know that we don’t have all of the answers. And while we don’t expect our customers or employees to have them either, together, we can solve problems that move our business forward.

In fact, some of our most innovative solutions have come directly from our customers, even though they may not have said exactly what they needed or how they needed it.

For example, one of our long-standing global retail clients was struggling to get the Voice of the Customer (VoC) into the hands of its executives. So, we created Moments, a mobile-first, Instagram-like feed of real-time customer feedback that executives can scroll through between meetings or while waiting for their next flight. We put the Voice of the Customer into their hands — literally.

Another client was having trouble with long lines causing frustration for customers at its retail outlets but couldn’t get to the root cause. We created Coach Pro, which analyzed unstructured customer feedback to let the company know it wasn’t actually the long lines that were causing customer frustration (customers didn’t mind long lines during peak shopping hours), but a lack of employee training on complex transactions (e.g., returns and gift card payments) that was the true annoyance.

Our customers couldn’t have told us the solution — they expect us to figure that out. They simply knew they had a problem and asked us to help get to the solution.

Innovation: It’s A Two-Way Street

Innovation doesn’t just happen by chance — it has to be owned.

Innovators observe customers and reflect on what they’ve learned. They listen to frontline employees who intrinsically know about customers and understand their problems.

In many ways, Ford had it right: Consumers expect us to be the voice of reason when it comes to what’s next. However, innovation is not a one-way street. Whether it’s an iPod, an all-electric super truck or the next piece of category-creating technology, innovation is a collaborative process that is equal parts consumer input and visionary transformation.

One simply can’t happen without the other.


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