So often I speak with organisations that think they are doing a pretty good job at including customers in their innovation efforts. After delving deeper it becomes apparent that customers only become directly involved when there is a tangible product or service to test. The reason for involving customers at this late stage? To validate an idea that the business has already invested a whole heap of time, energy, and money into. There are obvious problems with this such as customer agreeableness; a bias to attend disproportionately to confirmatory information at this later stage, and when negative feedback occurs it becomes more difficult to acknowledge and adapt the idea after so much emotional energy and investment has already been made.
Instead, organisations should involve customers much further up the innovation chain. There are 3 important areas where customer involvement will dramatically improve the success of your innovations:
1. Uncovering Opportunities
Unfortunately, the stronger our assumptions around customer needs are, the less likely we are to seek out what our customer’s truly want or require. I regularly see organisations holding very strong viewpoints on what they think their customers value and the problems that should be fixed without actually asking them. An implication of this is that the organisation may not be focusing on the most profitable or beneficial opportunity in the first place.
2. Generating Ideas
Once you understand the specific challenge or problem you need to solve, involving customers in the idea generation process can be a great way to collect a diverse range of ideas. Next time you are running a formal idea generation session with a specific problem in mind, invite some customers into the session to suggest ideas with you shoulder to shoulder.
3. Experimenting with Ideas
Once you have shortlisted your ideas, it is crucial that you test these directly with customers well before you throw a whole lot of money and time into idea development. Identify and test the biggest leaps of faith for why you think each idea will be successful and measure actual customer behaviour. Your results will help you collect learnings to inform whether you should iterate or pivot.
If you have any questions about involving customers at any of these three points feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.