With thousands of new products coming to market each year, innovation is at the forefront of conversations for businesses. In fact, a study by PwC found 93% of business executives believe that “organic growth through innovation” will drive the majority of their revenue increases.
While technology is often seen as the primary driver of innovation, looking at current customer challenges and needs is a great way to identify creative business solutions. Employees who are on the front lines working with customers have direct access to problems and challenges faced by current clients, and ultimately, the ability to help derive practical innovation.
At IVM, for example, we started off supplying traditional vending machines until a client in the railway industry expressed interest in distributing gear to their employees that could be easily dispensed and tracked. Since that time, we have transitioned our company focus to developing the world of automated supply distribution through smart locker and vending systems. Listening to the needs of your customers can provide strong ideas for your company, and in some cases, can change your entire business model. Whether developing products for enterprises or consumers, here are three steps to help leverage customer feedback and drive stronger product innovation within your organization:
Encourage hands-on leadership
Strong innovation starts with dedicated leadership. Business leaders and department heads need to be directly involved with teams and have a strong purview of every employees’ role and responsibilities. This allows decision makers to take all activity into account and identify connections that otherwise may have been overlooked. Leaders need to commit to a hands-on approach, making sure they stay close to innovative ideas, reviewing them, and ensuring they can answer all questions about an existing product.
By committing company leaders to a more hands-on approach, key decision-makers are able to identify trends and oversee various departments to guide important decisions as it relates to innovation. Business leaders should work directly with customer-facing roles for trainings and convey the value of soliciting regular feedback and providing education on current and upcoming products.
Provide customer-facing employees with comprehensive training
Employees such as customer service and sales representatives are at the frontline of customer engagement. They are the first to hear challenges, feedback on a product or service, or gain praise from existing customers. From their first day onwards, businesses need to provide the customer service team with detailed and ongoing training on keywords and feedback to listen for and to share with their colleagues.
Businesses can also encourage a connected environment by conveying the importance of relaying ideas and commentary to IT and product teams, which helps further innovation. For example, ask customer-facing employees to create a database of feedback, so innovation and IT teams have direct access to it in real-time. Consider leveraging shared files or platforms so feedback is captured and automatically passed among teams.
Ensure teams are connected
In addition to a hands-on approach and comprehensive training, business leaders must ensure teams within their organizations are connected. Connectivity between customer-facing roles, IT and innovation teams can lead to some of the most groundbreaking and successful products for customers. Encourage monthly or quarterly meetings between customer service, sales and IT departments and have designated members as the “go-to” on each team, should customer feedback be relevant to another area of the business. It’s also important to encourage employees to talk regularly with other departments, as this can lead to big developments. Invest in tools that encourage and make collaboration easy. For example, chat systems help employees easily share updates or ideas with their colleagues, and software and tech platforms can allow various employees and business leaders to access inner department information quickly and efficiently.
Implementing hands-on leadership, comprehensive training for customer-facing employees, and ensuring team connectivity are key steps that can lead organizations to discover new innovations that satisfy customers, and potentially transform their businesses. Focusing on customer feedback and challenges can lead to innovations that ultimately drive business growth for your organization.
Julie Clesi is the Chief Operating Officer at IVM, Inc. in Indianapolis, IN. As the director of operations, she works closely with internal account managers and interacts with clients daily to deliver value across many dimensions. One of her greatest accomplishments at IVM is becoming a part of the senior management team. Julie is proud to be a team member at a supply distribution company that is recognized as one of the world’s most innovative companies.