It’s a given, all companies who take their business seriously strive to innovate. But just because money is being spent on researching markets and technological advancements it does not mean that innovation is going to take place. Innovation, or any other company investment for that matter, depends on the quality of the investment as much as the quantity. The hard truth is that the greater part of innovative services, products, or approaches do not live up to expectations resulting in a flop. The idea behind them may be indeed innovative, with the strong engineering behind it, and even sufficient resources allocated, however, the customers just aren’t there.
A high proportion of successful innovation comes from knowing your customer and understanding the market. When you are at a deeper level of customer understanding, you will be able to go beyond current needs solving problems which customers don’t think they have. After all, innovations are only truly successful when they resonate with real-life customer needs.
The services we know and love today were once an odd, curious, even silly innovation. Remember CD players when hardly any CDs were available, or bank cards to use with ATMs, or personal computers back in the day when those took up a whole room? These are only a few innovations which could not have been predicted by benchmarking or researching. Companies were able to pioneer these only through looking to the future needs of their customers. It resulted in breakthroughs, landing them market leadership and major growth in revenue.
Putting Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes
Innovation described above is solely a hands-on matter. Reports, studies, and fancy graphs won’t do it here. Insightful information is acquired through the intimate understanding of current and potential markets and customers, opportunities for improvement, company mission and values.
While a lot depends on the alignment of management processes, everything begins with the people. Intimacy is not achievable from a distance, it develops when people start looking for ways to do things differently, more effectively, better. This leads to the observation of how the product is being used, how it could be used, what it could do better, and where customers would like to see an improvement. With lower-level workforce taking the initiative, it is up for leadership to keep up and take responsibility to innovate. Innovation leaders will seek ways to learn from their customers, their needs, their world.
The innovation, driven by intimate understanding and anticipation of customer needs is only one side of the coin. On the flip side, there is the development of products and services driven by empathy. These are created with the intention of solving customer problems. Empathy-driven innovations are particularly effective due to an already existing market appeal.
Walking in customers’ shoes and empathizing their current needs doesn’t take away from the main focus of innovation leaders. They look to create solutions in anticipation of customer aspirations which customers do not even realize exist. Ultimately, intimacy and empathy give highest results when used in sync.