There is an old saying that the customer is always right. But these days, it seems that statement should be revised to say that the customer is constantly changing. Different values and different tastes drive today’s consumers than in the past. And with greater sophistication, access to data, new communication platforms like social media, and more, their change can be the basis for innovation.
Entrepreneurs looking to fast-track their company’s offerings can use these changes to gain a competitive advantage. And while innovation should still happen from within, it can also be customer-centric to ensure that products and services are centered around the people who make the company profitable. Here are a few thoughts on creating customer-centric innovation.
1. Create Ground Rules
Including customers in the innovation process doesn’t mean that a company should try everything the customer base suggests. It is important to set ground rules to bring order to the chaos. Leaders should decide what values they want to include and stay consistent. For example, given the importance of environment, social, and governance (ESG) in consumer decision-making, it may be wise to consider doing business with other companies with similar values. Other ground rules may center on outsourcing, acquisitions, or whether there are markets to be avoided to maintain company brand respect.
2. Know Your Audience
Every startup has its business model aimed at a specific industry, and comments from those offering their opinion do not in themselves define a company’s target audience. Finding the values that drive customers for the startup’s target industry takes research, attention, focus, and analysis. Some new companies may benefit from third-party marketing expertise to help them identify those values. Only when a company understands its audience and customer base aside from just the comment section of a webpage can it focus on letting those customers drive innovation.
3. Data, Data, Data
With today’s ongoing revolutions in technology, there is no excuse for even the most resource-poor startups not to take advantage of an ocean of data. With a minimum of expense, SaaS platforms for tools such as HR, CRM, and more, can offer a wealth of data and analysis to allow leaders to understand what their core customers are telling them. This data can inform innovation strategies and even help you understand when to best pivot to a new product.
Few things are as customer-centric as personalization. This may include bespoke products and services that leverage technology like AI to help design directly for customer needs while keeping production processes efficient. It could also mean personalizing the service, follow-up, outreach, maintenance, and warranty experience beyond the product’s initial sale.
5. Design Thinking
With the digital tools available today, customer desires can be matched with the production feasibility provided by technology. And usually, those desires are centered around the search for a solution. By building customer desires into the product at all phases, innovation is most likely to occur as a solution to an existing product rather than just a new bell or whistle conceived in a lab.
6. Social Media
Social media provides companies with a way to communicate quickly and directly with customers. Many companies monitor social media to be able to respond quickly to trends, complaints, or new areas of interest. This not only further personalizes the customer experience, but also deepens the relationship and lets customers feel they have access and an immediate voice and channel to the products they love.
The Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre (HBEC) at Georgian College believes that innovation is at the core of successful entrepreneurship. By combining customer-centric innovation with well-trained and mentored entrepreneurship, new business leaders can access a wealth of experience. This includes networking, funding, training, mentorship, and other resources to build a new business from startup to sustainability. To find out how we can help you on your journey toward customer-centric innovation, contact us today.