The Key to Innovation: Listening To Customers
Sales & Marketing for Professional Services

The Key to Innovation: Listening To Customers

March 31, 2014

by Tony Vidler

One of the most successful companies in Australian manufacturing that has been operating since 1932 provided a great business lesson on the weekend, that revealed their secret to innovation in business – and decades of survival and prosperity.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me yet it was decided that we must have a bread maker.  A bread-making machine was duly bought, which incidentally yielded  little more than a gooey mess of uncooked dough on the first attempt to use the machine.  We probably should have read the instructions.  Nevertheless, I digress…

Instead of reading the instructions I read the Breville company’s story, which was fascinating.  The second generation owner took over the business in 1951 from his father, and began a simple procedure that became the their “secret to successful innovation”.  In their words:

“Each working day, until his passing in 2003 at age 88, John read every one of the customer feedback cards.  “It’s the most important thing I do,” he said.  Customer feedback is still read daily by our Design, Innovation and Marketing teams.  Customer feedback is, and will continue to be, the key to our success.”

Such a simple concept, yet one requiring ongoing discipline – and the courage to act upon the market feedback.

The real key however to using customer feedback to innovate products or services, or indeed an entire culture of a business, is to create a customer feedback system in the first place.  Certainly a place to begin is informally, with built in reminders and links to confidential feedback forms that can be hosted on your website.  The feedback reminders can be incorporated into every piece of standard correspondence produced by your practice, and placed prominently in any published material (e.g. newsletters, email template wrappers, website, etc).

To drive higher engagement levels from customers in providing feedback though a more structured process should be created to lift feedback levels.  Ongoing surveys and encouragement for suggestions, focus groups, competitions to generate new ideas….all can provide valuable market intelligence that can be the catalyst for innovation in the practice.  The concept is straightforward, regardless of how the feedback is generated:

Customer Feedback Leads to Innovation

To generate new ideas, lift service levels and create deeper client relationships where they feel your firm is listening and responding to THEIR needs, take a lesson from Breville.  Create feedback systems, and actively use them to canvass opinion – good & bad – from your customers.  Then read every one of them, look for patterns and ideas, apply your own knowledge and systems to using those ideas, plan & execute the suggestions wherever possible.

Then let the customers know how you are acting upon the feedback, and create a positive spiral of further customer engagement and further feedback.

Therein lies the key to innovating products and services that customers actually value.

© 2013 Tony Vidler.  All rights reserved.
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