• S Shaukat

Tips to Supercharge Your Innovation Efforts or Stay Ahead of Competitors

“Success is never final and failure is never fatal”- Sir Winston Churchill

Customer insights explain the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of your customers as well as the contextual arena where these needs surface.In design culture, insights must have the following three characteristics.

• Insights are authentic; grounded in reality and are evidenced.

• They reveal the ‘why’ of the customer’s thinking and feeling, that may not have been apparent or obvious before. These deeper insights need to be both unique and new.

• Insights motivate and inspire through stories and metaphors.

The attributes above can only be achieved through a precursor to insight gathering. And that is understanding the challenge to be resolved.Only planned and targeted insights and evidence gathering studies can result in well-crafted narrative descriptions.

In this article Sikander Shaukat, Creative Strategist at D Laer, explains why customer insights critically need to be developed before proceeding to the product design prototyping stage in an innovation journey, or sprint.

Innovation and creativity transpire only within a wider context of the challenge

Innovation cannot happen within the definition and scope of an existing solution. Simply automating (digitalising) a current environment is not innovation either. Service and product design innovation needs to take a wider perspective to resolve a real issue. The scope, involved in the resolution, has to zoom out. It needs to consider for example in a business context the systems, supervision, targets, processes, different interacting roles. For example, when the British Military first adopted muskets for use in what is now the US, the deployment was exactly the same as with sabres and swords with men marching bravely in one front line in the face of an enemy onslaught. The Americans, also using muskets, but scattered and hiding behind trees, saw the British infantry march forward with a white cross on their chest against a red uniform. They called it a ‘Turkey shoot’. They killed the whole British unit in the disaster.

The context needs to be richer and deeper

The context for innovation needs to be deeper, richer as well as wider. It must be directly linked to a well-defined and fully examined challenge and aspiration (I wish we had/could…). When I started marketing the earliest ATMs in UK banks and building societies, a branch manager in National Westminster (now RBS) complained to me. He said that when he keeps his excess cash in a bank vault, the head office pays him an interest, showing it as one of his income streams. The ATM's canisters held £40,000 in cash. He said that is a dead income to him and a loss. Taking a wider perspective, I explained to him that there are no other banks in the area offering cash for customers after hours and at weekends. There are no cash machines. How many new customers will he attract from this new facility? Say 10%. What will be the new income for a 10% increase in banking customers? What about the reputational and service benefits? He ended up implementing two ATM systems.

Only well-crafted customer insights can crystallize the wider, deeper and richer context to present all its opportunities and create better customer experiences.

1. Understanding behaviors and actions is not enough

Unlike requirements gathering, customer insights do not use structured questionnaires. These questionnaires are researcher-oriented leading the participants (the customer) in the researcher’s view of the world. The customer then begins to answer from the researcher’s perspective. It narrows the conversation and needs gathering. It starts to reveal made up needs from the participant. Ones based on the manifestation of a solution in the researcher’s mind. The customer will not reveal their own needs in this situation, they will please the researcher. This kind of research has no place in innovation. It is not useful. It is a costly waste of time, money and a customer. Qualitative research based on open-ended yet deep-rooted inquiry and flows in conversation are most productive. It uses open-minded naivety on the part of the researcher.

Customer insights building relies on observations. In particular, the behaviors or actions. The focus is both on what these actions are, but more importantly what it is that triggers these. It looks at the body language to reveal effort or ease and comfort or dissatisfaction with the topic being discussed. It looks for patterns and adaptations. It also looks at the environment, the objects used and the interactions that take place.

Whereas the old school research looks at the needs in the normal range, real customer insights learn from and extends to the needs of the extreme users at either end of the scale. What is it that people on the side-lines are doing and how are they resolving their needs and wants.

This ensures that the left behind personas are not ignored as these can represent a significant and large group.

For a researcher to reveal truly useful and authentic insights they need to deploy immersive empathy.It means shifting the researcher’s own perspectives. Resetting their preconceived ideas, assumptions and conclusions, stretching the boundary for discovery of a broader Eco-system.

High-definition resolution on the whole ecosystem of needs reveals opportunities for repeatable, high usage and adhesive offers. Several tried-and-tested design tools, such as Kano analysis and business origami, easily facilitate this deep insight gathering.

2. A competitive and sustainable product requires well informed product management.

Nine new ideas and new products fail while the tenth succeeds. A successful product costs $15M to bring it to market according to Harvard Business Review. The timescale to bring copied ideas to market by competitors is getting shorter. Ranging from just three months to six months.

In such ferociously competitive markets, as an innovating business you have to be fighting fit and street smart. For example, the London’s Evening News launched a paper to compete with the London Evening Standard. Despite having a number of suburban papers, London where people commute from one borough to another, is a lucrative market for papers covering important news on wide ranging local issues, as well as covering property and rentals, shops and sales, restaurants reviews, theatres and sports. Evening Standard responded to the challenger. They made their paper free and ramped up their distribution and production network. They killed the London Evening News in a few months, as it still had not built up its adverting base of income.

business innovation consultants reviewing customer insights

Learning to stay one minute ahead of the competition is critical to survival and business optimization. The task to stay competitive and effective falls to the product manager. And a product manager without great insights into its buyers and users is ineffectual. This is because a third of their task is dependent on market factors. They are external facing. The other third is to do with the business where they are internally focussed. And one third of the work is in building the bridge from the outside world to the worlds internal to the business.

customer insights are essential to stay competitive

External to company tasks include the following:

• Scanning the market and being informed of trends.

• Establishing the positioning of the product with its purpose, useful features, and benefits.

• Establishing its competitive credential through uniqueness and competitive advantages.

• Communication with the market via advertising, PR events, launches and promotions.

The bridging tasks between the external environment and internal environment to the are the following:

• The rationale for the product that will bring about shareholders and management’s investment and attention.

• The market responsive and related strategies to neutralize the competition. The product roadmap, setting out the vectors and directions.

• The cost of ownership that juggles customer and business value, quality of the offering and maintains the support and retirement costs.

• Making and managing budgets for the products, product profits and revenues

Task purely internal to the business include the following:

• Sales training and support with features, functions, objection handling and configurations, such as what works with what.

• Developing and maintaining the business activities in the product support and help.

• Instructing product development with prioritized requirements and managing releases.

• And reporting results, of course.

Having performed this role many times personally, and successfully, I can safely say this is a real juggling act and it is demanding in effort, skills, knowledge and good decision making.

Market failure and the vacant rational for the product is sure to follow, if the Customer Insights are poor, skewed, overly focused on the usual buyers and users. What is even more tragic is that the atrophy in performance may not be sudden and quickly transparent to decisive one-time heroic action. It may be insidious, multifaceted, and creeping; causing years of stress, costs and grief.

It is the insight builder mentioned above that illuminates the task of the product management expert, make him convincing, authoritative, credible and proficient. It is the Customer Insight that delivers the information to enable the product manager to make timely and critical decisions impacting the market and internally, to the business. Leading to super normal profits.

Remember this saying:

“Success is never final and failure is never fatal”- Sir Winston Churchill

Constant vigilance and action are needed. Never submitting to either success nor to failure.

D Laer is a leading Middle East based product and service innovation partner and business problem solver. If you’re looking to supercharge your way to results, contact us for a discussion.

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