No matter how good our customer experience is today, innovation is required to a) keep up with our competition and b) keep up with the ever-growing service expectations of our customers.
Here are five steps that I suggest that will drive--and sustain--customer experience and customer service innovation.
1. Set up a transparent framework for reviewing proposed innovations. For an innovation culture to thrive, you’ll want to establish a framework to submit suggestions for innovation in an organized manner and have them reviewed—within a transparent system—for potential action. USAA, the insurance and financial services giant, has used such an approach to encourage and harvest nearly 1,000 patents based on employee suggestions, most of them from non-technical employees, including a staggering 25 from a single security guard employed at the company.
2. Build a blame-free culture and embrace your mistakes. Some of the best innovations come from serendipitous accidents rather than linear progression, and it's essential to encourage your team to embrace these accidental discoveries and apparent missteps rather than disregard them because they were unintended. And you won't even get potential (and potentially glorious) mistakes if your culture tamps down on possible errors and encourages timidity.
3. There are three general areas in which you should be encouraging innovation. Make sure everyone at your company is aware of all three. Only product innovation tends to get much press, so it’s important to make it clear that you’re looking for innovation in all three of the basic areas that are ripe for innovation in any organization:
· Product: what you sell or make
· Process: how you make it/how you sell it
· Business model: how your company is conceptualized and organized.
4. Involve your customers (not only your employees) in innovation. This has a double value: The insights you get from customers that you’d never turn up within your company, and the buy-in you get from customers after they've involved themselves in helping you innovate.
Today’s customers enjoy the possibility of collaborating with businesses and brands as long as they believe that their say matters to the company in question. They don’t necessarily see a clear boundary between the customer and the brand, the customer and marketer, and the customer and service provider. Alex Castellarnau at Dropbox, the popular file transfer service, puts it this way: With today’s customers, “a new brand, service or product is only started by the company; it’s finished by the customers. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship…will have an edge.”
5. Provide innovation prompts so that nobody ever has to stare at a black piece of paper when starting out.
Innovation is a slog when you’re staring down an oppressively blank sheet of paper, but you don’t have to go it alone. A wildly effective technique is to provide innovation prompts to get everyone kickstarted on the path to innovation. Start with these five, if you like. (If you’d like my complete list of 25 innovation prompts, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll hook you up.)
Author • Forbes Senior Contributor • Customer Service Consultant
President and CEO, Four Aces Inc.
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