Feedback from the front-line will help identify the problem and in many cases even help establish priorities, but organisations need to go further if they really want to innovate.
- This sort of feedback is based on experience with existing products and services; it tells you if customers like what you currently deliver but does not help you uncover unmet needs.
- It's based on past experiences rather than looking to the future; you're getting hindsight rather than foresight.
- People describe what they know, not what they don't know; none of us know what we don't know. Customers will tell you about what they are currently experiencing, which in turn will drive employees to focus on what they know - existing products and services - hence driving a vicious circle.
If you really want to innovate you need to immerse yourself in the customers' problem and this takes time.
- Identifying the problem; front-line surveys and teams are an excellent resource for this, but this is only the first step.
- Staying with the problem long enough to establish root cause; this usually involves product owners and/or designers to probe, explore and observe customers, ideally in their environment, to gather a rich source of data before developing hypothesis.
- Experimenting with new ideas and measuring the outcome; be prepared to fail often and throw out your ideas when you discover it is not meeting the need.
Responding to customers is critical to retain customer relationships but unlikely to drive breakthrough innovations or significant growth. Innovation requires a different level of thinking. Organisations that do this well become obsessed with customer problems and embed distinct practices, often involving collaboration across diverse teams, that take feedback from the front-line and translate into new inventions and experiences that delight customers.
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