6 Ways to Fuel Your Innovation w/ Customer Insight

This post was originally featured on Startup Grind

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” But most startups haven’t learned that lesson — and it shows in their output.

Small businesses invest far too much time and money perfecting their initial products or services. They spend months fretting over their logos and site designs. Meanwhile, their competitors are bringing new goods to market.

To put the old adage another way, “iteration speed is more important than iteration quality.” I heard this quote at a conference once and found that it applies to many aspects of business. Nothing is more important than what consumers say, think, and feel — and you can’t know their thoughts until you’ve shared your product or service with them.

Your team might labor over a prototype for months or even years, burning through cash until the design is just right. But the harsh truth is that “perfect” isn’t up to you. Perfect is in the eye of the consumer. It’s impossible to be objective about something you’ve created.

Your audience members, on the other hand, will spot flaws in the functionality, and they’ll happily voice their opinions on new features. That information is more valuable than several years’ worth of investment in R&D.

No matter how technically precise your design is, it won’t sell unless people want it. Put together a minimum viable product, and launch as quickly as possible. People will love it, or they’ll hate it — you’ll have constructive feedback either way.

Integrating Insights

Consumer feedback is vital to any successful business, yet many organizations seem to avoid it like the Zika virus (or whatever mysterious disease is in the day’s headlines). That’s understandable, as collecting feedback is costly — both in terms of time and money.

Then, there’s the comments themselves. The more you invite customers to share their opinions, the more negative comments you’re likely to receive. Some of those will be from curmudgeons who just like to hear themselves talk (or type). But many will provide important insights — about how your customer service fell short or ways in which your product can be improved.

Some founders believe they know more than their customers and, therefore, don’t need to solicit feedback. But you can’t be objective about your own products.

When you’re hunkered down, obsessing over the details for months at a time, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Customers can, and their input could be the difference between your company thriving or going bust. They’re the ones paying for the product, so it’s prudent to listen to what they have to say.

Soliciting and responding to feedback makes customers feel valued, and that endears them to your company. So pay attention — the loudest voices can become your loudest brand advocates in time. Collecting feedback may not be your favorite task, but once you see the power of feedback in action, you’ll be hungry for more.

Here’s how to integrate consumer opinions into your business model:

1. Think like Steve Jobs. Innovation begins with an idea and takes shape through iteration. The most market research Jobs ever did occurred when the right side of his brain communicated with the left.

When Jobs had an idea, he built it and launched it. He didn’t hem and haw for years before turning a concept into reality. Most of us lack his genius — and his budget — but we can follow his example by favoring speed over quality in early iterations.

2. Encourage feedback from the top down. If the C-suite doesn’t value customer feedback and service, neither will your employees. Train staff members to ask customers about their experiences with the company and how those interactions can be improved.

As the leader, model the behavior you want staff members to exhibit when dealing with clients and prospects. Loop this feedback into other key performance indicators you track for the company to prove that customer insights are valued on every level.

3. Collect feedback through social media and surveys. Create company accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other social media platforms that make sense for your brand. Track social conversations about your newly launched products, and monitor popular blogs so you can address people’s comments and show that you’re listening.

Save any glowing reviews or awards for use in promotional materials. The Chicago restaurant Lou Malnati’s exemplified this tactic after it was voted best pizza parlor in the city, using the designation to expand its marketing reach and bring in customers from a wider geographic area.

Even with a low response rate, surveys have the potential to provide brand-changing testimonials that might otherwise never be voiced. This proactive approach sends a message to consumers that you care and want to hear from them. Typically, customers who take the time to fill out a survey are either wildly delighted or wildly unhappy. But wouldn’t you rather hear the extreme insight directly rather than through a rant on social media?

4. Open the phone lines. Make sure your customer service team is keeping track of every single incoming call. Complaints, issues, problems, praise — everything should be monitored so businesses can see what the major issues are. Encourage customers to call customer service, market a friendly and open service environment, and actually do just that!

Offer every possible inbound channel possible so customers have a variety of ways to contact your business. Use a customer relationship management program such as Salesforce to track the information you collect. After you’ve gathered enough data to identify prominent trends, begin the next iteration as soon as possible.

5. Mine behavioral data for insights. Keep track of audience engagement on social media as well as how people behave when they’re on your app or site. Which products do they want to see? At what point do they abandon their shopping carts? Which blog posts and tweets are they sharing? We use our Net Promoter Score to constantly gauge how our customers feel about us at any point in our customer journey map on any given day.

Monitoring this information will tell you a good deal about how to improve the customer experience. If you can tweak the website or checkout process before people complain about it, you’ll increase conversions in no time. Consumer opinions are useful, but sometimes behavioral data tells a truer story.

6. Actually implement the feedback. Be prepared to respond quickly to customer insights. You may end up making several iterations over a short period of time, and that’s OK. The important thing is to evolve the product so it meets your audience’s needs. Use a platform such as Tableau to create data visualizations. This makes it easier to spot actionable trends and roll out an update within a few days or weeks.

My company learned the value of fast implementation after observing that our consumer lending conversion rate was inconsistent. A number of approved applicants never acted on their offers, and we couldn’t understand why. After customer surveys indicated that people weren’t receiving enough money to purchase what they needed, we increased our approval amounts. It was a risky move, but we saw a 5 percent increase in conversion rates within two months as a result.

6. Refine your processes. Customer preferences change rapidly, and you should be ready to meet them at each turn. Perhaps you’ve recently added extra staff to handle a high volume of customer calls. If you’re not monitoring your feedback, you might miss the fact that people are still unhappy because the customer service department isn’t open late enough — or often enough — to accommodate their schedules. Being able to make these adjustments hugely impacts audience satisfaction.

Your product concept is only part of the equation. Consumer feedback is what makes your business relevant and helps you become a better leader. You might be the visionary, but your audience keeps you grounded enough to succeed. Make consumer feedback an integral part of your operations and your company will be stronger for it.

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