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Customer Experience Programs Benefit from an Experimental Mindset

Have you ever stopped to ask: why get customer feedback?
There are a range of answers. A big part of it is knowing how you’re performing. There’s also getting that information to everyone inside your organization so that they can use it to inform their decision-making. But perhaps the biggest upside is this: when employees better understand the customer’s perspective, and are empowered to fix problems with what they’ve learned, they’re able to come up with ideas that differentiate.  They create value for shareholders and for customers.
From here, the question becomes: how do you ensure that the best ideas actually see the light of day?
For many large companies, the answer is complicated. They know how important it is to translate insights into innovation: PwC’s Global CEO Survey identified innovation as the most sought-after growth opportunity for CEOs worldwide. Yet many struggle to accomplish it. Research — along with press around the success of disruptive companies like Uber and Airbnb — tells us that young, fast companies are currently dominating innovation. A 2012 study by IESE Business School and Capgemini Consulting found that the majority of companies with high innovation success rates have less than €500m in annual revenue, concluding that “large companies create so much distance between the executives and those that are tasked to innovate that a disconnect exists between them.”
But what if there was a way to defy this trend?
When large companies have already done the work of seeing themselves as their customers do, wiring customer voices into decision-making, and driving accountability, they’re set up to use their size to actually speed the pace of innovation in the customer experience and beyond. They can test ideas, shrink communication gaps between stakeholders, and increase the rate of learning and innovation across their organization. The result: increased company agility and greater value for customers.
We call this approach innovation at scale.
What it means: using a large customer base and a large, complex organization to enhance ideation and testing of customer experience improvements of all sizes and kinds. Research shows that broad organizational involvement drives successful innovation. Yet only 24 percent of companies have effective organizational alignment around innovation activities. Companies can close this achievement gap by wiring experimentation processes into existing customer experience operations, in order to test micro innovations quickly and concurrently and pivot to the most promising ones.
Here are three key elements of such an approach:

  1. Draw ideas from different areas of the organization. Great ideas can come from anywhere. This is famously true for groundbreaking innovations like the digital camera and the sticky note, which grew from proactive tinkering by engineers at Kodak and 3M, respectively. It is also true for small, creative service improvements, which often arise from an employee’s experience dealing with a recurring customer issue.
  1. Run concurrent, ongoing tests using small segments of the customer base. Not every creative idea ends up having the desired impact. For this reason, companies that innovate effectively at scale simultaneously test improvements of all sizes and kinds with real customers to see which ideas work best. The more experiments a company runs, the faster it can home in on innovations worth pursuing. Additionally, testing an idea with customers shows its impact more accurately than using focus groups, market research, or informed guesswork.
  1. Make results accessible across the organization, on an ongoing basis. Companies that innovate effectively at scale share the results of individual innovation tests broadly, creating opportunities for other teams to emulate successful ideas and add their own perspective.

This can also spark ideas or improvements that might not otherwise have emerged.
When companies have a structured, controllable system for sharing customer feedback broadly, using it to inspire improvements, and measuring the results, their entire organization becomes better at driving learning and growth. They’re also better able to fulfill the implicit promise at the core of customer loyalty: when customers take the time to share their opinions, the company will listen, respond, and use what it’s learned to provide additional value.

Photo Credit: Savannah River Site

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