Find the gap — why listening to the customer is not enough

I know you like your data. It’s trustworthy, crisp and clear, and easy to explain. It’s a number on a spreadsheet or a curve projected on the meeting room wall. You love to collect data and act upon it. If you’ll give me a couple of minutes, I’ll explain why you need something more. I want to introduce you to experience-driven innovation and how it can help you develop new services and products that can win the hearts of your customers.

For too long, new services and concepts have been designed through an approach I call the research-driven innovation model. This model relies heavily on the first step of the process: insight. Creating insight into the market situation means collecting data. What do consumers really desire? Companies can spend months and months (and a lot of cash) trying to figure out the magical nugget of insight that’s going to have a major transformative effect on their business.

Research-driven innovation is the default model in product development and relies on data for customer insight.

There is a fundamental defect in this approach. You need to stop outsourcing insight and vision to your customers.

Customer and market data only offer a limited platform for designing new services and products. I want you to embrace the experience-driven innovation model and use the vision and expertise you have developed in all your years of doing business. Look beyond the data and get back to trusting your instincts. The right data-driven insight is important, but your gut feeling is key to opening up new creative opportunities and innovations.

Don’t get stuck on insight. When you balance data-driven insight with your own personal intuition and that of your talented colleagues, you gain more time for creative brainstorming and building workable concepts. This approach releases both time and money to be used in a smarter manner. Above all, this frees up more resources for iteration and development — testing ideas and making them better together.

In Finnish we say, “vähemmän vatulointia, enemmän iterointia” (this translates loosely as, “less decoration, more iteration”). One thing we know about data and processing data is that it does not give you ready-made concepts no matter how long you wait.

The experience-driven innovation model places emphasis on the role of customers in the creative process.

Your customers are valuable co-creation partners in innovation. Use them.

When you give your customers concrete concepts to work with and give feedback on, you simultaneously open their minds. We all know the famous adage by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. It’s unclear whether Ford ever really uttered these words but it doesn’t matter. The quote reminds us that the purpose of validation is to test ideas, but also to give the target audience inspiration and the permission to let their creativity run free.

When we introduce them to something completely new, they are able to leave out the most obvious alternatives and think outside the box. That’s when something extraordinary starts to happen and we are able to generate fresh ideas together. If we offer only a blank canvas, the thinking stays narrow and bland.

The most important task in the validation and iteration process is to discover the gap between desired and actual customer behaviour.

As consumers, we often say one thing and do the other. It’s only human. The realities of everyday life override our noble pursuit of changing our old consumption habits. This means that cold consumer insight data can fool you.

Grocery shopping is a spot-on example of this. We are becoming more and more informed and strive to buy local, organic and fresh produce made from the finest ingredients. However, when we are juggling life between work and family, kids’ soccer practices and violin lessons, and keeping the house tidy (let alone our own social life), taking some extra time to visit a farmers’ market or a market hall feels like an unthinkable luxury. A quick trip to the supermarket suits our hectic schedules much better.

This behavioural gap sets special challenges for service designers. Trend forecast reports and consumer insight studies might indicate that there is high demand for the new service we are about to launch.

But only through thorough validation processes we can be absolutely sure that the service also fits the real-world daily routines of our target group.

Mind the data and find the gap. The experience-driven innovation model reminds us that our own expertise and intuition are an essential companion to customer insight data and that our customers are an essential resource in innovation. When we stop looking at our customers and start sharing and co-creating with them, we can design winning concepts that work in real life, not just the ideal world.

Let’s continue the discussion: contact us or share your thought via Twitter @Jari06KRS.

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