A guide to innovating with your customers

It is hard to dispute that innovation is a vital ingredient for any organisation wanting to stay ahead of their competitors and give customers what they really want. However, innovation done in the wrong way can have the opposite effect. With this in mind, it’s hugely important that a strategic approach is taken, one that aligns with your company goals, has the right measurements in place and is done in a collaborative manner.

To help you we’ve put together a mini-guide that is designed to create successful innovation projects.

Customer Feedback

1) Utilise existing customer feedback

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solutions.

Albert Einstein

A problem we see a lot is organisations focusing on what’s exciting and not what customers want, this in our opinion is a sure fire way of creating things that no one wants. A better way is to obsess about customer problems, issues that would make their lives easier, better or give them more satisfaction.

So where do you find these problems? The good news is you probably have lots of them already, you just need to know where to look… they are hidden in your customer surveys, in comments on Trustpilot, in call recordings and in support requests.

Once you’ve found some, the key is to rank them in order of priority, here are some ways you can do that…

  • What problems are causing customers to leave/not to buy (start here!)
  • How many customers are frustrated/have requested a change?
  • If you solve the problem will it move the business forward (does it align to your strategic projects?)
  • Group problems into category groups and treat them as projects
  • Ask your frontline employees to contribute and tell you what they think is damaging your reputation

This should allow you to identify which problem you need to concentrate on with the aim of fixing it and enhancing the customer experience.

2) Crowdsource Ideas

Crowdsourcing is a great way to approach innovation because at any given point there’s always somebody on the internet who knows something better than you do.

Guy Kawasaki
Crowdsource Ideas

So you now know what the problem is – what next? Well, you will need to generate ideas that will help solve the issue. Instead of doing this in isolation we recommend working with your customers, employees and partners, using them to crowdsource innovative ideas and solutions.

Here are a few ways you can do this…

  • Create an employee portal where they can submit their ideas
  • Run competitions with your customer advocates
  • Invite your partners to innovation workshops where you can discuss the problems and come up with ways of fixing them together
  • Use social media to generate ideas
  • Organise customer panels where customers talk through their problems

Crowd-sourced innovation produces sixty five percent more actionable ideas than traditional methods. It also improves the time it takes to get a new product to market, improves quality and reduces false starts.

How Starbucks
crowdsource ideas

Since 2008, MyStarbuckIdea.com has been an advocate-driven idea tank where Starbucks drinkers submit ideas for new products and coffee concoctions. It has worked as a hub for all Starbucks customers to share all their ideas, suggestion and even their frustration.

We used to launch a new product and it cost millions of dollars. Now, when we launch a new product, we already have millions of fans.

Chris Bruzzo, Vice President Brand, Content and Online at Starbucks

This approach will give you a rich body of ideas that come from lots of different sources. The good thing about this is each group will tackle the problem in a unique way, giving you lots of creative options to explore.

Stakeholder Engagement

3) Include key stakeholders

A true architect is not an artist but an optimistic realist. They take a diverse number of stakeholders, extract needs, concerns, and dreams, then create a beautiful yet tangible solution that is loved by the users and the community at large.

Cameron SinclairHead of Social Innovation at Airbnb

Getting key stakeholders onboard is key to ensuring the project gets the green light and will help ensure it gets the right funds and resources that will allow it to succeed.

Before you invite them to discuss the project, ensure you’re prepared, gather your evidence and create an initial plan that clearly demonstrates how it helps the company achieve one or more of its strategic goals.

Once you have this information you’re ready to present to your stakeholders but this must be done in the right way, don’t present to them a fait accompli, instead ask them to help shape the ideas you already have and come up with their own.

By using this strategy your stakeholders will be more engaged and will help ensure the project is a success.

A study by School of International Trade that interviewed 656 corporate organisations showed that knowledge sourced from engagement with internal and external stakeholders contributes to a firm’s sustainable innovation orientation, however, it is important to note that this knowledge has to be managed correctly in order to be converted into new ideas for innovation.

4) Prioritise your ideas

Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features.

Steve Jobs
Prioritising Innovation Ideas

You’ve already prioritised your problems but now you must prioritise your ideas and decide on which ones will solve the problem in the best way – ideally in a unique way that allows you to differentiate you from your competitors.

A good first step is to use a prioritisation matrix that plots your ideas based on ease of implementation and value to your business/customers.

Priority Matrix

Innovation Priority Matrix

Another best-practice technique is to ask your existing customers to vote on their favourite ideas. This gives you validation before you go to them with the finished solution. It also gives you an idea of how receptive they will be.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Director of Project Management at GSK believes that organisations that have a highly developed good sense of priorities can experience significant reductions in costs (approx 15%) as less-vital activities are cut and duplicated efforts are consolidated.

Once you’ve done this you are now in a good position to start planning…

Planning Innovation Projects

5) Focus on planning

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

Alan LakeinAuthor of the best-selling book, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life

Taking time to plan your innovation is imperative and will help ensure your project is a success. Luckily we have a few tips to help you on your way…

Create a steering group

Find people who want to help plan and execute the project. Don’t necessarily choose people with the best skills but instead opt for people with the most passion for the project – often these people can be found at the frontline of your organisation.

Ensure your plan is flexible

Make sure that time is put aside to add new things that may only become apparent once the project begins. It is also important to build in a buffer as business goals and customer priorities can change in a heartbeat.

Break up your

Sort your project into small measurable tasks, assign responsibility and then empower your team to execute them. You should also plan ina way that allows you, (if possible), to release elements of the project ‘live’ instead of waiting for everything to be ready.

Set key milestones and check-in sessions

While having an end date may be obvious what many organisations fail to do is set milestones along the way and check on the progress of the project. Milestones are a great way of ensuring your innovation will deliver value once it’s launched.

Don’t be another statistic…


of innovation projects fail


get cancelled before going live


are successful when launched

The primary reason? Poor organisation and project management (36%) Source: Standish Group International, Survey of 2,500 executives.

So our advice is to plan, plan and plan so more!

6) Measure the right things

An organisation's ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Jack Welchformer CEO of General Electric
Measuring Innovation

Even with the best planning, research, validation and ideas, there’s still no guarantee that your innovation will land in the right way. Therefore it is hugely important that you set the right success metrics and then use these to measure each part of your project.

We believe that you should use an iterative approach with you innovation project, releasing small elements and then measuring these to understand what works and what doesn’t, that way you can use these insights to make further improvements.

So what should you measure? Choosing what to measure is important as it will give you the ability to quickly see if what you’re doing is working, here are a few suggestions and questions to ask…

  • Customer Experience – How do customers feel about the new developments? What does their feedback tell you? Does it enhance their experience or are they left frustrated? What else would they like to see?
  • Revenue – Are customers actually buying your new products? How many products do you need to sell to make the project a success?
  • Retention – Are customers staying with you longer as a result of these improvements?
  • Usage – How often are customers using your new features? Are they using them in the intended way?
  • Competitive Advantage – Have your new products enabled you to position your services in a unique way? Has this helped with business development?
  • Brand Awareness (PR) – Have your innovations enabled you to feature in the press? Have the press responded to your innovations in a positive way?
  • Employee Engagement – Are employees more engaged with working in an innovative environment? Are you seeing your employees stay with you for longer?

You can also learn a lot from your failures so don’t get too disheartened if they don’t succeed. Just take your time to understand why and learn from this the next time you embark on a project.

Final Thought

Innovating is very complex and requires a lot of discipline, creativity and resilience. There’s no sure-fire way of succeeding but you can give yourself the best chance by taking your time and using a structured approach.

Customer-Lead Innovation Flow Chart

Our number one piece of advice is to utilise your customers as much as possible, involve them in every step of your journey and value their opinions, thoughts and ideas. This will help you not only create innovative solutions that resonate it will also create advocates that will feel a deeper affinity towards your brand.

How We Can Help

Our solutions are designed to help you work with your customers when creating new and innovative products and services. We help you crowdsource ideas, capture opinions, test assumptions and understand what customers value most. Our team of experts will also be at hand to offer their knowledge, ensuring you engage with your customers in the most effective way.

Yiannis Maos

Author Yiannis Maos

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