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Starting a Culture of Customer-Focused Innovation

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Starting a Culture of Customer Focused Innovation

Innovation in customer experience is all too often either not talked about or not prioritized. When innovation is addressed, it is most commonly approached through the lens of technology.

Certainly, much innovation in the customer experience space has been generated through advancements in technology.

Yet, customer-focused innovation, the kind that centers around the experience of the customer, has to be about more than technology; it has to be about a deep-rooted organizational desire to always improve the customer’s journey.

Innovation in customer experience has to be more than just another time-saving device or a more accurate personalization engine; it has to be a cultural spirit of consistently reexamining the customer experience and figuring out ways to create more impactful, more emotionally resonant interactions.

Why Innovation Doesn’t Happen

The reality is that customer experience and particularly its major subset, customer service, is a day-to-day grind, one that leaves little time for introspection and innovative thought. Innovation generally requires one to step away from the problem, to look at the challenge through a fresh lens.

If you’re customer facing, then you know the deal: we’re not in the stepping away business.

Finding the time to break away from the day-do-day to focus on strategy is hard enough, to then be asked to invent new and novel ways to address the challenges our customers and organization face or to “solve” issues that customers don’t even know they have can seem like a downright herculean task.

How Any Organization Can Start a Culture of Innovation

Innovation in experience is happening all the time, from large organizations like Comcast to attempts to reinvent the tire industry like SimpleTire.

In large corporations, innovation is often approached through a formal process. Large corporations focused on innovation often put together cross-functional teams, bring in experts, and do a series of brainstorming, ideation, and workshopping exercises to innovate around experience.

I won’t pretend that innovation is easy; it isn’t. However, you can push past the complexity and start a culture of customer-focused innovation by simply changing your approach.

You simply need to be willing to ask the right questions, listen to the answers, and help your team create their own questions and answers without you.

Customer-focused innovation begins by listening to the ideas that your frontline team has for resolving customer issues and improving customer experiences. Your frontline team members can illuminate the challenges that require innovative ideas and provide many of the ideas themselves.

We as leaders just need to listen and create a safe environment for open dialogue.

To innovate customer experience, we as leaders should listen to our teams and create a safe environment for open dialogue. #innovation Click To Tweet

Frontline team members can also share the challenges they face for which they don’t have a solution, challenges they don’t have the empowerment or breadth of knowledge to solve.

The key is creating a culture and a system where those ideas can filter back up.

This is where middle management comes in.

Middle Management’s Role in Innovation

Middle management is often where innovation goes to die, but it should be the engine behind making innovation happen.

Middle management is often where #innovation goes to die, but it should be the engine behind making innovation happen. Click To Tweet

Middle managers are still in touch with the day-to-day. They still work with the more challenging customer service situations.

They have a feel (or should!) for not only what is happening on the front lines but also for the bigger picture budgetary and operational constraints that affect experience delivery.

Middle management is the key to driving a culture of innovative thinking and a culture where information flows freely up and down a corporate structure.

While anyone who wants to get serious about innovation should hire an innovation expert, simply beginning substantive dialogues in an open exchange of ideas can get your team’s creative juices flowing and get them focused on non-obvious solutions to problems and creative ideas for improvement.

It can start to shift a culture from one of status quo acceptance to innovative problem solving.

Innovation Is Human

As we enter the brave new world of artificial intelligence and customer personalization, it behooves us to remember that all innovation begins with a human idea.

Even the best technological innovations are effective because they are a useful approach to solving an experience issue identified by a human being on behalf of a human being.

Most industries have been asked to do more with less for a long time now, and we seem primed to enter an economic cycle where this dynamic will increase in intensity.

Innovation is the answer to this challenge, for only innovative solutions will help us improve the customer and employee experience with a decreasing amount of resources to do so.

Want to innovate your customer experience? Start a culture of customer-focused innovation today.

About the Author Adam Toporek

By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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