For customer focused leadership, be innovative....and lean

Many companies struggle when it comes to actually enhancing the customer experience. Even after customer initiatives are planned, time may pass and leaders wonder why customer scores aren't improving. Good intentions and plans are often not sustained, getting overtaken by the running of the business. I believe that teams planning action or customer-focused change would benefit from knowing they are being innovators and by adopting principles of lean innovation.

After all, taking customer-focused action is innovation. Adjusting a solution or service to fit what customers want is an upgrade, whether we call it "version 2.0" or not. People working on such projects become energized when they are recognized for creatively producing something new and important for the business.

The emerging practice called Lean Innovation offers a fitting tool for customer action planning because these principles begin and end with customer insights. For example, the first rule is knowing the customer's large "monetizable pain point", which of course would be a key driver of customer loyalty/retention -- which is what action teams typically work on today. Armed with customer relationship insights, teams start out a step ahead in the game of Lean Innovation.

However, the next Lean Innovation rule reveals where some action planning teams get off track. Customers can't tell you exactly how to fix the problem, just where the pain is. After you plan a change, customers will say whether the new approach helps or not. But action teams should be quickly creating the new concept/change to test on some customers, rather than spinning wheels seeking more data up front, hoping that customers will play the designer role. As the authors of the new book,Nail it Then Scale it say, "Entrepreneurs innovate, customers validate."

Action teams can become more entrepreneurial and effective by following principles of Lean Innovation. In the five stages posed in Nail it Then Scale it below which I adapted slightly to fit customer action planning, note how customers are kept engaged through the design process in the early stages:

1. Nail the pain -- fix on a key driver of customer loyalty needing improvement (based on feedback); craft a revised solution/service/process concept.

2. Nail the solution -- obtain customer reactions to the new concept, then to a simple prototype, then to quick iterations of same. Ensure your design reaches the point where the customers see real value, will pay more, etc.

3. Nail the go-to-market strategy -- learning exactly how the customer will effectively use and/or buy the new approach; who's on the "committee" using it and deciding where the value is. Do real testing with real prices, if applicable.

4. Nail the business model -- use customer insights from above to work out predicted usage, revenue streams and costs; as needed probe customers on how they will use, what they will buy, etc. Keep initial applications limited until business side proves out.

5. Scale it --  once the business model is set and functional, the change can be rolled and grown.

Another term from design engineers that fits this approach to customer focused change is incremental innovation -- taking a worst-performing aspect of something key to customers and fixing it, then moving to other aspects. I hope more of those responding to customer priorities will see themselves as the innovators they truly are. 

Innovative action-taking for customers


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