Much is written about customer-centriciy and the instinsic value companies can obtain by putting their customers at the heart of everything they do.  A Google search of this topic highlights articles such as:

It is no secret that big business in recent years has transitioned, on the most part, from the serving of shareholders to the serving of stakeholders. Companies such as Google, PwC, Apple, and certainly us here at Salesforce, have all adopted a customer-centric strategy and seemingly have been reaping the benefits. 

But just how effective can this customer-centric strategy be, when you turn the focus towards driving your organisation's wider innovation goals?

In this blog, I will take a look at how customer involvement can significantly help your innovation agenda through experimentation. 

But first…


What is Experimentation?

Experimentation has many meanings. We define experimentation as:

  • The ability to try something new at minimal impact to the business 
  • A smaller part of a wider innovation agenda
  • Having no guarantees of success but with endless learning opportunities
  • A way to determine if an idea will work in practice


Why should I Experiment?

Think of all the ideas which you and your teams are able to generate. Now think about what ideas your customers could create. An ideation process is generally the start of an experiment but what do you do from idea generation onwards?

Traditionally, the ideas would undergo a general cycle as follows:

  1. Business Case Development
  2. Business Case Review
  3. Business Case/Funding Approval
  4. Project Planning
  5. Project Execution
  6. Project Testing
  7. Project Sign-Off

Whilst the business case applies rigour to ideas, the initial period of creation, review and approval has a high possibility of being wasted time. If the idea is deemed infeasible due to a whole range of factors: budget, resource, time, strategic priorities etc.

Now multiply this by potentially hundreds of ideas which may be flowing, unknowingly, around your business. We have a loss of productivity and potentially game-changing ideas which may be caught up in process and bureaucracy.

All this is without considering the fact that a significant proportion of major projects fail.

Experimentation, as a way to test ideas, is able to massively accelerate your innovation agenda at a vastly reduced impact to your business. Experiments are generally operated as prototypes, often with minimal or no code (from a tech sense).

Start-ups have operated this way for years. Developing a Minimal Viable Product as to vastly limit the cost to the business. So why can corporates not do the same? There is no reason as to why this cannot happen. And making your customer the central point is critical going forward.


Why is my customer important in this?

Involving your customer in your experiments is unheard of by many. Some may deem it illogical to allow a customer into the inner workings of the business.

But why? And at what cost?

The customers, as the purchasers and end-users of your product, are the prime group of people whose opinion really does matter. Without them, your business is nothing. So why should they not be extensively involved in your innovation practices?

I get it. It is difficult. A number of perceptions may exist:

  • A perception that the internal teams have a clear sight of what your customer wants so direct involvement is not needed
  • A perception that if your customer truly understood the inner workings of your organisation they may run a mile
  • A perception that the customer is too busy to become involved
  • and so on…

But think a little differently here. What better opportunity would your customer have at helping their own business than working with you to develop the products they buy? What better opportunity would there be for your organisation to improve than hearing directly from your customer?

By letting a customer come in to your innovation practices opens a whole new world of opportunity. Opportunities for:

  • New ideas
  • New ways of working
  • Better relationships
  • Partnerships
  • And ultimately increased sales!

The best part is that involving your customer is in most cases relatively straightforward. Simply ask the question. Whilst busy agendas may well occur, you will likely always find some willing participants.


How can I involve my customer?

Naturally, the level of customer involvement depends on the experiment at hand. Involvement could include:

  • Idea generation around new product development
  • Idea generation around product enhancements
  • Running of an experiment
  • Piloting of an innovation
  • Co-development of an idea

Not every customer may want to become involved. Barriers will exist as defined above. To overcome potential barriers to involvement you could look to incentivise with discounts on the product, or offer early-bird releases to participants. By promoting the opportunity as a special service for select customers, the project could be the basis of a great new customer community. 


Closing Remarks

Experimentation, when conducted in the right manner, is able to vastly improve the innovation agenda whilst reducing the impact to the business. The key though, is to involve your customers as often as possible to maximise the applicability of the experiments. We invite you to learn more and register for our webinar on experimentation: Experiment with Experimentation - Focus on Barclays case study