23 Jan 15|Innovation

I have noticed a huge shift in the customer service being rolled out at Coles. 

I have noticed a huge shift in the customer service being rolled out at Coles. Not that I want this to be an advertisement for a large supermarket chain (I try to support the independents whenever I can) – but they have very much lifted their customer service game.

Which reminded me, in a very round about sort of way, about a chapter I had read in the book (hardcopy not e-book) Managing Creativity and Innovation, Practical Strategies to Encourage Creativity published by Harvard Business Press.

We spend a lot of time surveying customers, asking for feedback about satisfaction levels, what they would like to see improved, customer service, product suggestions etc.etc.etc. I have been asked to complete so many on-line surveys that the whole idea has become quite passe to me (but I still fill them in – you just never know). I often wonder what they will actually do with the results and whether my time has been appreciated. And I have read so many stats that have been interpreted so many different ways that I wonder at their interpretation and validity anyway. The truth is always in the pudding as they say – what are the resulting changes?

And I wonder if we spend time truly listening to what people say. Indulge me for yet another moment while I go on about the difference between hearing and listening. You see hearing is a physical process involving sound waves, auditory canals, villi in the ear canals, brain pathways – I am sure you get the picture. Listening on the other hand is  paying attention to, heeding.

And another thing, do we really want to ask our potential clients/customers what products or services they want? A common retort here is that had the inventor of the automobile asked people of that time what they wanted at the time in terms of transport, the reply would have been a faster horse!

The above mentioned chapter suggests instead that we should be asking our customers/clients about theoutcomes they desire. What is it that we can offer that would make life better for them?

Tony Ulwick is the founder of Strategyn, a company formed around the principle of Outcome Driven Innovation. He talks in terms of outcomes. He uses as his example the case of music storage. Had you asked music lovers how they wanted to store their music, just a few short years ago, their replies would have included larger CD racks, alphabetical systems, cases that don’t crack or break and so on. These are all solutions

An outcomes approach on the other hand would include suggestions such as access to a lot of songs, a system that resisted damage to the source of the music, something that took up minimal storage space and other similar ideas. Ulwick suggests that this is the difference between outcome and solution based thinking.

Of course, the task doesn’t end with the collection of the desired outcomes…the next step could involve prioritising the outcomes according to their importance to customers, and then realising those outcomes into the business or organisation.

BUT – and there is always a but – we also have to beware of remaining too close/loyal to the thinking and ideas of current clients/customers. The risk indicated is the potential to limit innovative options. It’s a balancing act really. Thanks goodness the research is out about Trusting Your Gut Instincts…

Listening on the other hand is  paying attention to, heeding.

Listening on the other hand is  paying attention to, heeding.

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