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Do You Want Real Customer Experience Innovation?

Published October 15, 2014

Customer Experience Innovation? (You Keep Using That Word…)

While the word “Innovation” is thrown around an awful lot in the business world, I do wonder how often it’s used in the context of transformative or disruptive innovation, as innovation is more typically understood by the likes of entrepreneurs and consumers.

Disruptive innovation is based on actually introducing something new. Not just new for your company, or new for you… but truly “new.” In the business of customer experience, innovation is happening faster and more often. But it’s happening most often as articulated by author Clayton Christensen, at the edges of industry and out of sight of many business leaders.

Customer experience innovation should radically improve how you serve your customers.

I was recently reviewing the published applications for winners of an industry association’s Customer Experience innovation awards and couldn’t help thinking of Mandy Patinkin’s portrayal of swordsman Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

One customer experience innovation award winner’s “innovation” was to use simple words that people understand, rather than hard-to-read industry jargon. Another was to quickly share voice-of-customer feedback with employees, rather than semi-annually as before. A runner-up started using CES (Customer Effort Score) as a metric, and teaching contact center reps how to better handle customer conversations.

I don’t intend to minimize the importance and utility of programs and systems like these, each of which (as with all applicants) will certainly lead to marginal, incrementally better customer experiences in those parts of those businesses. Incremental improvements are good. These folks are finding broken experiences, fixing them, and – hopefully – measuring the results.

If you want to disrupt your industry, you better look at it from the outside.

But if you want truly to differentiate on customer experience in your industry, as 76 percent of executives say, then doing a better job with your copywriting simply won’t cut it. It requires a fundamental shift in the way you look at the world: from the outside in, rather than inside-out. It also means fixing problems your customers may not even know they have.

It certainly means doing things your competition hasn’t thought of. Things like reinventing the ways customer service is delivered in your industry – like Amazon Kindle giving on-demand support with the push of a button. Or eliminating customer pain points, perhaps by changing the ways they pay – like PayPal experimenting with wearable tech to recognize customers so they can simply “tap” their phones to pay. Or radically changing the ways shoppers discover new products — like Timberland tracking in-store shoppers in exchange for opt-in for deals.

As cool as some of these examples are, the truth is, innovation comes in many flavors. But disruptive innovation comes from many places, none of which will be found by looking at your company through the inside-out lens of incremental process improvements. When it comes to disruptive customer experience innovation – the game-changers that leave your competition in the dust – the opportunities are there for those who look. But look from the outside, through the eyes of your customers. And when you talk about innovation? Please – be clear what you mean when you say that word.


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