No-Cost Innovation: Capitalize on Customer Ideas
Businesses are extending their reach across multiple channels of commerce -- from stores, call centers and kiosks to the Web 2.0 reality of social networking sites and blogs -- to maximize sales opportunities. As customers get more demanding in this competitive environment, it pays to listen to them.
The consumers of your products and services have ideas, suggestions and criticisms about your offerings. Businesses must hear what customers are saying across channels and learn from them. Only then can they address pain points, act on recommendations, and collaborate and cocreate with customers so as to satisfy their needs and sustain a market advantage.
The name of the game is engagement as customers constantly interact with their service providers through multiple channels. These interactions provide the company with definite clues on:
- how services can be improved;
- what new features can be introduced;
- what customers expect; and
- how to increase sales -- through which offers, and so on.
However, these ideas often are not captured in the right channel, and with organizations taking a bottom-up approach, they are rarely acted upon and implemented. Thus, a customer service representative or a salesperson may receive a golden idea from a customer but may fail to articulate it or not know who to approach to get it implemented. The idea remains a suggestion and fails to become a conversation the business can engage in to its benefit.
While it is not necessary that all ideas are accompanied with a potential financial payoff, the company can increase customer satisfaction by choosing from the varied customer-generated ideas. Businesses must focus on customer-driven innovation at all levels, right from the agent sales executive to the sales head, by putting in place innovation platforms to capture and reward good ideas. Many customer-oriented organizations have effectively implemented this with great success. More importantly, such a move helps improve customer-employee engagement.
The top echelons of management expect innovative ideas from their employees. However, customer-facing staff either feels intimidated about discussing a customer idea or think it is too impractical to implement.
Let us consider this example: An insurance company customer suggested to the customer service representative that the organization make changes to its online payment option. Customers needed to enter a pass code sent to their registered email address to make payments -- an inconvenient requirement for the many customers who wanted to make payments from their workplace.
As most of them had provided personal mail addresses as their registered mail IDs, they were unable to log in to their personal mail from their offices. This resulted in delays in payments and customer dissatisfaction. Although many customers experienced this inconvenience, only a few voiced it -- and even fewer chose the right channel to express it. Even when the right channel -- either a contact center or complaint desk -- was chosen, most of them were considered complaints without resolution and closed.
Thinking Out of the Box
Customers have a better chance of thinking out of the box about the services they receive than employees who are involved with the company on a day-to-day basis. Just thinking about the obstacles involved, the approvals and budgets needed may keep employees from implementing new ideas. Customers, however, have no such restraints and can speak their minds.
It was a customer in the insurance company mentioned earlier who resolved the online payment issue by taking a screenshot of the company's website and suggesting the kind of changes that needed to be made and where.
His simple solution was to include a box for an alternate mail address where the customer could mention his official ID. The customer provided this suggestion through an email to a client service desk where the customer service representative took it as the right suggestion and routed it to the right channel.
When the idea was finally implemented, the insurance company found 10 percent more customers making their payment online within the due date.
Where It Went Right
Let us see the points through which the idea had to pass to be implemented:
- The client desk executive's attitude in looking at the customer feedback positively and acting upon it.
- The client desk executive was aware of the right channel to route it, while many of his colleagues were not.
- The represented channel responded to the idea.
- The represented channel implemented the idea.
- The output and the gain were measured.
This was an informal channel and a one-off idea that was implemented. However, most times many such ideas go unnoticed.
To capture and implement out-of-the-box customer ideas, it is important that a business have a clear channel, an idea platform and an implementation team. The ideas can be well implemented with the following channel and process:
- An idea platform for employees to submit customer ideas. The platform needs to clearly capture the idea and the customer's contact information.
- The comment from the submitting employee about the idea and his thought process.
- An evaluation team to evaluate the idea vs. the expected benefits.
- The evaluation team must also evaluate the investment required and return on investment.
- Some ideas may involve low returns but guarantee high customer satisfaction. This needs to be clearly defined during the evaluation.
- Top management's approval and involvement at regular intervals in the final selection of ideas.
- The implementation team needs to implement and gauge the idea's effect.
- A reward program to reward the customer and employee who suggested the winning idea.
Once implemented and practiced successfully, this can be a win-win situation for any organization. Do you agree with me? Please use the Talkback feature below to send in your comments.
Sripathy Srinivasan is a senior consultant in the enterprise solutions division of Infosys Technologies. He blogs at the Infosys Blog on Customer Relationship Management.