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Understanding the needs of the customer is the most critical component of innovation. The root cause for most of the failed product launches point towards inadequate understanding of customer needs.

The biggest challenge lies in accurate assessment of customers’ drive and thoughts relevant to their needs.

Just like Albert Einstein said, “If there is an hour to solve a problem, spend 55 minutes gathering information about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”  

If companies spend good amount of time on collecting and analyzing customer needs, the rest of the process of implementing innovation will automatically follow.

But how to gather customer needs? How do we know what features customers value in innovative products?#innochat topic

The implication is not that we don’t know, but that it’s useful to understand how we find out!”, says John W Lewis, @JohnWLewis, Innovation strategist: enabling people and organizations to innovate effectively. Host of #innochat

Here are 8 ways in which companies can find out what customers value the most in products, so that it can be used for product innovation.

1. Customer Reviews

Customer reviews are nothing short of great ideas that can be used to innovate your products and services. Customer reviews offer deep insights and have the ability to take you to the root of the problem, as it often comes from a user of a faulty product.

If a customer has written a review, it can also mean that he or she will be willing to discuss further the idea or the trend that they have in their vision.

“Tomorrowcasting” is a term that is used by Wipro Limited CMO, Naveen Rajdev, who believes that companies can prepare for innovative products by paying attention to customer reviews.

2. Customer Care Tickets

If you have ever wondered how to bring innovation into your products. Something that will work wonders is the customer care tickets.

 One way I have found, is to analyze customer reviews and customer care tickets,” says @SubkrishnaRao, CTO of Clootrack.

 A customer care ticket can go beyond just a customer complaining about your product. A customer could say, “Hey there, it would be cool if you can add this feature to your product.”

For example, Procter & Gamble got a customer complaint that the bounce dryer bar broke from its plastic base. P&G took this review seriously and actioned quickly on this review. They improvised their product by increasing the length of the tape on the back of the dryer bar holder so that it will not break.

Customer care tickets are critical to get to the root of the problem and to solve it. Brands should look deeper into customer care tickets, and consider it as an essential gateway for innovation. 

3. Kano Model

With rapid changes and a highly competitive market, there has been an increasing emphasis on the timely design and development of products/services with innovative features.

For effective new product development, the Kano model can be used to overcome some of the problems of product design to enable maximum impact on customer satisfaction.

A Japanese Professor, Noriaki Kano, developed the Kano model. This model emphasizes on product requirements based on how customers perceive them and to what extent customers are satisfied by the product features.

The Kano model is a good option when you need to prioritize features. Customers experience a different level of satisfaction with varying characteristics of the product. Here, in the Kano Model, at the top of the chart, are listed all the innovative and exciting ideas, and then moves down to expected features at the bottom of the chart. The Kano model categorizes them into must-have features, performance features, and exciting features.

For example, when a customer walks into an auto repair center, the must-have features are competent technicians and tools. But beyond that, if the service center can offer fast customer service and correctly fix the vehicles, then the performance feature is met. But beyond these two features, is the delight feature, which is the most important for customer satisfaction. When the customer comes to pick the repaired vehicle, offering them additional benefits such as one free service, free lube oil, or deliver the vehicle to their home, can bring great smiles and customer delight.

4. Natural Language Processing (NLP) 

NLP can be used by companies to drive product innovation to a whole new level. NLP is the latest buzzword that is used in innovating a product or a service.

NLP is the ability of a computer program to understand human speech. It is a computer activity where the computers analyze, interpret, and generates natural language. For example, Siri is an example where you ask Siri to call a person, and immediately it calls the person.

Use of Natural Language Processing and AI Driving Big Data Innovation to New Levels,” says Sean Keenan, Co-founder and Vice President of Product for Unifi Software.

There has been a rise in the use of NLP to find trusted and quality data that can be used for product innovation.

Data is the new gold. A large amount of customer data can be converted into information by using NLP. With the data extracted from NLP, there is an opportunity to transform and visualize the customer experience, thereby empowering companies to innovate their products and services faster using data-driven insights.

Amazon and Netflix are excellent examples of companies that have used NLP to leverage vast amounts of data generated by millions of users. With NLP they have been able to enhance customer experience by bringing innovation in their product offerings.

5. Measure Emotional Reaction

There are numerous methods to measure customer satisfaction. But what about customer emotions? What do your customers feel about your new products?

Customer journey is all about what customers feel while using your products. And a large amount of customer experience is directly linked to customer emotions. Customer goes through a lot of negative and positive emotions while using a product.

How can companies use these emotions to innovate their products?

A seemingly good way of finding what might work is to measure emotional reaction to feature ‘trial balloons,” says @SubkrishnaRao, CTO of Clootrack,

A trial balloon is a proposal or an idea that is floated or leaked to find the pulse of the public. Companies deliberately leak information about their upcoming product to judge and collect the reaction from customers.

Companies can use trial balloons to experiment with customer reactions to their products and adjust their offerings to innovate better versions of their products. It can be used to improve their products based on customer feedback incrementally.

6. Study Competitor’s Shortcomings

While it is imperative to innovate using customer data, it is also equally important to study competitor data to know their weaknesses and shortcomings. Knowing the shortcomings of your competitors will provide leads towards an area of improvement that you hadn’t thought of.

The gaps created by your competitors are your opportunities to fulfill and improve customer experience.
When you define your critical industrial competitive pressures, it acts as a framework for developing innovation strategies for the growth of your products.

Competitive research turns out to be a huge time-saver when new products are being launched. Companies should answer questions like,

• What are the struggles of the users of competitor products?
• What aspects are lacking in competitor products?
• What are the improvements suggested by users of competitor products?
• What is the biggest drawback of competitor products?

When you find answers to the above questions, you have found a way to improvise your products, thereby offering better products to your customers.

Some of the online review forums such as Quora, Product Hunt, and LinkedIn offer unbiased customer opinions about the product and its features.

 7. Qualitative Research

“I tend to use qualitative research. Customer reports can give some insight, and tremendous opportunities are usually lying unarticulated. Qualitative research, especially when we offer stimuli with new ideas, is a great way to explore into what is unsaid”, says Doug Garnett, @AtomicAdMan, Marketing, ads, & consulting for innovative new products.

Qualitative research focuses on gathering data using open-ended questions and engaging in conversations. This method is key in finding out not just ‘what’ people are thinking about your product, but it goes beyond to find “why” your customers think so.
Qualitative research methods aim to get deeper to reveal the behavior and perception of a target audience. Qualitative research is conducted using focus groups, an in-depth interview, case study, and content analysis.

Qualitative research produces results that offer a more detailed description of the subject under research, and the inferences can be drawn quite easily from the data that is obtained.

Qualitative research methods employ a collection of data at the source of the problem, thereby collecting the data from the users who are experiencing the issues. This paves the way for innovation and improvement of the products based on real-time data.

8. Open-ended Feature Requests

Everyone has an opinion about a product. There are product managers who are listening to feature requests coming from various directions. In addition to requests coming from internal stakeholders, it is also important to devote attention to the requests coming from customers. 

“Feedback from customers who use products regularly have helped many of my clients. They have also identified features that are not needed”, says @SubkrishnaRao, CTO of Clootrack. 

When a customer is asking for a particular feature, there is a reasonably good chance of that being a legitimate ask. Customers use your products, and they know that adding a few highlights or changing something will make it more useful to them. Feedback from customers is often valid, but at times they can ask for something they don’t want or use. 

Just like how John W Lewis, @JohnWLewis, Innovation strategist enabling people and organizations to innovate effectively, says, “I’ve seen some of all of this in the IT world, where customers generally cannot tell you enough about their context and requirements!”

 Hence it is crucial to maintain the right balance of feature requests coming from internal stakeholders and customers.

 Conclusion

 When you understand the problems of a customer, there are higher chances of successful innovation.

 Just as @SubkrishnaRao, summarizes on #innochat on Twitter, “Ultimately product-market fit or more importantly feature customer fit is a constant journey. Objectivity is key when you listen or analyze. Often we tend to not leap out of fear”.

 Companies should spend enough time to understand the changing needs of their customers. It is essential to spend time gathering customer data rather than too much time on product development. Gathering customer data has evolved, and today, we have numerous technology-driven methods of collecting customer information, which is critical for innovation.