Let’s be honest, receiving feedback can be hard. Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in the project that we simply aren’t prepared to hear about its flaws or areas that could be better. As a writer, I know all about feedback. Having pieces spat back at you covered in lines and track changes can be a little soul-destroying at times. Yet, constructive feedback (especially from customers) is our most useful asset. It’s like receiving free advice on how to become a better artist, inventor, or business owner.

According to research by Gallup, fully engaged customers represent a 23 percent premium in share of wallet, profitability and relationship growth, over average customers. And when it comes to retail banking, satisfied customers bring a massive 37 percent more annual revenue than those who are merely using your service. It’s pretty clear that engaging customers should be high on any company’s list. But that doesn’t just start with customer service. Companies can actually channel feedback into impactful innovation.

I had a great chat recently with Alice Milligan, Chief Customer and Digital Experience Officer at Citi, about how to cultivate innovation in an older company. Citi is making waves in the banking world for bringing customer support into an easy-to-use app. Though the company has a long history of success, its executives are still looking for new ways to continue innovating. They understand that having a great product is just one piece of the puzzle; if they fail to create a meaningful customer experience, no one’s going to use it.

The biggest lesson I learned from Milligan is that customers are the best collaborators and can lead to further innovations. “We spend a lot of time putting the customer at the center of everything we do at Citi,” she says. “We aim to create products and services that customers love and can’t live without.” At Citi, they have started thinking of their customers as co-creators when making their products. They speak to them often, ask their opinions, and use their feedback to improve the user experience and design. Here’s more on that in my full interview with Milligan on The Unicorn in the Room.

This conversation got me thinking about the ways that we can take constructive feedback and channel it into building a better product. Here are some things to consider:

Your customers will tell you what they want.

You really don’t have to wonder what your customers will find valuable… they’ll tell you. They won’t just tell you either; a negative customer experience will reach twice as many people as a positive one. So, it pays to listen. Sometimes their feedback won’t be in a constructive or coherent way, and it’s up to you to find the gems of information that will lead you to creating something that they love. Be sure to really listen to what they have to say. Angry or disappointed customers love to vent, so it’s important not to interrupt them, while identifying the areas that could be improved on.

At Citi, they have developed a process to track the customer journey. They talk about how customers use the product, when they use it, where they use it; and then measure success through customer satisfaction, usage and abandonment. They make it as easy as possible for customers to contribute ideas and feedback, then go back to the drawing board and implement useful suggestions to enhance their UX. One such gem of information they found was that mobile banking was on the rise and increasingly important to their customers. By developing a user-friendly app, they saw mobile banking increase by 50 percent in 2016 and the number of downloaded apps double.

Ask for customer involvement from idea conception.

Some of the most successful companies have incorporated customer feedback into their product or service models even before they launched. Take Dropbox, for example. The earliest iteration of Dropbox simply explained the idea and asked for customers to be beta users. Feedback from beta users informed the design of the Dropbox we know, now at a multi-billion dollar valuation.

Forward-thinking entrepreneurs are using crowdfunding platforms to yield similar data. Brent Morgan, the serial entrepreneur and inventor behind Superscreen, opted to list his new concept – a $99 HD tablet alternative that integrates with a smartphone – on the Kickstarter platform in order to incorporate customer feedback into his product design process. With a goal of just fifty-thousand dollars, the campaign was fully funded in less than an hour and hit more than $1MM in pledges as of day seven. What’s more valuable, though, is the feedback from prospective users.

“As an entrepreneur looking to disrupt in the marketplace, building a community of early adopters is critical,” says Morgan. “I’m able to iterate on the product in real-time based on my supporters’ feedback. We also get to learn new use cases that we never discovered in the ideation process.”

Learn which ideas are gems and which are a waste of time.

I learned this lesson when workshopping a musical I wrote a few years back. When you do a developmental staged reading of a musical, you generally have a talk back with the audience at the end. This can lead to some great useable feedback and some not so awesome advice (namely coming from one actor’s mother who didn’t like the fact that I killed off her son’s character…).

You have to learn how to differentiate between solid advice (hint: you’re usually hearing a similar theme over and over again) and that which can be thrown out.

Creating a product is no different. Some customers are going to tell you things that you probably don’t need to act on. That you should bring out a limited edition to be used in space, or that your product should be free, you can probably take with a pinch of salt. But, if you’re hearing over and over that customers find the ordering process difficult, that they’re receiving error messages instead of thank you emails, or that your FMCG packaging constantly leads to spillage and waste, use this information for your own good. These little tidbits are like gold dust. Honest opinions from the people who buy, use, and will hopefully love your product.

If you want to innovate, you need a diverse team.

There are tons of studies indicating that diverse teams lead to greater innovation and improved creative processes in companies. When you bring different ideas to the table, you’re bound to see awesome things happen. The Northern California Human Resource Association and Waggl released a study on diversity in the workplace. They found that 96 percent of participants believed that cultivating diversity in the workplace was essential for driving innovation. In addition, a further 71 percent of all participants claimed that their organizations were committed to fostering diversity in the workplace.

Companies that want to incubate innovation are placing higher importance on the cultural intelligence of their employees. A diverse workforce helps to drive an organization forward through a collaboration of experiences, thoughts, ideas and opinions. It also helps to avoid “groupthink” that can be detrimental to innovation.
So, the next time you see a negative comment on your Twitter feed, a poor review on Amazon, or answer a raging hot phone call from a customer, think about how to use their experiences to your advantage — and to the advantage of other customers as well. Involve your customers in the early stages of product development, ask for their opinions and listen to what they have to say. When you keep an open mind and work with a diverse team of talent, you can channel feedback into an impactful innovation.

Formerly a Vice President of Content Marketing, Molly is the Co-Founder of The Unicorn in the Room, as well as a Marketing & Business Columnist for INC and The Huffington Post.

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