I keep struggling with the definition of what is an innovative blockbuster product (or service), and this is yet another attempt: A truly innovative product is the one that delights its customers by anticipating their needs before they knew they have them. In other words, if you want to develop a blockbuster product, you should stop trying to better serve the existing needs of your customers and instead try to discover needs that customers may not realize they have and address them.
Traditionally, companies use customer feedback to assess satisfaction with existing products and to validate product developer’s ideas for the improvements. One of the most popular methods used for collecting customer feedback are survey and panels, where the questions asked or topics moderated tend to reflect interests of product development team and focus on how customers experience their product.
I would like to pose that truly innovative product developers use a different perspective to discover the needs customers cannot articulate in controlled or moderated environment – the perspective of holistic experience of a job the customer “hired” the product in question to do.
The journey starts with the understanding of what the “job” they want to do is and what a desirable outcome is. The next step is to imagine how this whole experience can be simplified in its entirety, which may or may not involve your product. I use the word “simplified” because it is an ultimate description of improvement in a context of “desirable outcome.” Terms we usually use to describe improvements – Better, Faster, Cheaper – are traps anchoring us to the incremental changes of status quo.
The complete customer experience starts with a notion that the desired outcome can be achieved, and goes through discovery of components required, acquisition of the components and/or materials and skills all the way through a process of applying them. Your product may be just one of many in that process, but if you can make it easier to find at the conception stage, simpler to understand that it is the best alternative to get the job done at the acquisition stage, and require less skill and/or effort to operate, that will make your product a lot more successful. However, truly innovative products do often have an element of disruption that does not easily fit into organizational structures. If you are a drill product manager, and survey satisfaction of a drill purchasers, the ideas of alternative wall anchoring to hung pictures will not likely come up. However, even if it does, how does it help you or your department? I wonder if a celebrated genius of Steve Jobs could only manifest itself because he operated from above of organizational hierarchy.
The question is, “Can Customer Feedback help to create innovative products?” If you define Customer Feedback as the results of survey or other structured information-gathering method, the answer is NO. The best outcome of these exercises is reduced uncertainty about your assumptions (i.e., confirmation of what you already know). The probability of discovering an idea that could lead to the conceptualization of an innovative product is extremely low, but could be improved somewhat by allowing open-ended questions and a lot of unstructured comments.
I define Customer Feedback as any and all customer-generated content available about a product/service in any form customers chose to communicate it. That includes company and public forums, customer support notes and call transcripts, company sales notes, customer’s Facebook comments, and customer videos and reviews published online. The wider Customer Feedback “fishing” net is cast, the higher probability of innovative ideas discovery. Combine it with the right analysis methodology that does not tie you up with pre-conceived keywords and ontology, and your chances are looking even better.