Getting the edge on the competition is big business. A lot of companies spend time guessing what the competition will do next, trying to predict big marketing efforts, key messaging, and the resulting consumer traffic that follows. You see it in politics, with snide remarks flying between political parties, all aimed at making each other look less credible to their end customer – the voters.

It’s never a nice feeling to know that your competition has one up on you, and could be pulling more customers in than you because of it, but the key thing is that actually it’s really not even about them, their actions or their marketing budget. Consumers gravitate towards brands they can trust and who look after their people.

In-fighting and obvious vendettas are never attractive to consumers; we see through it. When was the last time you fell for someone’s sales pitch that involved shining a negative light on a competitor? When it comes to buying decisions, we need to recognise that our customers are savvy and can spot a gimmick from a mile away. They care about how you will treat them, what you will give them, and whether or not they can rely on you.

It may be that none of this come as a shock to you, and it’s highly likely that if you do focus on your competition, it’s less by way of bringing them down than it is keeping an eye out for useful and relevant innovations that could also help you improve. But is that as helpful as it seems?

By watching for great innovations that others in your industry are launching, are you potentially preventing your own creative thinking from ever taking flight?

Earlier this year whilst working on a large-scale digital transformation I read about the Domino’s pizza app, that allows its customer to order a pizza without even touching a button. The idea was that you save your favourite order, you save your payment details, and all you need to do when you get hungry is open the app. It automatically orders for you. It was a brilliant idea. It was, however, totally irrelevant to me. Nothing about the project I was working on was going to be fixed by an app like that.

By all means do your research, keep on top of innovations like voice analytics, chatbots, and new ways to measure satisfaction – but keep in mind that all that really matters is your customer and what will work for them.

Here are my top tips for innovating in a way that actually benefits your customers:

1.Identify a set of customer experience principles

Does your business have core values? If so, you will probably be used to ensuring that all your objectives tie back to those core values and that each task being worked on will help you further your goals in the right way for those overarching values. It’s time to add some strong customer experience principles to your work too. This helps you to check you are on the right track, helps measure the benefit of any potential options and gives you a sense check for any teams helping to work towards a solution. I’d recommend that you make sure your principles underpin your wider values but remember these are specific to the customer journey so good examples might include; making things easier for the customer, adding value to their experience, and inspiring the customer’s confidence in your organisation.

For each decision you make and every option you consider ask yourself, does it tick at least one of those boxes, but hopefully aim for an end solution that meets them all. This way you are only being influenced by what’s right for your business and your customer, and the competition doesn’t even come into it.

2.Focus on the problem

Gather the feedback you need to highlight the key frustrations in your customer’s journey with you. Highlight the top three challenges first. Spend time as a team understanding those challenges, talk to customers to understand how those challenges make them feel.

Have your team take part in workshops (These can be done remotely using a whiteboard feature in Zoom or Microsoft Teams) to really make sure everyone working on the project understands the customer frustrations fully and are involved in defining the problem statement.

3.Don’t let the customers’ perceptions influence your fix

Customers may well suggest fixes themselves, but don’t be distracted by that either as often that customer will not have full knowledge of all the available options and whilst solutioning can come easily to all of us, it’s important that the right solution is found. When looking at customer feedback strip out any solutions and focus only on what their problem was and how it made them feel. From here you can scope your proposed fix to meet their needs and you won’t have switched your mind off to any potentially great options.

4.Break your scoping into phases

Attack phase one of scoping to isolate the issues and the issues only. Pull out the customer sentiment for each issue and sense check that the feedback you have from those customers is genuinely representative of your wider customer base. It may be very obvious to you that there is an issue once a customer reports it, but remember that it can also be just a matter of opinion, and if you think that opinion might not be shared by a reasonable number of your customers, you have to ask if the time and cost of initiating a project is worth it. Once you are convinced the issue is both real and prevalent enough to justify cost / effort, turn this issue into your problem statement.

For the second phase, once your problem statement is identified you can begin scoping your fix. Don’t look at the solution yet, look at what the solution enables you to do. For example, looking at a chatbot to answer customers more quickly might work but it’s important to understand the how that will look in practice. Look at the features and capabilities of the chatbot and list them against the problem statement. Do they answer all the issues? If yes, then you can list it as a viable option and move on to costing and timelines.

It’s great to have a few potential solutions, all at different cost and time for the business so that your key stakeholders know their options and can help you move towards the right solution for both the customer and the business.

That brings us to the final phase of scoping. Identify the risks and benefits of each of the solutions for both the business and the customer and pull them into an easy to compare format (like a spreadsheet).

If you can stick to these four guiding principles, you will be able to open your mind to a whole world of possibilities and whilst you can still draw on outside innovations, they will act as fuel for your fire – but the real heat will come from you and your team!

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