In last week’s article, we focused on the practical steps brands can take to drive rich insights through understanding customer signals. In this article, I will focus on driving rapid innovation in turbulent times.

Capturing and analysing signals is just one part of the picture. To remain competitive at any time, we need to be able to adapt and act quickly so we can retain existing customers and attract new ones. Moving on directly from last week’s piece, we develop the discussion to include rapid innovation as well. This article will explain how, through ideation and micro-innovations, businesses can implement processes to maintain a competitive edge both now and in the post-pandemic landscape.

The three key elements of rapid innovation

Many companies today tend to be reluctant to take risks and try out new ideas. They spend a lot of time and money researching, and then they bet on big strategies. The bigger the strategy the more changes need to be made. By the time you have your “all in” strategy – the world has changed. Only by innovating can businesses learn and adapt, which is precisely what is required right now.

So how can you keep your organisation nimble, particularly in these turbulent times? What are the secret ingredients for driving rapid innovation?

There are three key things to focus on: Ideation, Micro-innovations and Implementation at Scale.

1. Ideation

This is something start-ups tend to be good at, but fostering a culture of ideation and innovation can be difficult for larger organisations. Big companies have a tendency to continue with the existing strategies. This may seem like logical thinking, but it doesn’t take into account the changing needs and expectations of customers. And without being open to ideas and adaptation, businesses risk losing out to competitors. You need to build a deliberate process to leverage your collective resources to discover new ideas and effective practices. Your organisation has so many answers and ideas already so unleash the creativity of your teams but in a systematic way. 

Ensure a prioritised focus

Use the insight gathered through your signals to create clear problem statements – what is the real issue you are trying to solve? Having a prioritised focus on the most important opportunities for improvement channels energy toward areas where ideas are needed most. Communicate a clear challenge to your teams. 

Systematically generate and collate ideas

For example, Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust wanted to harness the energy of all staff to bring exciting and fresh ideas to the forefront of the organisation and worked in partnership with Medallia Crowdicity, capturing over 1,430 individual contributions across ten challenges in the first three months, helping to reduce costs, improve efficiency and significantly improve employee engagement.

Encourage peer-to-peer ideation

Bring the right teams together to brainstorm ideas. If you get stuck, try things reverse brainstorming. Once you’ve identified the experience you want to improve, start by describing the worst experience you could possibly have. For most of us, it’s easier to imagine what could go wrong, so this is great to warm things up. Then, flip it! Imagine the opposite. Generate as many ideas as possible. You’ll probably find that many of the ideas are actually doable. You just need time to design an approach that you can test.

2. Micro-innovations

Innovations come in all sizes. At one end of the spectrum, companies generate value by implementing continuous improvements that streamline existing processes and better address current customer expectations. At the other extreme are major breakthroughs that change the way industries work, like the introduction of the smartphone or new business models like Uber or Deliveroo.

The innovation spectrum

When looking at improving the customer experience, there is a big opportunity to find the best processes by finding as many good ideas as possible and testing them in an agile way. In other words, taking new approaches to fulfil customer expectations, or ‘micro-innovating’. The goal here is to discover lots of great ideas while simultaneously avoiding any unnecessary risks. Frequently experimenting with micro-innovations rather than “all in” strategies will lower risk and open the door to consistently improving the customer experience.

An example of a micro-innovation is when a leading telecommunications company learned from their closed-loop programme that their contract cancellation fee was frustrating customers and driving them away from purchasing. They turned this negative customer experience into an opportunity to test out a new idea – going against previous risk assumptions by creating a new no-commitment contract that gives customers the freedom to cancel at any time. Instead of early terminations and non-renewals, growth in new customers increased by 30 per cent year-on-year and the NPS for customers using the new product was 40 points higher than legacy contract offerings.

3. Scaling the innovation

That’s just one example, but imagine what can happen when your entire organisation is continuously looking for opportunities like that and testing new ideas to see if they work. Larger organisations can leverage size as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. When you harness your scale to ideate systematically and innovate continuously, you’ll push through failures more quickly and discover what works best for customers to deliver maximum value. Then implement those successful ideas broadly across the organisation.

Staying relevant

In following these steps, businesses will start to build processes that can adapt to customer expectations and needs. By constructing a 360-degree view of the customer experience and implementing innovative – yet tried and tested – ideas rapidly companies will pave their own way of gaining a competitive advantage in this disrupted environment and beyond.

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