Everyone boasts about listening to customer feedback as a key component of product innovation. That’s all well and good. However, organizations that consistently create innovative products do more than listen to customers – they do whatever it takes to have meaningful customer dialogues.
As the Director, Client Services, of an international product software company, I work in one of the many areas throughout Prophix where such customer dialogues occur.
To ensure that dialogues with customers can play an active role in product innovation, Prophix follows four key principles.
Dialogues must always be genuine. Establishing and sustaining trust is an important goal in and of itself. To that end, every conversation with customers has to be honest — even if the truth hurts. In the area of Client Services, that means providing customers with realistic turnaround times, following-up as agreed upon, and, when necessary, ‘naming the elephant in the room.’ Given the broad nature of conversations that a company has with customers and would-be customers, it takes a real commitment to sustain integrity and be transparent about one’s motives at all times.
Dialogues must be on going. If you approach customer dialogues as simply time-driven transactions that need to be shortened and logged, you will miss important subtleties that are unique to each customer’s business and their organizational context. The more you accept that every dialogue builds on the previous conversation, the greater the value of the insights that you and your customers will share with one another.
Dialogues must be easy. In order for dialogues to be initiated and sustained, you need to provide and maintain processes for true customer engagement. That means accommodating day-to-day issues such as being available during customers’ hours of operation – even if they operate in multiple time zones. It also means leveraging online/offline technologies so that customers can participate in conversations with your team members as well as with one another. For example, Prophix has long hosted fun customer conferences and facilitated lively online forums.
Dialogues must be harnessed. By their very nature, customer dialogues cover a wide range of topics, are shaped by powerful emotions, and occur over extended periods of time. Mining the insights locked inside of these dialogues means constantly capturing, reviewing, and analyzing them for trends as well as outliers. Real discipline is required to conduct these activities on an ongoing basis to harness valuable insights. By consistently applying these four principles to shape customer dialogues, Prophix has established a strong foundation where customer feedback turns into true product innovation.