How service teams can inspire product innovation

Investing in customer insight but cutting customer contact makes no sense.  Service teams have huge emotional investment in putting right the things that cause customers angst.  They should be central to strategic product and service innovation.

Customer insight arms race

For £10,000 a report, anybody can buy as much customer surveying, benchmarking, customer ethnography, usability, psychodemographic segmentation, social network monitoring and integrated listening capability as they want.  There are two problems with driving innovation from this kind of insight:

  1. Lots of organisations have deep pockets, so the pursuit of a commercial edge through third party solutions becomes an arms race rather than a competitive advantage.
  2. These approaches are a step removed from reality.  They’re constructs.   They are to real customer experience what television is to reality or what air conditioning is to climate.

Contact centre Cassandras

By contrast, service teams are the most under-exploited resource for driving product and service innovation out of customer insight.  If this isn’t self-evident, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who spends the day in constant contact with customers?
  • Who has most emotional investment in putting right the things that cause customers angst?

Contact centre staff know exactly what customers love and hate.  They experience it viscerally every day.  But, Cassandra-like, their voice is often overlooked in strategic marketing and new product innovation.  Why?  The reasons boil down to a)  narrow service management focus on cost and operations, b) silo’s between service management and marketing c) service staff without the skills, systems or incentives to make a strategic difference and d) physical and cultural remoteness from the Board.  

The most powerful customer insight you’ll ever have?

All of these barriers can be broken down fairly easily, and for far less cost than many customer insight approaches.  Here are four key ways of doing it:

  1. Get service agents to listen and probe for what customers are saying about competitors, products and features.  Make sure that this kind of insight can be captured and reported in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
  2. Track service performance against brand values, and not just operational targets.
  3. Conduct regular reviews of raw customer service feedback, searching for strategic product and service insight.
  4. Give the Board regular, visceral, experience of the customer.  Board members should sit in on the call centre at least every month and should regularly listen to representative recordings of customer contact.

About Simon Kirby

Digital and Innovation Strategist.I offer an uncommon ability to refresh and renovate business models and customer propositions.With digital experience dating back to 1996 and senior roles at some of the world’s leading companies, I am well positioned to assemble, lead or collaborate with the strategic, creative, technical and commercial talent that creates breakthroughs.As a leading independent, freelance consultant, I help Executives, Senior Civil Servants, Digital entrepreneurs and the Agencies that serve them, to create transformation.

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