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  • What is Outside Innovation?
    It’s when customers lead the design of your business processes, products, services, and business models. It’s when customers roll up their sleeves to co-design their products and your business. It’s when customers attract other customers to build a vital customer-centric ecosystem around your products and services. The good news is that customer-led innovation is one of the most predictably successful innovation processes. The bad news is that many managers and executives don’t yet believe in it. Today, that’s their loss. Ultimately, it may be their downfall.

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      Eric von Hippel coined the term "lead users" to describe a group of both customers and non-customers who are passionate about getting certain things accomplished. They may not know or care about the products or services you offer. But they do care about their project or need. Lead users have already explored innovative ways to get things done. They're usually willing to share their approaches with others.
      I use the term "lead customers" to describe the small percentage of your current customers who are truly innovative. These may not be your most vocal customers, your most profitable customers, or your largest customers. But they are the customers who care deeply about the way in which your products or services could help them achieve something they care about.
      We’ve spent the last 25 years identifying, interviewing, selecting, and grouping customers together to participate in our Customer Scenario® Mapping sessions. Over the years, we’ve learned how to identify the people who will contribute the most to a customer co-design session. These are the same kinds of people you should be recruiting when you set out to harness customer-led innovation.
      You no longer win by having the smartest engineers and scientists; you win by having the smartest customers!
      In more than 25 years of business strategy consulting, we’ve found that customer co-design is a woefully under-used capability.
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    « Google and Privacy | Main | Patterns in My Head from Talking with Technology Architects »

    October 18, 2007


    Patty Seybold

    Hey Jeffrey,
    Good points! thanks!


    Jeffrey McManus

    We knew this was going to be key when we launched, so we built in a number of features to make sure that customers always know they can easily reach us. Some methods are basic (like a link to a feedback form at the bottom of every page on the site) while some of the things we do are a bit novel (like an automatically-generated welcome email from the CEO sent to every user of the site and free site customizations for users who sign up using their work email address).

    Occasionally our users panic when the system reaches out and touches them (particularly at 2 in the morning). We intentionally make our corporate communications personal and informal as a way of connecting with users -- I guess users of internet services are accustomed to zero customer service, so when they encounter something proactive and personal it can spook them. But it's fostered so many good conversations that the occasionally "huh?" reaction is worth it.

    Providing good communication channels is one thing, but making sure they're adequately managed is quite another -- it's probably the squeaky wheel in this equation because it requires long-term commitment and resources. We're trying to get something done with a big internet company that provides limited access to its technology, and their standard procedure is to provide an email alias which is handled by one person. The first time we tried to contact them, our mail was incorrectly spam-filtered; the second time the person who handled the inbox was on vacation. It took us weeks to kick off a conversation that should have taken less than a day to complete.

    It's embarrassing that a big internet company would resort to this tactic in a world in which a web form is so easy to build and maintain. Web forms are resistant to spam and the vagaries of the email recipient being on vacation, changing jobs, etc.

    The comments to this entry are closed.

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