It’s not surprising to hear that many leaders at companies believe they are investing in innovation. What might be surprising is how that investment is not paying off. Many of the ways traditional companies are organized create not only a less-than-ideal environment for innovation, but outright customer experience innovation killers. Here are 5 ways to destroy innovative ideas before they even start.
1. Lack of coordination
Working with a Fortune 50 company, I used to joke that part of my job was to report the news from “across the street.” It wasn’t a euphemism, it was reality. The street that separated the company’s campus created an epic divide, even in the age of email and video conferencing. Working with a diverse group of departments, including their online direct customer division, marketing and employee communications, I was often more in the know than employees on big strategy issues. This is far from ideal. Innovation can’t happen if your department is totally unaware of what another group is doing to serve the customer. In fact, it is detrimental. Innovation as a strategy should encourage transparency and conversation. Everyone works with the customer. If they don’t feel like they do, that’s a problem.
2. Same people, same problems
Humans like to surround themselves with other humans who are most like them. Time and again we show we are biased toward people who look and think like us. In a recent article on innovation in Fortune, the author Jeff DeGraff, argues this point exactly.
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Leaders of complex organizations tend to surround themselves with like-minded people, which reinforces conventional approaches.
If everyone is thinking the same way, innovation simply can’t happen. How many times have you been in meetings where a question is answered with “that’s the way our industry does it.” In every case, this is the wrong answer if you are striving for innovation.
3. No room to innovate
The customer experience should be a fluid, evolving thing. Real life is always evolving, so why should the experience be any different? The problem is when there is no room for the mistakes and missteps that come with risk. Innovation is messy and requires some risk taking. If everyone in the organization is terrified of being fired for these types of errors, innovation will suffer. I heard an executive once coach his people by saying “nobody got fired for not having ideas, but people get fired for bad ideas.” That advice pretty much guaranteed there were no new ideas brought forward. Innovation was killed that day, and swiftly at that.
4. Blaming the product
One of my soapbox sermons is on how customers don’t really care about your products. They don’t walk around thinking about your company, no matter how great you are. They interact and engage when it is right for them, based on what they are able to do with your product or the emotional reaction they get from engaging. When some companies approach the idea of INNOVATION in all its import, they focus solely on the product. “How can we beat the competition when we’re all selling the same widgets?” Real innovation has always focused on what lies beyond the product. Zappos, after all, sold shoes. Amazon sold books. Their products were commodities, but they innovated to create new customer experiences. Now, customer expectations are based on these experiences. The marketplace was totally disrupted. It’s not about the product, it never was and it never will be.
5. Ignoring reality
More than one company has decided to focus on innovation when it’s been way too late. Borders comes to mind. Now it seems traditional colleges seem to be slow to wake up to the new reality of 2013. With more choice, innovation becomes an all-important arrow in the quiver. K-Mart and Wal-Mart and Target (the answer to last week’s trivia question) all have similar offerings, but Target continues to innovate in both what they offer and how they offer it. Customers notice.
It’s time to look around and be your own Customer Experience Investigator™ and face the facts. Are you killing customer experience innovation before it even starts?