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Customers today expect companies to continually wow them with new and better products. A 2015 study found that 84 percent of customers favor innovative companies.

Unfortunately, most companies are failing to meet customer expectations. One estimate from the Harvard Business School found that up to 95 percent of products that hit the market fail.

So why are many companies failing at innovation? Given the amount of data available to business leaders today, shouldn’t companies be able to more accurately predict what customers want and, ultimately, increase their hit rate?

Many companies fail in innovation because they’re missing a critical piece: the human touch.

In The Human Side of Product Innovation, two industry-leading companies, DEWALT and Chico’s, shared how they’re bridging this gap through authentic, ongoing engagement. The webinar’s speakers—Shannon Chenoweth, market research manager at DEWALT, and Ivy Boehm, senior director of consumer insight at Chico’s—shared how customer intelligence helps shape product development decisions at their companies.

Heather Foeh, vice president of customer marketing and advocacy at Vision Critical, moderated the webinar.

A recording of the webinar is now available. Here are five actionable tips from Shannon and Ivy on how to add the human touch to improve your product innovation strategy:

  1. Get to know the people behind the data.

Shannon shared how DEWALT is using the DEWALT Insights Panel, an insight community of more than 10,000 highly engaged, qualified participants, to get insight about its innovation strategy. According to Shannon, one of the main objectives of the community is to help the company develop quality products.

DEWALT Insights Panel - innovation strategy lessons from DEWALT

About three-quarters of the community is comprised of professional end-users—people who use DEWALT’s power tools in their jobs. According to Chenoweth, the company, by engaging with these customers within its insight community, has learned that they care about product benefits, not features.

“At the end of the day, our end-user really just wants to know how this feature can make his or her job easier or faster,” Shannon said. “So by knowing their frustrations and how to solve for it, the feature is driven by the benefit.”

Shannon’s suggestion: Think about satisfying the needs of your customers, not about creating products. Ongoing engagement is the best way to understand the frustrations and needs of your customers.

  1. Engage a hyper-targeted segment of your customers when exploring new products and features.

One of the reasons why DEWALT’s insight community has been so successful is because it allows the company to target niche segments of its customers that would otherwise be hard to find.

“We have built a community of end-users who we rely on to help us make decisions that are in their best interest,” Shannon said. “We reach out to them because we care about what they think of our product and brands. Having this community makes it so easy to conduct research, even when you want some quick data to confirm your hypothesis.”

By engaging with a highly qualified and tough-to-reach customer base in its insight community, DEWALT gets more focussed, practical and actionable product ideas.

  1. Build a genuine, ongoing relationship with your customers.

When you have a community of engaged customers you know and trust, you improve the speed and accuracy of field testing. The result: you save time and a lot of money.

Explained Shannon, “We are able to show how useful our community is with the number of surveys we conduct and the money we have saved from using vendors for recruiting.” (In a recent Q&A with Vision Critical, Shannon revealed that the company saves millions of dollars annually because of its insight community.)

“To have a successful really needs to be a relationship, so the more we make it fun and engaging for our end-users, the more they want to engage. They want to know that we hear them are value their opinion.”

  1. Develop a rich profile of your customers to help inform your innovation strategy.

With three insight communities, Chico’s is an innovator when it comes to the use of customer intelligence software. Ivy Boehm explained how the company uses its insight communities to engage more than 45,000 shoppers on an ongoing basis.

Chat with Chico's - innovation strategy lessons from Chico's FAS

The communities help Chico’s live up to its core value of being “customer first.” Having insight communities enables the company to holistically learn about its shoppers.

Because Chico’s is in the fashion industry, staying on-trend is a top challenge in its innovation strategy. The design and development process usually lasts a few months in the industry, so timing is everything. Being on-trend, according to Ivy, is an art form—one that’s informed by the customer intelligence the company gets from its insight communities.

The company’s communities are useful in determining trends because they allow stakeholders in the company to access the right customers for timely and quality feedback. The company’s insight communities are integrated with the company’s database, so it can append CRM data with survey data. Regular and relevant engagement also makes sure that the company has a rich profile of its customers.

The company maintains an ongoing dialogue with its shoppers at every stage of the innovation cycle—an important part of driving its product innovation strategy.

  1. Use customer intelligence to enhance cross-departmental collaboration.

Collaboration among different teams is critical in achieving the goal of putting customers first at Chico’s. And according to Ivy, the insight that the company gets from its communities often inspire cross-departmental cooperation. Data from the insight communities help inform decisions at the company’s digital, retail and merchandise teams.

Innovation strategy lessons from Chico's FAS

“We spend cross-functional time with different departments to ensure they’re engaging with customers,” says Ivy. “Our departments love to read verbatim (responses) and like to see what her language is, and how she’s talking.”

Chico’s also hosts many face-to-face events to engage with customers directly—something that its insight communities help facilitate.

Recently, the company took its senior leadership team on a customer immersion tour, where shoppers were invited to shop and chat with executives. The company used its insight communities to recruit customers for this project. The community members loved the experience, and the executive team was able to learn a little bit more about their shoppers.

Final thought

DEWALT and Chico’s are able to accelerate the product innovation cycle through direct and ongoing customer engagement. Gaining customer intelligence this way allows these industry-leading companies to transform the way they conceive, design, develop and go to market with products that their customers want and, most importantly, buy.

For more examples and innovation strategy tips from DEWALT and Chico’s, check out a recording of the webinar.

The Human Side of Product Innovation

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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