Innovation may be one of the biggest buzzwords at the moment, but in this opinion piece Nick Dempsey, general manager at GMC Software, ANZ (pictured above), argues businesses need to be innovating and provides some handy ideas to actually innovate.
Today, if businesses are not innovating they are being left behind. There’s a perfect storm happening in the global economy involving a new generation of start-ups challenging the dominant players’ market share and disrupting the market. This is happening against a backdrop of emerging digital technologies, ongoing pressure on profits and ever-changing regulatory conditions.
It’s probably the toughest operating environment businesses have ever faced. But it’s not all bad news. Many trends such as big data and the proliferation of mobile devices are important enablers of consumer experience and communication. These are the tools that underpin innovation.
Given these trends, organisations must be exploring ways to drive true interactivity between themselves and their customer base. At the same time, they must ensure everything they deliver to their customers is genuinely relevant and meets each individual’s unique needs. No longer is static communication acceptable. Today, enterprises must be nimble and agile when it comes to the interactions they have with their customer base.
Overcoming the obstacles to innovation
One of the biggest obstacles to achieving a truly innovative culture in a business is old legacy systems that can’t deliver consistency and real-time responsiveness when it comes to customer experience, leading to organisation-wide inefficiencies.
For most businesses, it’s simply not possible to walk away from the legacy systems that have driven the business for so long. But at the same time, it’s essential to invest in new systems that can help the business meet customer demand.
This requires substantial support from the executive team, as well as a number of other essential building blocks. One of these is culture. Innovation requires a certain appetite for risk. But for most businesses, eliminating risk is key. So there needs to be a shift by which people in the organisation are incentivised to take the right sort of risks. Give people customer communication and customer engagement projects to which the business doesn’t necessarily know the answer and allow people to make mistakes and fail. However, the business must learn from these mistakes and take these lessons into future projects.
One of the ways to give people in the business the confidence to innovate when it comes to customer communication and experience is to deliver assessments on innovation projects that are fair. This is because people are more willing to take risks if they feel supported. It’s also essential to give everyone in the business the opportunity to innovate, not just high potential staff, because often, the best ideas are generated from the bottom up.
A great way to embed innovation is to form stand-alone departments that are tasked with developing innovative ways to drive customer experience. That way, existing operations are not impacted and the innovation department can work on developing new customer solutions which, when proven, can be integrated in the main business. Ideally, the innovation department or unit should build links with other innovation champions such as venture capitalists, start-up hubs and universities. They can then bring this knowledge back into the wider business to help develop customer solutions and communication practices that are genuinely innovative.
Even in big businesses, innovation happens every day. The idea is to support it to allow it to thrive. The organisation-wide environment has to be one where people are under pressure to innovate well.
Embedding innovative values
To develop a truly innovative culture, first the business needs to embed innovative values in the business.
This involves an acceptance of change across the business and employing people who are genuinely excited about new ideas. One of the best ways to embed an innovation culture is to assign staff to meaty and meaningful customer communication and experience projects they can really get their teeth into: give them an opportunity to do something about what irritates customers on a daily basis.
Importantly, it’s essential to make it very clear about the benefits to staff when it comes to taking an innovative approach. This might include incentives for involvement in innovation initiates, as well as clear communication about the consequences for the business – and its employees – if it fails to innovate and change customer communication practices.
Another key to innovation is developing close relationships with customers to find out what they want from the business. So spend time talking to them and use this knowledge to improve communication practices.
How do you measure innovation?
All organisations at every level, from the board and executive level down, are driven by KPIs to make the business more financially successful. Which means profit must be the underlying reason why businesses innovate around customer experience.
So from the outset there has to be a clear reason why businesses want to innovate. This may be to gain market share, create efficiencies, drive sales, or for other reasons. Whatever it is, the impetus behind the drive to innovate must be communicated to everyone in the organisation.
When they innovate, businesses need to ensure it will create a differentiator in the market. Therefore, a system must be set up to measure this dynamic.
Recognise, however, that innovation takes time. Don’t over-emphasise short-term return-on-investment over value in learning. Which means businesses need to work out how to measure learnings from innovative initiatives. So take a longer view over how to judge innovation success.
Empowerment of the consumer
Further, an important trend is the increasing power in consumers’ hands over the way their information is used. A good example is the upcoming Privacy Amendment (Notification of Serious Data Breaches) Bill, which is likely to require organisations to disclose serious privacy breaches related to the disclosure of personal information.
So it’s essential to manage customer data carefully and balance consumers’ rights to have their information treated with respect, with the need to be able to analyse this data to provide better and more meaningful experiences and communication to them.