Stop listening to the Voice of the Customer in innovation

Do your customers know what they want? Do they have any idea what their needs will be in the future? Can they tell you what it is that they are willing to pay for?

Suppose you have a business manufacturing high-quality leather wallets and you would like to innovate your product. You start by asking your customers how they will be using the wallet in the future and what changes they would like to see. The feedback you get might vary from using a more premium type of leather, to space for more credit cards or a slimmer design. If you would base your innovation only on this, your sales could plunge or you could go out of business entirely.

The problem is that people typically cannot see a wallet having another function than containing cash and cards, nor can they imagine another way of storing cash and cards unless presented with it. That’s just how the human mind works, a condition of cognitive bias or functional fixedness.

How often have you come across a product or a service thinking: “This is so great, if only I could have had this years ago”. Did no one ask for it? Apparently not, or not enough. How many people have asked Apple back in 2006 before the introduction of the iPhone: “Hey, I want an iPhone and I am willing to pay a lot of money for it”?

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Let’s move away from listening to the Voice of the Customer as the first step in the innovation process. Instead, we should consider the Voice of the Product. What could the product itself tell us? What virtual products or services could we think of if we would cleverly manipulate the existing situation? And only at this point in the process we check back in with our customers to see if it could be of value to them.

Circling back to the wallet. How about we change the shape of the wallet and turn it into a smartphone cover? Can we find any benefits in doing this? We certainly can. How much cash are people carrying nowadays? What about the trend towards mobile banking and mobile payments? How many credit, debit and loyalty cards will we keep carrying around in our wallet? What will the content of the wallet of the future be: cards or a smartphone? […]