When describing the SIT method, I sometimes say it’s like using the voice of the product. That’s because SIT is based on patterns that are embedded into the products and services you see around you. If products could talk to you, they would describe the five patterns of SIT.
But there’s another important voice in business innovation: the voice of the customer. After all, that’s why you do innovation - to create new value, directly or indirectly, for your customers. A good innovator understands their needs and wants.
One of the first things you should do is listen to what customers are saying about a particular product or brand. It’s especially important to hear what customers say to other customers. That’s when they’re the most truthful and objective, even when talking to complete strangers. If you had a way to eavesdrop on a conversation between two customers, you’ll get new insights about their attitudes.
A great way to do that is to use social media. Applications like Twitter and Facebook let you hear what’s being discussed, almost as if you were standing right there with them. It’s inexpensive and it’s easy.
When you listen to customers on social media, pay close attention to the specific words or phrases they use. What emotions do they express? What beliefs do they have about a product and how it works? Whether those beliefs are true or untrue, you need to know what they’re thinking so you can design your products accordingly.
Another way to learn about your customers is to watch them. Using field research, you go into the customer’s natural setting where they use the product or service. You observe their behaviors as they do routine, ordinary activities. If you watch carefully, you’ll see things they could never have described for you in words. They’re not even aware they are doing them.
By watching them, you might learn about a new step in how they use the product. That could affect how you use the Division Technique. Or, you might become aware of a new component in their Closed World, and that might affect how you apply the Task Unification technique. Pay close attention to who else is involved, what information are they using or not using, how they prepare the product for use, and perhaps how they store it or maintain it.
A third way to get customer insights is to ask them. You’re probably familiar with marketing research tools like surveys and focus groups as a way to collect voice of the customer data. But there are two simple techniques you always want to be able to use at a moment’s notice in case you engage a customer.
The first is to use open-ended questions. An example of an open-ended question is: “What’s most important to you when using this feature of our product?” A closed-ended question would be: “Do you like this feature of our product?” The open-ended question encourages a full, meaningful response as opposed to a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer. You’ll get deeper insights with open-ended questions.
The second technique when talking to customers is to use laddering. Laddering means asking a series of questions, one after another, but you base the next question on the answer you received from the last one. Like climbing the rungs of a ladder, you first ask about the functional aspects of your product, then ladder up to the values the customers sees in those features.
Finally, a great way to learn about your customer’s needs is to involve them in the innovation process. Once you’ve created the virtual product using one of the five SIT techniques, you ask two specific questions. The first is should we do it? Does the new configuration deliver some new benefit? Who would want this? I can’t think of anyone better to help you answer these than your customers. After all, they stand the most to gain by a new innovation. When they see something they like, they’ll tell you or they’ll tell you how to modify the concept to make it even better.
Customers might also have new insights about the second question: Can we do it? Do we have the know how or the right material or the right processes to make this? Are there barriers that might prevent us from making this? Your customers might have some critical insight or skills about how to remove barriers or make the concept more feasible.
Listen, watch, ask, and involve. The Voice of the Customer, used along with the SIT Method, will help you become a more effective innovator.