Bring customers into your R&D to drive satisfaction and advocacy

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Delivering a remarkable product is the root of customer satisfaction and advocacy
Customers are happy when they get what they need; when you meet their expectations. When they’re happy, they recommend your brand to their peers. When you exceed their expectations, brand advocacy goes into overdrive. The challenge is this: in highly competitive, fast-moving markets, it’s becoming more and more difficult to identify what the next remarkable thing looks like and take it to market first (before it becomes a commoditized feature that is no longer remarkable). It is the brands that can do this – time and time again – that attract and retain customers, grab market share, and create a virtuous cycle of customer advocacy and growth.

So how can you make sure you’re delivering products and services that meet and exceed customer expectations? There’s an old marketing mantra “Find out what the customer wants and give it to them”. It’s still true today and it should be the critical guide for innovation.

Innovation is a two-part challenge
The challenge is to find first and do first. You need to be the first to uncover what your customers want next. When you can unearth the emerging wants and needs of your market before the competition, you’ve got a head start on innovation. You get the opportunity to launch something fresh and remarkable. Which leads us to the second part of the challenge. You’ve got to ship fast. You need to develop and launch your new features to get them into the hands of customers before the rest of the pack.

So how can you find out what customers want, and do it faster than the competition?

Use a digital community platform to engage with customers at scale
To make customer-driven innovation possible (versus executive-driven or gut-driven innovation), you need the ability to quickly and efficiently engage with as many of your customers as possible. However, the traditional offline feedback methods lack the scalability you will need to get adequate coverage of your customer base to give you real, actionable insights into what customers want next:

The flow of customer feedback from account managers is inconsistent and unstructured, making it difficult to derive actionable insight.
Focus groups will give you some insight, but when you select a handful of customers out of hundreds or thousands, you don’t know if their opinions are truly representative of your broader customer base. Small volumes of anecdotal evidence often lead R&D in the wrong direction.
Large annual customer surveys typically suffer from low response rates: and the resulting data sets are often too small to be a trusted indicator of the problems you need to solve.
The scalability of a digital community platform solves many of the problems associated with traditional offline customer engagement methods. Digital communication reduces the transaction cost on both sides. It’s easier for you to reach out to more of your customers, more frequently. And it’s easier for customers as well: they can interact with you in just a few moments. When the transaction cost is low for customers, you get higher engagement rates – meaning you get more feedback from more customers and a more comprehensive view of their business challenges and needs.

Gamification drives breadth and frequency of engagement
Traditionally, Voice of the Customer (VOC) surveys suffer from low response rates. You get what you reward, so when you use gamification mechanisms (like points, badges and leader boards) to reward customers for feedback, you get more feedback. A digital community platform with a gamification engine helps you drive sustained customer engagement at scale – enlisting happy customers into your Voice of the Customer program and activating them to provide regular feedback in exchange for extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. The key here is to design challenges and rewards that are mutually beneficial. The customer must get as much out of the relationship as you do.

Integrating customers into your R&D process
A gamified customer community platform lets you design challenges and rewards that integrate customers into the steps of your R&D process. Every company is different, so the flow of the R&D process is different, but typically we see customers integrating customer engagement into four key areas of the innovation process:

IDENTIFICATION: Engage directly with your customers to discover weaknesses to be addressed and emerging needs to be served. Challenge assumptions, focus-in on what customers really want and avoid wasting time and budget on perceived needs.
PRIORITIZATION: Let customers tell you which of your planned innovations are most important to them – ensuring you’re developing and delivering the most desired features first.
VALIDATION: It’s easy for R&D to run off the rails. Engage with customers throughout the development process to validate product prototypes and ensure what you’re building is truly what your customers asked for.
LAUNCH: Get help from customers to launch your new improved products – by providing social proof, co-created content and word of mouth recommendations.
Integrating customer feedback and opinions into your R&D process helps you keep product development focused and synchronized with what’s important to the customer. When R&D happens behind closed doors there is a high risk that the output will fail to hit the mark with customers – wasting R&D dollars and giving the competition an opportunity to leapfrog your position in the market.

A digital customer community platform like helps you understand the needs of your customers and deliver what they value most – giving you opportunities to synchronize with customers throughout your R&D process to make sure what you deliver is what they need.

Summary: Customer-driven innovation drives a virtuous cycle of satisfaction, advocacy and growth