Are You Listening? Innovative Companies Hear What Others Tell Them

Does your company have a customer hotline? Does it have a suggestion box at retail? Does it have a Contact Us link or form on its Website, or a Comments link on its blog? Has it set up a Facebook Fan Page or a Twitter account?

Do sales people listen when they talk to customers? Are customer service reps or staff behind the register told to solicit feedback?

More importantly, are you listening?

Are you mining comments, messages and posts submitted? Beyond acting on complaint or suggestions regarding service (which often are the most common type of comments submitted), does your company have a process of exploring ideas from customers, vendors, partners or others?

“Collaborating” with others who have feedback to offer is a sadly overlooked opportunity for company innovation and enhancement. People have ideas that can benefit the organization. And fresh ideas – whether from customers or value-chain partners or any source – bring the organization one step closer to the street, where many good ideas are born (and sadly, where many companies no longer exist).

Regardless of their source, be receptive to the message – and ready to act on what you hear. Tell customer service reps to ask and listen. Implore sales people – who can be notoriously poor at listening to customers and sifting through comments to find suggestive diamonds in the rough – to really listen.

Innovative ideation is not just about gathering ideas. It’s about managing what comes in – everything that comes in – so your Innovation or NPD Team can review and act on the ideas or suggestions and spot a trend. That’s not to say every idea in this Idea Hopper has to be developed. But none should be set aside without a thorough review.

Innovation and idea management – or the process of taking a concept from ideation to collaboration to execution – is critical.

In the end, it’s not a question of “If” you collaborate with customers and listen to what they have to tell you. It’s “How” you do it. Otherwise, your company is working in isolation. You’re not being a true partner to those who are offering their suggestions – your customers seeking product improvement, problem solution, or the cure to an ill.

And your best potential ideas could be going to the competition.

So it’s not just enough to ask. You have to actively solicit input, take action on suggestions, and follow through on what you learn.

Are you listening?

By Robert Brands with Jeff Zbar

Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, Speaker on Innovation and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation“: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman,  published March, 2010 by Wiley.