Innovation Is Not the Goal; It’s the Method

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.  See the original here.

In the tech industry, the word “innovative” is often used synonymously with “successful.”  After all, tech firms who fail to innovate are doomed to fall behind, as their competitors create newer, better, faster technologies to meet their customers needs.  And it’s not just in product development.  Companies must innovate how they do business in order to stay competitive.  Better, faster processes must be put into place to ensure that services the company provides, whether it’s order processing and delivery or post-sales customer support, remain on par with or ahead of the market.

After all, tech firms who fail to innovate are doomed to fall behind as their competitors create newer, better, faster technologies to meet their customers needs.

But we all know this.  So, why would I claim that innovation is not the goal?  Well, the reality is that too many companies are focused on innovation as the end goal of their strategy – at the expense of their customers.  Do we have to focus on innovation as adriver of our strategy?  Of course!  But the end goal always is, and should be, customer satisfaction.  We should innovate if and when and how we can improve our customers’ experiences working with our company.

There is a term used often in the marketing/PR world to describe companies that do not seem to understand the main pain points that their customers are experiencing, responding instead with “innovations” that are more like nice-to-haves than real problem solvers: tone deaf.  A tone deaf strategy is typically comprised of solutions to problems that don’t exist, or that are not that high of a priority for customers.  For a software company, this could mean building a new application for an emerging technology (which, of course, the company wants to be an “innovative” leader in), while ignoring problems in existing applications or services.  Understandably, the company cannot do everything at once.  Resources are limited and, as we’ve already established, the company must innovate to remain competitive.  So, how should a company prioritize their development efforts – on fixing existing problems or on developing new products?

We should innovate if and when and how we can improve our customers’ experiences working with our company.

My answer is: it shouldn’t.  At least, not in the vacuum of a board room or an internal strategy planning session.  The company does not exist without its customers, so why would it make strategic decisions on prioritization without the voice of the customer in the room?  After all, innovation should not only drive customer satisfaction, but customers should drive innovation.

At SAP, we’ve launched a program called Next Generation of Support, which is focused on a couple of key concepts: (a) One Support Experience – a single, integrated support experience, regardless of which SAP products you are using; and (b) new, more efficient and user-friendly channels for receiving support for your SAP products.  The offerings that are created under this program, such as the SAP ONE Support Launchpadand the SAP Support Chat feature, are developed with early and frequent input from our customers.

Collecting and utilizing customer feedback is pivotal to avoiding tone deafness and to building a strong customer experience.  We utilize a variety of feedback channels to guide the development of the features and functionality of these new offerings.  Each interaction with our customers drives our innovation, which is ultimately a means to a vital end: customer satisfaction.  As a result, our focus is on growing and improving the customer experience through innovation, rather than sacrificing it for the sake of innovation.

P.S. You can hear our Global SVP for Product Support, Andreas Heckmann, talk about SAP’s Next Generation of Support by clicking here.

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