"Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves." - Steve JobsThat's one way of innovating. Knowing what customers would need, even before they know it. And then there are others who make their way into the list, just by being with the customers, listening to what they need and surpassing their expectation with their innovation- the Xiomi Style. By moving away from product-focused innovation and turning their attention to innovating around the customer experience they did everything right, including affordable price; for their customers. Innovating for customers, calls for a non-negotiable level of customer centricity from R&D. However, it is a gap still to be met by many organizations. Based on our analysis after speaking to multiple customers having active R&D function, here are five R&D parameters that determine whether an organization is geared up for customer centric innovation or not.Is The Organization Culture Supportive Of Customer Centricity? Few organizations have 'innovating for the customer' as a part of their organization culture. Customer centricity needs to reflect in the entire business ecosystem for innovation to flourish.When customers view you as someone involved in making their lives easier, they begin to contribute to your innovation journey through insights for improvement.Mr. Sharath from Schneider Electric says, " Continuous improvement is also a form of innovation. R&D managers can gain a lot of feedback by interacting with customers directly. However for doing that, the customer should be fundamentally happy with the kind of products that you make or service that you offer. Then it becomes easier for the sales team to introduce their R&D colleague as the expert behind their successful product, who has come to take feedback on what more can be done to improve user experience. Otherwise they come across as technical engineer who have come to fix an issue."Does R&D Have Access To Customers' Perspective? Organizational hierarchy and defined roles put a lot of R&D engineers in silos. For example, in a typical consumer goods company, the R&D engineers receive inputs from their bosses in the form of specifications, rather than receive these requirements directly from the end customer or the customer-facing teams. The information flow for product innovation starts with the sales and marketing team sharing requirements with their managers across multiple levels and the requirement broken into specifications before it reaches them. This leaves no room to understand the customer perspective behind product development.It is a good idea to encourage one R&D manager to accompany the sales team once in a while for scheduled meetings with customers to understand their perspective. Similarly, discussion forums where they get to interact with their sales and marketing teams should be facilitated. Here, they could showcase their latest product innovations on one hand and gain customer perspective on the other. It is also a great way to gather market intelligence like trends, competitor activities , market reaction to new products, etc from their colleagues.Does R&D Understand Customer Needs?Here is another scenario. Even if they have access to customers, R&D managers are always under high pressure to deliver. They end up looking into what the requirement is in terms of specifications; rather than understanding who it is for and why it is needed. They prefer to rely on marketing and sales for the same.The marketing team can definitely throw light on who the product is for, but there are additional parameters that the R&D managers could uncover if they were to understand customer and his needs first hand. For example, what does the customer think about your product and where does he place it in his life scenario? What is the biggest outcome that the customer wants from this product? What is his environment like when he uses the product? What were his past experiences, etc.After two decades of trying to change India's breakfast habits, its only recently that they have begun to adapt to what the Indians like. They got it right when they came out with sturdier cornflakes that could sustain hot milk, or Chocos for kids or even mango and banana puree with flakes- to suit local tastes.Do They Talk The Customer's Language? Now this is a challenge that customers face when they talk to a typical R&D engineer - The conversation gets too technical. Customers are best at describing their problems, but when it comes to what the solution is, they have no clue. So instead of discussing specifications and features with them, R&D managers should engage with them in conversations around their pain points. What is the desired outcome they want from the new product or feature? They need to step into the customer's shoes and think like them, which again requires frequent engagement and interactions with them.How do you develop customer centricity in your R&D manager? Share your experience with us.
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