Team Performance

Using Customer Service to Drive Product Innovation

How did the startup industry become so “disruptive?” Why do startups seem to be so ruthlessly effective at beating established companies at their own game?

Startups innovate backwards, and it works.

While traditional businesses rely on a complex process of research, development, testing, and tweaking, startups let the market drive product innovation. Some of the most successful startups in the world – Uber, Airbnb, DropBox – were founded in response to consumer problems. Uber capitalized on the pain points of hailing a cab, Airbnb created a more available, authentic experience for travelers, and DropBox saw a way to solve the frustrations people had with sharing digital files. The market was speaking, and the founders listened.

How can your business capture the kind of customer feedback that drives product innovation? Through agent empowerment, multi-level training, and the right technological tools.

Empowering Agents to Ask the Right Questions

Customer service agents are the figurative “boots on the ground” for any rapidly-innovating business. They’re the clearest and most direct line with your customers, and they have the benefit of working with a wide swath of your audience on a variety of different issues.

Empowered agents feel confident in what they’re doing which inevitably leads to a higher quality experience for your customers. It also allows those same agents to play both sides of the coin: solving customer problems while gathering useful, real-time feedback on ways your product or service can improve.

Agent empowerment doesn’t happen by accident. Coaching is critical, especially during the high-growth stage of a brand. It’s imperative agents understand both the products and the policy of your operation. Ongoing training is a necessity, not a luxury, and legal/marketing should always be responsible for keeping the contact center apprised of new innovations. As a company grows so too does the level of sophistication of its products.

Agents who really understand a product portfolio are better equipped to ascertain feedback from customers that’s actionable. A Lululemon agent who actually wears the yoga pants a customer calls in about can speak intelligibly on the fit, feel, and function. They’re more likely to understand that when a customer says the pants are “hot,” that what the product team should look into is the weave of the fabric. All-hands meetings, internal wikis, and in-center products to touch and feel are all useful training tools for agents to help your brand evolve.

Training is a Two-Way Street

Too many companies think of training as a top-down proposition. The executive team determines the course of action, department heads provide direction, then team managers coach individual employees on implementation.

While top-down training is a central component of any well-oiled business, training should go both ways. Make sure you have a system in place that enables the flow of feedback from agents upstream to product, legal, and marketing teams.

Passing customer feedback back up the ladder prevents myopic thinking. The feedback agents are responsible for gathering can do more than inform the legal department of a gap in the return policy, it can actually shape future product innovation. Actual customers telling your business what they want and what they struggle with is the best kind of focus group you could hope for.

Remember, your front line team isn’t really “front line” if they’re simply the last link in a chain. These are the people who are hearing the frustration and excitement in customer’s voices…who better to listen to about where to innovate next?

Applying Innovative Feedback Relies on the Right Technology

Feedback that can’t be harnessed is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Having a system like Stella Connect to capture feedback from customers is essential if you want to use that feedback to innovate internally.

It’s important to note that feedback exists in both quantitative and qualitative forms. Quantitative identifies systemic issues like incorrect sizing or product deficiencies.

Qualitative feedback is made up of “lightbulb moments” with customers, and brands should always have an ear to the ground for these.

While acting on quantitative feedback is often simple – flagging products that run large internally so agents know to advise customers to size-down, for example – it’s innovating around qualitative feedback that’s the most challenging…and the most rewarding. Grooming product retailer Harry’s, who developed an entirely new product based off one would-be customer’s suggestion, provides an excellent example of turning qualitative feedback into innovation.

Responsive Innovation Saves Time and Money

Strategic missteps are expensive. At the product level, not understanding customer sentiment can cost you millions of dollars in wasted inventory, squander valuable development time, and most importantly, damage your brand reputation.

Seeing contact centers as cost centers is an outdated way of thinking. Your agents aren’t just one of your most valuable resources when it comes to developing innovation strategy, they’re the tip of the spear.