Monday, May 16, 2011

Front End of Innovation Day 1: The Voice of the Customer Summit - Selected Review

Ellen DiResta (Lecturer, Boston University School of Management) opened this summit with a reminder that today’s consumers, unlike those in the ‘80s, are not a source of answers but rather are a source of information. Therefore, it is the job of a market researcher to find the right consumers and to translate their insights into products. Companies do not want to develop ideas and waste time and money if they do not know whether these ideas are even possible to materialize. This is why the role of consumer feedback is critical. In addition, the way consumer research is conducted must be innovative because “the low-hanging fruit [in this arena] are gone” and everyone speaks with the consumers, as Ellen commented. In fact, “we can’t take anything [when it comes to consumer research] for granted” and [must always ask ourselves] what [we may be] taking for granted.”

Linda Ashbrook (Sr. Manager, Taco Bell Consumer Insights) proceeded to discuss a social media emphasis approach the quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain uses to meet its goal of new product launch every 5 weeks. With competition increasingly more fierce, Taco Bell uses a multiple sources of inspiration: food trends, chefs, competitive audits, internal wisdom, and customer input. The company recognized the need for consumer input earlier in the product development cycle and has pulled consumers more into it.

For this, Taco Bell uses a range of social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, Radion, and others. On Facebook alone, the company has over 6 million fans. As market research moved from door-to-door investigation to phone-based interviewing to social media, consumers are now beginning to welcome market research and this is not surprising. “With so much competition for our customers’ attention, we need to play on their playground,” the online community, said Linda. Using Facebook to engage consumers offers numerous advantages, including that social media is substantially cheaper, faster, and better (more long lasting, flexible, consumer relationship nurturing).

The latest birth of the beefy crunch burrito is a direct result of new product design through leverage of Facebook recruited consumer feedback. The process was simple. Participants from a pool of general public (not just the fan base) were screened online via Facebook. Then, online conversations were conducted and, subsequently, participants were selected for the study. Consumer feedback was collected through the “Food Innovation Panel” and “Technology Innovation Panel”.

Not only did Taco Bell obtain the recipe for its new product, but also valuable information about consumer habits. Among these are that 1) their consumers experienced lunch as the most rushed meal of the day; 2) lunch was functional but critical and typically a solo event; 3) lunch was often a trade-off; 4) portable food was perceived as premium; 5) the car was frequently the preferred location for food consumption; 6) and that mobile technologies are “changing the way we eat” with consumers locating nearest restaurants on the go, scheduling lunches through apps, and children serving as the largest consumers of cell phones.

Based on this and a plethora of other collected information, Taco Bell is convinced that new concepts can be born from a combination of insights gleaned about the use of car + mobile technology + lunch. Next steps will include further ethnography research, early guidance screening, and quantitative exploration.

Dan Edgar (Emerging Markets Innovation Leader, DuPont) commentary resonated with the above two speakers, as he also underscored, “we are looking to customers not for ideas, but for information.” Dan proceeded to introduce a different approach to obtaining this information. DuPont’s blueprinting model is optimized for B2B customers with peer-to-peer mediated but customer-led dialogue that, in conjunction with just-in-time web-based training of company representatives and use of easy-to-read digital projections, has opened wide channels of communication with the client.

This blueprinting approach is a set of rigorous, repeatable, and rapid processes with a specific progression: market research --> discovery interviews --> preference interviews --> side-by-side testing --> implement product objectives, technical transformation. The new product blueprinting offers tools for the “fuzzy front end” of the projects to help translate customer needs to distinct solutions, while further building a relationship with the customer. A further noteworthy benefit is the ability to kill bad projects earlier and strengthen good projects.

Dean Acocelli (Manager, Global Consumer Insights, Hasbro Games) offered yet another approach to obtaining consumer insights for new product development. At Hasbro, consumer research is a 5-step process:

1) Rethink rules and define challenges. Cross-functional teams consisting of marketing, design, and other functional groups, collaborate to rethink rules and define challenges.

2) Explore. Take the time to explore before gathering insights and conducting research. Define scope, identifying who the consumer is. Answer why? What? Where?

3) Establish what information is available and what is missing. Determine what is known and where some of the information gaps reside that we need to fill.

4) Go deep. Be resourceful, become your customer (example: by engaging in the same activities), be weird (do or find out about something that would be unusual for the target audience)

5) Review existing research and fresh insights. Develop insight-based platforms for idea generation, really get into learning about the consumer and trends. In this, allow everyone on the team to feel creative, embrace your inner hunter-gatherer, get out of your sandbox, take a walk on the wild side (consider how you could go beyond the usual day-to-day), get emotional (consider what the customer is feeling and the emotional connection between the customer and the product), be open-minded.

Rob Goudswaard (Sr. Director, Product & Service Innovation, Philips Home Monitoring) and Lucy Rowbotham (Consulting Director, Innovation Management, Cambridge Consultants) presented yet another example of a new product born out of consumer insights. “Every 2.3 seconds an older adult over the age of 65 will fall in US,” risking what is extremely important to people – staying independent in their home. Lifeline with AutoAlert substantially reduces this risk. This is the approach Rob and Lucy described:

1) Develop criteria with support from senior management. Include scope and goal definitions. For Lifeline with AutoAlert, one goal was 10% of customers to adopt the premium service.

2) Gain crowd insights. Include all those involved. Gather ethnographic research to see through the customer’s eyes and feel what they feel. Sample findings for the new Lifeline product included that seniors wanted independence and something to call when they cannot. 9/10 insights achieve resonance with the crowd, but it is also important to understand which insights are pertinent and where.

3) Create reasons to believe – why do it? – for a range of insights and insight clusters. It is key to generate as many insights as possible. For the new Lifeline product, researchers used innovations from other industries to generate insights and compiled 19 clusters of 159 ideas. However, Rob also cautioned about a pitfall: ideas will not necessarily fit all screening criteria. As a solution to this problem, find answers that meet at least some of the criteria, as long as these answers do not fail any of the screening criteria (positive discrimination).

4) Aggregate information into propositions and initial ranking. Note: do not necessarily focus on concepts with the highest fit – performance also needs to be evaluated.

5) Conduct brief technical investigation. For the new Lifeline product, 5 concepts were investigated and evolved into what was initially termed a “Falltimeter” that combined height and acceleration data to detect falls.

6) Test for crowd resonance. In the case of the AutoAlert, 2 concepts had a nearly perfect score of crowd resonance.

7) Perform final ranking. Select 1-3 concepts ready for feasibility study. At this stage, the Falltimeter became the AutoAlert. A recommendation here is to avoid temptation to intent during the development process – it is important ensure inventions are completed before development to reduce re-work and other costs.

In the case of Lifeline AutoAlert, the original goal was by far exceeded – 50% of new customers recognized the value of the premium AutoAlert service.

In summary, to achieve customer satisfaction, the Lifeline AutoAlert team recommended focusing on
1) Understanding your market
2) Spreading ideation across market insights
3) Watching out for pitfalls
4) Validating your assumptions and whether these resonate with the full crowd.

Four different approaches to tuning in to the voice of the customer were presented in the first 4 hours of this summit, offering valuable takeaways for service- and product-oriented organizations.


Elena Cavallo is a member of the FEI Community and focuses on Strategic Innovation in Medical Research and Healthcare. She is posting live from FEI 2011 in Boston May 16-18.

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