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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Customer Care

Necessity Is the Mother of Customer Co-Creation

You will need all the half-baked, slightly wild ideas you can get

Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2021 - 11:02

Necessity is the mother of invention. And few things are more necessary to the success of an organization than customers. Leave that thought on the page, and we will return to it shortly.

Napoleon knew that a military force’s success directly correlated to the food it was provided. He offered a large prize ($75K in today’s dollars) to any person who could figure out a way to get better, healthier food to his army. In 1809, a candy maker named Nicholas Appert stepped up to the challenge and discovered a process to hermetically seal food in glass jars. Appert’s technique led to an 1810 patent and spread to the United States, where the first foods sealed and shipped were salmon and lobster! Why not start with the best?

We are in a fast-paced, rapidly changing business world. “As globalization gives everyone the same information, resources, technology, and markets, a society’s particular ability to put those pieces together in the fastest and most innovative manner increasingly separates winners from losers in the global economy,” wrote bestselling author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

But the demand for innovation is exceeding our capacity. Notice, Napoleon did not go down to the mess hall and summon his army cooks. There was no, “I need your help!” (Actually, he would have said, “J’ai besoin de votre aide.”) We need “candy makers” to help solve our “army on its belly”-type challenges. And that brings us to one of an organization’s greatest innovation resources: its customers. Getting customers to provide input is one thing; getting them to provide hands-on help is quite another.

DHL is the FedEx and UPS of Europe. With more than a half-million employees, it is the largest private carrier in the world. Its commitment to co-creation partnerships takes many forms including its annual DHL Innovation Days. Customers and business partners connect in an inspirational atmosphere to think outside the box and honor creative minds with the DHL Innovation Awards.

When customers wanted to help rethink supply chains and logistics to improve future business performance, DHL created a series of intensive hands-on workshops that brought together DHL experts with customers to do scenario planning for future applications. It yielded breakthroughs like Parcelcopter, a drone delivery project; smart glasses, an augmented reality that improved warehouse picking efficiency by 25 percent; and “Maintenance on Demand,” co-created with DHL customer Volvo Trucks that uses sensors to automatically send back vehicle performance data to identify when and where truck maintenance will be needed.

What can you do to find and involve customers who can be the “candy makers” to help solve your product and service creation challenges? What would your co-creation partnerships look like? The road ahead is going to be increasingly complex. You will need all the half-baked, slightly wild ideas you can get. Just like Napoleon, who cast an idea net beyond the ranks of his army, employees sometimes can be too close to the issue to see what a customer might see. Next time you need some R&D help, invite your customers to come help sweeten the solutions.

First published July 27, 2021, on Chip R. Bell’s website.

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About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions (Berrett-Koehler, 2020), shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.