Invention is the creation of something new
Innovation is creating a new solution that addresses a human need
If I were so inclined, I could go into my garage cobble together some random materials and produce a “one of a kind” object. I could call it Joseph’s garage invention. While I might amuse myself in the process, the invention would be nothing more than an expression of my creative process.
Innovation, by contrast, requires an effort to solve a problem.
As a customer experience consultant, I am often tasked with helping businesses identify the high-value human needs for which people, process, or technology innovations can be crafted.
One of my favorite examples of a high-value innovation is the Hippo Water Roller.
My enthusiasm for this innovation is reflected in my financial support for the non-profit project which enables distribution of the Hippo (that is my not so subtle hint that you may wish to consider making a contribution of your own).
In case you haven’t heard about the Hippo, this is straight from the Hippo’s mouth or should I say the Hippo Roller’s website concerning the human need:
“750 million people in Africa and Asia struggle daily to access water. Water collection points are often located far away from their homes: 1-6 miles. This is typically done with heavy 5 gallon buckets balanced on their head.”
And as to the solution:
“The Hippo Roller enables women, children and the elderly to collect up to 5x more water than a single bucket. Users simply roll the Hippo Roller along the ground. It improves water access, food security and income generation.”
To see the hippo roller in action (click the picture below or visit hipporoller.org)
While most of us will not innovate a solution that will have as broad a social impact as the Hippo Roller, we can dedicate our efforts to remove pain points, improve capacity, and decrease effort (all aspects of the Hippo innovation).
To the degree we make our customer’s lives easier and enable them to live in a more fulfilled and productive way, we are and can be innovators.
Take a moment to reflect on your customer’s journey and think of where you can lighten their load or ease their path…that is the beginning point for all great innovation.
Yet again the world is rocked by a terrible and senseless mass shooting. In a community not far from me in Central Florida, innocent men and women entered a business not expecting to run out in horror, be carried out in pain, or not walk out at all.
The media will spotlight the human suffering and try to understand the psychology of the shooter. Politicians will squabble about ways to mitigate future attacks and security experts will tell us how to make our businesses safer. But what about taking a moment with our teams and talking about the importance of caring and compassion?
None of us knows how long we will have to be in service to others, nor do we know the back story of each person we are about to serve. Typically, we don’t know if the next customer has suffered a recent tragedy, is distressed by health or financial difficulties, or feels unaccepted by others. What we do know, is that we have the power in every human interaction to provide service! By that I mean we can offer others:
- A Warm Welcome
- An Eagerness to be of Assistance
- Attentive Listening
- Considerate and Compassionate Care, and
- Sincere Gratitude.
Kindness and excellence in human service, will not stop those hellbent on destroying others but it is a claim to our personal power. True service is a constructive force that leaders can offer to their team members and a gift frontline workers can provide for those who entrust us with their business.
During the wake of this most recent tragedy, I reflected back to a Starbucks customer I spoke to while writing my second book about the company (Leading the Starbucks Way). When I asked that young, burly man about why he visits Starbucks on a daily basis, he unexpectedly began to cry and said, “I get bullied at work and struggle to go back in to my job each day after lunch. I come to Starbucks for a coffee during my lunch break BECAUSE THEY ARE NICE TO ME and I feel able to get through the afternoon at work.”
I remember wishing I could make his workplace more pleasant or help him find a kinder work environment. I also remember appreciating how leadership and the baristas at his Starbucks took the time to be “NICE” to him – thus providing a respite from the challenges he faced.
When the world becomes harsh, violent, and angry – shouldn’t we INCREASE our commitment to service?
Muhammad Ali was not only a civil rights advocate and exceptionally talented boxer – he was and will be an enduring brand. From an advertising perspective, his equity extended in commercial endorsements of brands like Louis Vuitton, Porsche, Apple, Coke, Gatorade, and Pizza Hut.
So what can every business leader learn from the brand experience consistently delivered by Muhammad Ali? Here are a few core lessons:
1) Benchmark the Best: At age 19, Cassius Clay met George Wagner, a boastful, electrifying, professional wrestler who went by the ring name of Gorgeous George. The man the world would remember as Muhammad Ali was present as Gorgeous George was interviewed at a radio station in Las Vegas. During the interview, Gorgeous George incited the audience with claims of how George would triumph over his upcoming competitor because in George’s words he was “the greatest wrestler in the world!” Gorgeous George purportedly later told Muhammad Ali, “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing, and always be outrageous.”
2) Back-up Your Claims: Muhammad Ali made provocative claims that he fulfilled with immense talent and arduous training. His marketing genius was completely aligned with supreme execution.
3) Take a Stand: Muhammad Ali was larger than life because he was willing (in the words of his friends) to “follow his heart and not the money.” He filtered the world through his values and deeply held convictions. He took actions that, for a time, cost him his title, endorsements, potential incarceration, and the support of many.
4) Demonstrate Otherness: While many people seek “fame and fortune” for themselves, Muhammad Ali leveraged his fame for the good of others. He viewed success as an obligation to do good in the world.
5) Remain Positive in the Face of Adversity: All of us, to one degree or another, suffer Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Great leaders like Muhammad Ali inspire us with the grace by which they manage their adversity. For a man with such vitality, strength, and power to lose his physical control and voice – yet do so without complaint and with extreme gentility, is an inspiration for us all.
Muhammad Ali was a man, a boxer, a hero for many, and a legendary brand that delivered hope, courage and transformation to those fortunate enough to encounter “The Greatest” experience.
According to a recent comprehensive international study conducted by Accenture, 52% of customers reported that poor customer service caused them to switch from one brand to another in the past year. In the U.S. alone that “switching” behavior means poor service costs brands over 1.6 trillion dollars.
Given those numbers from Accenture and prior research from Bain and Co. showing that it costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire than retain customers, common sense predicts more business leaders would invest to develop cultures of service excellence. But then again, Will Rogers once said, “common sense ain’t common.”
Rather than lacking common sense, I suspect many leaders need guidance on how to stop the 1.6 trillion dollar US customer churn problem and save money through retention strategies as opposed to advertising and marketing spend.
So let’s hit the highlights of “customer-obsessed cultures of service excellence”:
Select for Service Talent – I often say, you can’t put in what God left out. Some people are not suited to serve others. For example, if you have to tell someone to smile while serving customers or to take their ear buds out and stop listening to their music, you probably hired the wrong person.
Develop Service Talent – As is the case with athletic talent, individuals with service talent shine when they receive great coaching. I like to think leaders are not throwing advertising dollars out the window by failing to support acquisition efforts with service development and training investments. Why buy “top of mind” awareness to drive traffic if that traffic spins right out your door based on bad service.
Talk About Customer Service Incessantly – It’s been said we are what we eat. I am certain we are what we talk about! If you talk about all that is wrong in the world you are a complainer. If you talk about the importance of customer service and share examples of successes and breakdowns, you are a customer service leader!
Reward Service Talent – Put your money where your mouth is! Celebrate those who treat others well. Recognize them and link compensation to service excellence.
Accenture gives us 1.6 trillion reasons to up our game when it comes to customer experience excellence. How much more do we need?
It’s been said that when you have a “hammer everything looks like nails.” Such is the case with technology!
For quite some time now we’ve all watched technology revolutionize the way service is delivered across the globe. For example, the Internet transformed the travel service industry as sites like Travelocity decreased the need for travel agents and apps like those created by Uber have shaken the world of taxi drivers forever.
Recently, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that “artificial intelligence” and robotic computers will replace almost all service professionals. With due respect to the genius of Zuckerberg, I question whether the need for “human service” will ever become extinct.
In support of my argument, I lean on two phenomena: a recent study by Accenture and a hypothesis referred to as the “uncanny valley.”
Accenture recently released a study of 24,489 customers in 33 countries and across 11 industries.
According to that research:
83% of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings.
65% agree in-store service is the best channel for personalized experiences.
Clearly, technology will have a continually important role in service delivery, as evidenced by Accenture’s finding that 73% of study participants expect customer service to be easier and more convenient, and 61% expect it to be faster.
As for robots replacing human beings, imagine a very human-like computer functioning as a front-desk clerk at a high-end hotel. For the sake of this example, further assume everything about the robot approximates a person (skin tone, simulation of breathing, and algorithms that are able to anticipate consumer responses). Let’s even assume the robot can approximate true human empathy.
If and when all that might be possible, I am convinced there will be a strong underlying resistance from customers. A form of resistance captured in the concept of an “uncanny valley.” In a nutshell, the “valley” refers to a decline in perceptions of machines and other animated objects as those devices take on “uncanny” resemblances to humans. In essence, the more machines resemble humans the less acceptable those machines become to us. Whether it is fear of replacement or our need to interact with service providers like ourselves, human-like machines are “creepy” and “disturbing” for most of us.
While we wait to see whether Mark Zuckerberg is correct, I recommend we merge the best human and technology solutions together in order to produce easy, seamless, consistent, humane, and emotionally engaging experiences for those we serve! BTW this blog was created, at least for now, by a real human being!