Archive for July, 2008

Trends You Need to Know

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

The June 2008 PMI Network magazine lists 5 business trends we all need to know about … or else. Future survival gets my attention. The thing that stood out to me was how important the ability to understand needs will be for all 5 trends. To me that means increasing value for the kind of “voice of the customer” skills we practice going beyond customer research. Let’s take a look.

TREND 1: THE BATTLE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE
A technical skill shortage is developing across all regions and markets. Even the low cost talent pools in India and China are drying up. Looking forward that means companies need to get better at two things:
— recruiting top talent
— managing talent internally

Well, if you want to attract good people, you need to understand what makes them tick, what they need and want. Then to keep them you also need to understand and meet their needs. So VOC skills are an advantage coping with this trend.

TREND 2: THE RISE OF EMERGING MARKETS
Emerging markets are the part of globalization that is breaking growth records. Most companies don’t do a good job of understanding their domestic customer as it is. Then they hope to develop products for, and sell to, a different culture? Good voice of the customer work is even more important and more tricky in this context.

For example, Breakthrough NPD supports foreign clients but with a catch. Unlike the U.S. & Canadian markets where we will do everything if requested, we only do certain parts of VOC work overseas. We train our foreign clients in VOC methods and we will coach them, even being in the room as they conduct customer interviews. The key difference is that a native familiar with the language and culture must conduct or lead the customer interactions. They must ask the questions and interpret the answers. Keeping bias out of the process is hard enough and would be much harder with the filter of outsider bias in the way as well. We can provide a neutral and unique perspective that ads value to the interpretation but should not be driving the work.

TREND 3: INTERACTIVE INNOVATION
This boils down to using Web 2.0 tools to incorporate customer needs into your business at every level. That is, from core business strategies and project goals to testing new product concepts and getting feedback on your existing products and services. Examples are having your own internet forums, blogs, social networks, on-line communities, customer advisory boards and so on to better understand customer needs. This essentially means expanding what we do now to define new products and their requirements to also help guide the business and improve operations.

TREND 4: REALISTIC RESPONSIBILITY
This is taking responsibility for the impact of company actions on communities, stakeholders and society. Social responsibility is going from a “nice to have” PR stunt to standard operating procedure for good business reasons. This involves a wide range of things from labor practices, living wages, health and safety, civic infrastructure, environment, etc. I’ll admit that the link from VOC skills to this trend is weaker but they still will give you clearer vision of your impact on everyone else.

TREND 5: THE HERE AND NOW
Globalization has pushed companies into 24/7 schedules and operations. With this comes the push for quicker returns on investments. Obviously this is about running faster. Less apparent, it is about being more clear on what you need to achieve. You can do more with less if your goals are clearly defined. That means continuously tracking the needs and goals of the end user, establishing methods that allow your teams to react to changing business needs, and prioritizing what can or should be done in view of the larger context. The best way is to involve customers, stakeholders, and advisors throughout your projects. Again, skills to acquire input and understand your customers will be invaluable.

A medical device case study in the article illustrates that this goes beyond getting the specs right. I think this quote from the company involved makes that case well, “customers jumped at the chance to participate once they saw we cared about their needs.”

Let me emphasize the “we cared about their needs.” The bottom line folks is that it is all eventually about the people. It is about the individuals whose lives are benefited or burdened by your offering.

Do you believe these trends are real and will affect your business? If so, you should also see that getting better at understanding the voice of the customer, (broadly defined), will be important to benefiting from rather than being buried by these trends.

For more on the trends:
“Pay Attention,” Sarah Fister Gale, PMI Network, June 2008 ps 35-41.