Innovation. It’s the stuff business success is built on and has long been the bread and butter of highly skilled contractors. Not too long ago coming up with brilliant, game-changing ideas was the sole prerogative of tech giants. Now, it’s on every business’ agenda. Every company is aware of how technology and globalisation will affect the way they do business in the future. There’s always the possibility of a little kitchen start-up anywhere in the world disrupting the industry and bringing about radical change.
There’s no getting around it – innovation is hard. It’s not just about having a light-bulb moment, it’s about the execution and ensuring your change actually adds value. It takes relentless focus, openness and often a bit of luck. But in my experience, as a former contractor, engineer and now a business owner of a pioneering service, I’ve found there are four simple secrets that can deliver successful innovation in any environment.
1. Put the customer first, always
Disruptive innovation is one of our core values at inniAccounts, and we’re continually working to not only develop but to ensure change remains at the forefront of everything we do. The best place to start? You have to shut up and listen. It can’t be about you, the product or the business, it has to be about the customers. You need to clearly understand the problems they are faced with, experience them yourself (for real if you can) and try and solve them. Our motto at inniAccounts has always been that if you put the customer first and do right by them, you will succeed and it’s certainly worked for us so far. An innovation is a huge success when your end user feels transformed and sees a permanent change in their behaviour. The best innovators are those who always listen to the end-customer and put their views at the heart of the process. There are a number of ways to reach out to the customer, such as focus groups and market research. But, we’ve found that our best insights come from those on the front lines, the people talking every day to customers and hearing what they want and what they struggle with.
2. Make the whole experience effortless
While we love the nitty-gritty details, the end user doesn’t care about how clever the underlying technology is, they just care about their experience. Innovation shouldn’t be about creating something different just for the sake of being different; it should create a strategic difference that drives customers, revenue and growth into the business. These differences can be really subtle. I always advise that an innovator should think about the little jobs that stack up, and solve them. Our whole service is based around solving these little jobs. Some of our features include a simple check box in our mileage log that removes the onus of repeatedly entering the same journey, and the ability to automatically raise invoices from entered expenses. No one is going to herald these small features as a huge innovation, but all these elements add up to make our experience seamless; making our product vital and transformative for our clients.
3. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid
If inniAccounts has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the best innovations are the simplest solutions. Complexity kills engagement. If you’ve ever been involved in a project from the start, you’ve no doubt seen this. New ideas start as lovely, simple concepts that quickly grow and grow and become more convoluted as more people get involved and want to push in new features. This makes implementation more complicated and often offers no more real benefit to the customer. Instead of thinking ‘what new features can we add’, we try and thinking ‘how can we streamline our service, how can we make things simpler for the client?’ This doesn’t just benefit the customer, it ensures our ideas aren’t just left on a drawing board bogged down in unnecessary detail. From a business perspective, keeping everything simple for our customer also helps to free up our customer service so they can focus on offering more pro-active help.
4. Help them without them even realising
When you’ve put your time and effort into a grand idea, it’s natural to want something you can shout about. But while successful innovation introduces a change to your user’s usual way of doing things – they don’t necessarily need to even realise it’s happening. Here at inniAccounts, when the law on workplace pensions changed, we were faced with the quandary of how to upskill our clients on a complex subject. After much brainstorming, we found ways to distil the complexity, strip out the surrounding noise and help guide our clients so they could effortlessly understand and navigate the changes; making the best decisions for their company while ensuring they remained compliant. Innovation doesn’t need to come with a big bang, if it helps to make your service more efficient and makes a real change to a customer’s behaviour – it’s bound to be a success.
Whether you’re a contractor helping a client to grow or a business owner looking to improve your service, I believe that by following these four secrets, you’ll improve your chances of delivering successful innovation regardless of the environment around you.