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Success: customer-centric innovation

Editorial | June 1, 2018 | By:

If your business proposition is innovative,

your ultimate goal has to be

‘The customer always thinks that WE are right.’

~Richard Branson


Back in February 1997, before my editorial advent at IFAI, the Industrial Fabric Products Review cover was graced with a simple shot of a computer, in ominous dark purple and glowing green hues, featuring a simple as the headline (also in glowing green, but not dripping anything). On the bottom, in blood-red type, it simply said “First Source for Industry Information.”

Editor Gene Rebeck’s editorial for that issue notes that his previous warnings about all the Internet/World Wide Web hype might have been exaggerated, but he also says that very few people are making any money online. So what’s it good for? His answer: PR and information. And unless you’re, that situation is still mostly true today—and the glut of information now available has a few glaring drawbacks, not all of which have come from Russia. Information requires context.

Innovation requires information. Traditional methods of innovation don’t always reflect customers’ actual needs and desires. Modern consumers have a lot of expectations in terms of cost, convenience and comfort, and a lot of options to obtain them. Solving customer problems is at least as important as solving technological problems when it comes to innovation. Henry Ford once commented: “If I asked customers what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.” Yet he went on to bring customers the mass-produced automobile, figuring that the customers’ problem was that few of them could afford one.

In Marion Debruyne’s book “Customer Innovation: customer-centric strategy for enduring growth,” she advises businesses to focus on two things:

• Understanding how people use your products and services; and

• Understanding why people use your products and services.

Customers require information and innovation. In the article “More than innovation” (p. 36), health-care industry sources tell us that protection is only the beginning: customers demand comfort, style, durability, affordability and sustainability … but, according to Marc Lessem, chief marketing officer for Vestagen Protective Technologies Inc., that still leaves the problem of convincing hospital employees (not management) to buy the company’s VesteX® garments. “Our challenge,” he says, “is to provide them with easy access to Vestex when they are accustomed to purchasing their uniforms at an online or brick-and-mortar uniform store.”

In our June 2017 theme issue, “Innovation: From Idea to Output,” Herculite’s CEO Peter McKernan, IFM, describes the company’s customer-centric structure: “We started with a typical organizational pyramid, flattened it and inverted the pyramid, reflecting our belief that our customers’ interests and needs are the pinnacle.”

Businesses require loyal customers. Solve their problems, and they’ll solve yours.

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