Three Steps to Generating Customer-Driven Innovation

Guest blog by Aaron Conway from MHI Member Company Mezzanine Safeti-Gates

We had a discussion in the office about innovation recently, and as our team was talking about it, it became clear that every innovation we have made here at Mezzanine Safeti-Gates was driven by a customer. Even our first safety gate model, the Roly® was designed to help a customer protect employees working around an elevated pallet drop area.

To help generate an innovation spark, we’ve identified three key steps to get your team started.

Create Nimble Teams
How quickly can your team solve a customer issue? Do you have a creative lead for innovation? Nimble teams can jump on any issue, whether it is a new product or design that needs to be created or how to make improvements to existing models.

Make sure your team has time for innovation, whether that means a dedicated team or carving out regular intervals of time for developing new projects and products. Staff teams accordingly, so that the new ideas don’t get in the way of day to day operations and production. Take stock of your internal teams; to crank up innovation, you may need to look into hiring or restructuring teams, outsourcing a creative team or working with a university or industry association.

Visit Customer Facilities
It’s really hard to be innovative if you sit in your office day after day. Visit customer facilities when you have the opportunity; go with the sales or technical team to close the deal and take measurements. You can learn a lot from seeing the actual work environment you are building a solution for; take a couple of minutes to watch that area and really make sure you understand the area and its purpose.

Talk with the facility managers and workers if you are able; they are often happy to talk with you about what they are doing, highlight the good parts about the process and even talk about what they think they need to make the facility more efficient or safer.

Consider Every Ask
Sometimes customers have grandiose ideas on how they may be able to implement equipment or a process within their facilities and systems. Even if it sounds like it would never, ever be a viable option, don’t say no right away. Engineering or design teams may have a deeper understanding of the mechanics of your solutions, and the idea may seem like a big challenge for a salesperson, but a small challenge for the production team. Dig in more and ask questions to find out what they are currently doing and why they want to make the requested changes. By getting more detail, you can gain a clearer vision of the solution they really need and you can take that idea – as big as it may be, back to your team.

With creativity flowing, your team can design the best solutions for your customers.Think about the longevity of the solution that was asked for, and determine if it is unique to that business or if it could be used by other companies. If it can be used widely, consider adding it to your product line.

Aaron Conway is President of Mezzanine Safeti-Gates, Inc.