Good ideas are most successful when they’re not just a modern novelty, but fulfill an unmet customer need. Gis van Wulfen describes how to find innovation opportunities by identifying customer frictions.

The fuzzy front end of innovation confronts you with a lot of questions. In my new book ‘Creating innovative Products and Services’ I try to solve them with the FORTH innovation method.

In an earlier blog ‘Great Ideas got the X factor’ I identified seven characteristics for great ideas for innovative products, services or business models:

  1. Very appealing to customers.
  2. It stands out in the market.
  3. It has great potential for extra turnover.
  4. It has adequate profit potential.
  5. It fits management’s personal goals.
  6. It is (somehow) considered quickly feasible.
  7. It creates its own internal support.

It is pretty evident that potential customers have to find the new product idea really attractive. However, there is more to it. Winning new concepts give potential customers a concrete reason to change. It will solve relevant problems of customers. This not only applies to the consumer market but also to business-to-business markets where services or products play often a huge role in the business processes of customers. When it comes to the decision to buy, many people and departments are involved. There will have to be a definite reason for change.

But how do you find these unmet needs? That’s the question! In the FORTH innovation method step two ‘Observe and Learn’ is dedicated to find innovation opportunities and concrete customer frictions.

A customer friction is a (re) discovered relevant need, urge or wish from a specific target group in a recognisable situation, which is not sufficiently satisfied and which you can use as a relevant basis for a new distinctive product concept.

In short:

The difference between what somebody wants and what he can have.

Let me give you 3 examples of winning new services, based on solving customer frictions.

1. I have too much stuff!

Friction: I am living in an urban area in a small apartment or house and I have too much stuff.

Solution: Shurgard is a worldwide self-storage provider with over one million customers. It offers dry, clean and safe storage in big cities for self-storage, which you can access any moment from 6 am until 11 pm.

2.  I need to focus on the business side!

Friction: I have a project-based business. One moment I need 15 people and another I need 150. But I hate all the paper work this brings forth and like to focus on the business.

Solution: ADP Payroll solutions is market leader in payrolling in the U.S.A. They streamline your payroll process, improve productivity and simplify administration, so you can focus on running your business.

3. I need to expand my business network!

Friction: I am a professional consultant looking for projects. It is difficult though to get new assignments because my business network is limited.

Solution: LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the Internet with more than 100 million members in over 200 countries and territories. You can connect to your current relations and they facilitate online introductions entering their network.

So if you want to create innovative products or services start with discovering relevant customer frictions to solve. There are several ways to discover them:

  • Personal visits.
  • Focus groups.
  • Web search and crowd sourcing.

You can download two checklists on how to discover customer frictions for free. I hope you will find a lot of them at your target group!

About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.