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Curiosity, Innovation and the Customer Experience

Curiosity is a basic human instinct. The desire to gain new information and experiences has led to numerous breakthrough discoveries and inventions. If fostered in the workplace it drives innovation and collaboration, solves intractable problems and allows us to see new possibilities and opportunities for growth. It’s also fundamental to an organisation’s ability to add value to the customer experience.

Though the benefits of curiosity are well documented, many organisations discourage it. Francesca Gino, in her HBR article The Business Case for Curiosity, highlights, “…employees often have challenging short-term performance goals (such as meeting a quarterly sales target or launching a new product by a certain date) that consume the “free time” they could have spent exploring alternative approaches to their work or coming up with innovative ideas.”

Productive ideation vs idle day dreaming

Similar in concept, day dreaming allows us to tap into our creativity via our subconscious or absent mind, conjuring brilliant problem-solving solutions, that often disappear as soon as they are ‘dreamt up’.

Ideation provides a structure to this process where idea generation, concepts and outcomes can be focused on, providing the fuel for innovative solutions. Often the most exciting part of the thinking process, ideation allows for a multitude of ideas, covering a wide scope to be tabled for the team to then filter through and ultimately arrive at the best, most practical or most innovative ideas to work into solutions.

Ideation brings together perspectives and strengths of the team members and will often uncover unexpected areas of innovation as the questions with the focus on your customer needs start ot open up further insights.

Curiosity and Ideation

The Curious mind is the mind that is most open to the concept of Ideation and the need to challenge the current and/or obvious approach and assumptions. Not afraid to ask the so called ‘stupid questions’ and provoke current understandings will result in deeper understanding and ultimately where breakthroughs can come from.

The Curious mind coupled with Ideation can bring a world of benefits to an organisation;

  • Innovation: Most if not all business leaders understand the value of innovation. According to Saja Chodosh, from Emotive Brand, Innovation needs people who are prepared to ask “why” and “what if”. Curious people like to learn new things as well as explore alternative and hypothetical situations. It’s the curiosity of these people that will fuel the innovation necessary to keep a company relevant to its customers.
  • Employee Engagement: Curious employees are productive and engaged employees, motivated by an environment where they feel comfortable to ask questions and make suggestions. They feel they are making a contribution on an intellectual and emotional level and that their contribution is being recognised.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Curiosity contributes to opening up of opportunities and thinking outside of the ‘norm’. When these opportunities and ideas are shared, the collective collaboration leads to a synchronisation in a collective understanding in greater productivity and a faster outcome to the ultimate solution/s.
  • Customer Experience: Curious employees are more than likely to identify areas of improvement and are better at solving customer problems. Promoting open, honest and useful communication assists employees and therefore the organisation, to connect more deeply with customers resulting in an increase in customer service.

While the financial impact of curiosity can’t always be measured accurately, the impact of the benefits it brings about can be analysed and measured.

Fostering curiosity

Performance and productivity KPIs are easy to measure and cost justify. They measure very tangible inputs and outcomes in terms of money, time and resources spent to complete specific tasks and activities.

Leaders who are open to asking and answering questions will get more by promoting an inquisitive, engaged and more productive environment and result in a cohesive team ready for a challenge.

Remember also, to ask questions and be curious about your people. Who are they, what motivates them, what are their goals and ambitions? Learn as much about them as you can and demonstrate genuine interest and curiosity about them.

Encourage the people in your team to question the ‘norm’ so they continue to learn and develop in their role. Recognise and reward them when they contribute and highlight their successes through their suggestions and proposing of alternative options. This means being prepared to take risks and allowing employees to act upon their own initiative depending on circumstances.

Today, the organisations fearful of change and losing control, kill curiosity by adopting communication and control structures that are too rigid. These structures are tied to KPIs that focus on productivity over creativity. As a result, the organisation becomes stagnant and incapable of managing the disruptive forces that it may be facing in its industry and the world economy.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions… even the ‘stupid’ questions

Anita Bowtell

Anita is a leading figure in the Customer Experience and Contact Centre industries. With Interact Melbourne she leads an extensive network of CX and technology professionals and executives. She is passionate about customer experience and helping people reach their full potential. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated visionary leadership in various roles as Founder, Co-Founder, CEO, Vice Chair, President and Executive Director.