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Are You Really Innovating Around Your Customers’ Needs?


How would you reimagine a gas station for the future? Even with the increasing penetration of electric vehicles, gasoline cars are likely to remain the dominant automobile for years or even decades. I have asked this question of hundreds of senior executives. They typically suggest things like including a coffee shop, making the station a drop-off point for Amazon boxes, or having robots pump gas. Their rationale for such changes is to provide additional value to customers. But are these ideas really customer-centric? Are they addressing the job the customer is trying to do – conveniently refuel the car. No.


Most people consider going to the gas station an unavoidable inconvenience. If people need to refill their car but hate getting gas how can we solve this problem? Not by putting Starbucks in gas stations. How about, then, bringing the gas to them? This may seem far-fetched but in fact several on-demand gas services launched in recent years including Filld and Booster do exactly this. Customers use an app to order gas when they need it, and these companies deliver. It’s not much of stretch from there to imagine that cars might soon automatically order their own gas when they sense they’re getting low.


Every company believes it is customer-centric. However, most of them are product- and service-centric first, focusing on how to enhance their offerings (e.g., adding services to gas stations) rather than putting themselves in their customers’ shoes (and realizing that people want to avoid the gas station altogether). In this article, I describe three ways companies can come up with truly innovative ideas by thinking about customers first.


Understand customers’ problems

Often customers have difficulty articulating the problem they are trying to solve. Therefore, it is critical to dig deeper to understand the root cause of customers’ challenges. This sort of investigating led Deepak Garg to build what’s now a billion-dollar venture, Rivigo, which is revolutionizing the trucking industry in India.


Trained at McKinsey and looking to build a company, Deepak realized that the rise of e-commerce had dramatically increased the demand for trucks, yet in India the industry was struggling with the shortage of drivers. How could this be in a country of over a billion people with high unemployment rate — despite healthy wages for truck drivers?


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