Tips for Involving Everyone in Customer Experience Innovation

The following is excerpted from the book, Leading the Customer Experience, by Brad Cleveland.

The world is changing, and customer expectations are evolving. So, innovation is the heartbeat of customer experience. But how do you innovate?

Innovation, the late Peter Drucker points out in his landmark book, The Discipline of Innovation

The challenge is, many employees see innovation as risky. In some cases, it's shot down subtly. Mention a new idea, and your manager might respond with a question: "Isn't our service level under some pressure right now?" Or an unconvincing "Sounds good, we'll have to take a look." A colleague might chuckle, "We've never done it THAT way." In many cases, the organization's top leadership is 100 percent behind innovation but is unaware of how it plays out with managers, supervisors, and employees.

Innovation is a cool word, but at its heart is change. So you have to be intentional about encouraging and enabling innovation. Your goal should be universal participation in product and service innovation. Anyone can have the next great idea. Here are five keys to seeing that happen.

1. Identify and remove barriers to innovation.

This first recommendation is overarching and ongoing: find and remove barriers that are getting in the way of innovation. There are many ways to identify barriers. You can, for example, include this question on surveys, work it into informal conversations, or conduct focus groups with employees. Common barriers include no time, not sure what to do with an idea, nothing happened with past ideas, and spending time and focus in this way could jeopardize other performance objectives. You might hear things that are appalling, but the bigger the barriers, the larger the opportunity.

2. Ensure managers see it and track it.

The innovation learning curve is steep, and it's common for managers, especially, to hold tightly to entrenched approaches and processes. You need an environment where new ideas are shared during team meetings, coaching sessions, and informal discussions (as well as through formal channels). You'll need managers to advocate for employees' great ideas and coach them through the process rather than passing the idea up through the chain with a perfunctory thtnks The goal is to see innovation become an inherent part of the employee journey.

3. Establish an effective process for capturing, analyzing, and implementing ideas.

You'll need a process and supporting tools for gathering, consolidating, evaluating, and tracking ideas. Without a thoughtful approach, ideas will get lost, become separated from the contributor, or blocked from going further. Should that happen, employees will for a time ask, "What happened to my idea?" They'll then quickly give up: "Why bother?"

On the other hand, when employees see ideas firing everywhere, they understand innovation isn't just a program. It's a critical and expected part of the culture.

4. Tie recognition to strategic opportunities.

If new product innovation is the key to revising an aging product line, be sure to make that connection when acknowledging those contributions. If customer service innovation is a strategic focus, recognize employees who contribute ideas that impact the service channels. Of course, don't limit the generation of ideas across any area. But concentrate brainpower in critical areas and communicate priorities through recognition. This is how programs like 2020's Earthshot Prize, a U.K. climate change initiative, are so effective: They incentivize and reward innovation while drawing broad attention to the initiative itself.

5. Tie innovation contributions to the impact they have on customers.

As you capture and tell stories, include the germination of ideas, details about the employees who developed them, and examples of customers impacted by the idea. An insurance organization created life-size cut-outs of its quarterly innovation prize winners, along with a summary of the employee's innovative idea or project. After being displayed in the lobby each quarter, they were moved to the main hallways. This created a visual reminder of the company's priorities.

Your employees notice whether products and services are fresh and evolving. They'll look at practices and processes. They'll pick up on what gets recognized at town halls and team meetings. Innovative organizations make innovation a priority.

An Innovation Self-Assessment

  • You routinely identify and remove barriers to innovation.
  • Supervisors and managers effectively support innovation.
  • You have a process for capturing, analyzing and implementing ideas.<
  • You recognize and reward innovation; it is seen as a key part of your culture.
  • You share and celebrate innovation stories and tie them to how customers are impacted.

Brad Cleveland is an author, speaker and consultant known globally for his expertise in customer strategy and management. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries for clients as diverse as American Express, Apple, USAA, the University of California, and the governments in the U.S., Canada, Australia. Brad is author of Leading the Customer Experience (2021), Contact Center Management on Fast Forward (2019) and other books. His books and LinkedIn Learning courses have been translated into a dozen languages. Brad was founding partner in and former CEO of the International Customer Management Institute (, where he now serves as senior advisor. Today, he is a sought after speaker and consultant. Brad’s blog can be followed at