An economy obsessed with innovation has sprung up in the United States. Read any business magazine and you will be bombarded with the latest iPhone app or software system that will revolutionize your life or profession, or the new tablet or phone or wearable that will change the way you communicate.
But the reality is that the majority of the U.S. economy is not highly innovative. We are still a nation that is dominated by service jobs. In fact, more than 75 percent of U.S. jobs are in the service sector and service industries account for more than 70 percent of the nation’s economic output, according to the Coalition of Services Industries.
While app developers and software programmers are grabbing headlines, the vast majority of U.S. employees are still picking up the phone and dialing for dollars, working cash registers or delivering professional services.
So how do you innovate in industries that are not traditionally innovative? How can you become a company of new ideas when you are not building the next new software program, tablet or smartphone? You innovate through your culture. In the service industry, your culture is your product. And just like Apple engineers tinker with microprocessors and operating systems, service companies can meticulously engineer a culture as innovative and impactful as any app, smartphone or tablet.
Here is what to remember when sparking innovation in companies that are not product-driven:
Culture Is Your Innovation
In product-driven companies, entire departments are set up to research, develop, test and refine products. But in service companies, we don’t give the same care to developing service and culture. This is a mistake. In service industries, culture is the innovation you bring to your customers. You can’t expect it to evolve and adapt on its own. You have to invest in a company culture to deliver superior service, retain top talent and generate repeat business.
Customer Experience Is Your Brand
The customer experience is equally important to product companies and service companies. Apple built a multibillion-dollar business out of everything from the experience of opening an Apple box to the operating system’s responsiveness when tapping keys on an iPhone. Service companies build their business on similar customer experiences. You want to be able to trust the professional service companies you rely on daily, each year. You want excellent customer service, great ideas and good value. If Apple shipped millions of defective iPhones, their brand would suffer. In the same way, if a service company delivers sub-par customer service to hundreds of customers, their brand loses value.Focus on your customer service and the culture that drives that service with the same care that an Apple engineer would take while developing the new iPhone screen or operating system.
Creating Value Is Your Job
Successful innovation is all about creating value for the customer. You need to solve problems or increase efficiency for consumers to adopt the innovation. Service companies do this by creating a caring culture that is ingrained in how employees treat customers. But this process is not simple. Just like Apple product teams work for years to simplify their operating system or slim down their phone’s profile, service companies must work long and hard to make seemingly simple changes. Those simple changes make a huge difference in a company’s bottom line. Think Apple’s obsession with slightly crisper displays, millimeters of thinness and slight operating system tweaks are minor? The customer doesn’t. They value that just like they value service professionals who are helpful, caring and knowledgeable.
Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, once said, “Every little act matters. I’ve always tried to focus on the details – no detail is really too small. Executing even the smallest detail to perfection is the difference between a great guest experience and a failure.” It is this type of focus on experience that has turned Starbucks into a household name. Their customer experience is their product.
Culture Deserves Research and Development
So how do you build a great company culture? It is a process of trial and error. It requires research and development. Just like you would never slap together a smartphone or a piece of software in a haphazard fashion if you were a hardware company, don’t let your company culture become an afterthought. Be deliberate and strategic about building a culture. The investment will pay off.