What does innovation mean?
In the context of companies, innovation basically refers to the development of a new product or service, a process improvement or, in the best case, a groundbreaking, game-changing transformation. And what does TÜV Rheinland have to do with this? Quite a bit, I’d say! Granted, we are neither Google nor Facebook, nor are we developing a new iPhone. But we need to be in touch with such developments, because we are the ones who will test the new products and can demonstrate that the systems or devices are safe for their users. A task which, in turn, can only be mastered by applying new test procedures and implementing innovative business and distribution models. And the earlier we are involved in development cycles, the better we can support companies in making new developments safe from the outset.
Who are our customers anyway?
When we talk about innovation today, we often hear buzzwords and phrases like design thinking, creative problem solving, design sprint or agility. The first three approaches in particular are about “people-centric innovation”. This means that we do not focus on a technology or business model, but on the needs of our customers and users.
But who are these “users” or “customers”? Will they benefit from the newly developed product or service? Do we even have to consider that? I would like to discuss these questions in a bit more detail because I believe that they are of great relevance to our work. In our environment, we are almost always dealing with business customers who are virtually synonymous with the company they represent. Just like TÜV Rheinland, these companies depend on or at least have to take into account overriding interests such as legislation, standards, etc. Despite all applicable regulations and existing customer structures, we should try to think from the user’s point of view, consider who these users are – and if possible get in touch with them.
Focus on users
Why do I say that? I assume that we develop products or services that are intended to make people’s lives (in general) safer. We want to create trust in products and services. I also assume that people are more likely to buy products if they can assume they are safe. Therefore, when developing a new testing service, it makes sense to ask the users of the products to be tested what their needs are. Admittedly, this certainly doesn’t make sense at every point. But even if a process improvement or the like is to be developed for the operation of a power plant, for example, it can be very inspiring to talk to the people who either purchase electricity from the operator of that power plant or live near it.
Only when we know what the users want and what moves them we can develop a service that is truly credible. I firmly believe that this credibility enhances the chances of such a product being accepted on the market.
Raising B2B customers’ awareness of users’ needs
So how do we get in touch with our “users”? First of all, it is important to raise our business customers’ awareness in this respect. Unfortunately there is no magic formula available for this. One possibility is to have a few initial, informal talks together with the company. For this purpose, potential or actual users of a certain product can be identified and interviewed. The format can then be evaluated together. It is also helpful to first find out from the company what observations or feedback can already be drawn from direct contact with users. This can provide important initial insights. For example:
- How close is the contact between our business customers and the users?
- How well do our customers observe their users?
- What specific information is already available and how is it being used?
How do we (all) benefit from this?
Even if our customers already have gained initial insights, it is definitely worthwhile to have additional conversations, as these are more focused on specifics. Clearer information can be generated, which then helps in further product development. This enables us to create value in two ways. Our business customers receive valuable insights about their own customers and can incorporate these into their development work. And it helps us to consider together with the companies what effects this can have on testing/certifying the products and what should be emphasized in the context of communication. We can also consider to what extent a certified management system can create added value in addition to product certification.
If it hasn’t happened already, this is the point at which our business customers might finally come to the conclusion that involving testing service providers such as TÜV Rheinland in development processes at an early stage makes sense in order to develop better products more quickly. Users receive products that are tailored to their needs, meet all expectations in terms of safety and sustainability and can therefore be used and recommended with a clear conscience.
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