It’s been said that in the knowledge economy, it’s now every individual’s responsibility to innovate with the customer in mind.

When developing a new product or service, does your organization get feedback from customers along the way? And, do you seek, find, and use those customer-driven insights to shape your products or services? Here are two things to keep in mind when bringing new concepts to life.

1. Get ‘obsessed’ with your customer 

“To innovate, you must obsess about what your customer is doing, thinking, and feeling at every step of their journey. It’s not good enough to just focus on how they interact with your product or service,” says Chad Reynolds, Founder of Batterii, a platform to help teams collaborate with customers. Chad has worked with brands including Adidas, GE Healthcare, Nike, and Procter & Gamble to re-imagine the experiences they offer customers.

“Obsession in delighting customers is a team sport,” says Chad. “Employees at every level within the company need to own the directive. If they don’t, it’s difficult to make lasting change.”

Once you’ve aligned the organization around a customer-first strategy to innovate and develop products, look to practices that can help you better understand your customers’ needs. (For example, Chad supports design thinking which provides a repeatable process to help support innovation.)

Having more empathy for customers lets you understand the “pain” you are helping to alleviate or solve with your products and services. “Empathy holds the keys to a treasure chest of innovation opportunities. But first, your culture needs to be motivated to make customer-first decisions on what they discover,” says Chad.

2. Seek ways to know more about your customers’ experience 

“The stickiness of a new product or service today often depends on how it supports the daily routines of your customers,” explains Chad. Because every customer uses different terms or language to describe what they do—or what they may want—watching or seeing how they behave in their environment can drive new insights. Said another way, take the time to understand more about your customer, and where your product or service fits in with their life or work.

Having a clear idea of what your customers are currently experiencing is also one of the quickest ways to see new areas of opportunity. For example, “Day-in-the-Life” research methods give your team access to observe customers and their environment. This can be accomplished by conducting interviews, shadowing your stakeholders, and even inviting them into co-creation sessions to share their experiences. All of these methods are ways to better understand how your customer is thinking, feeling, and how they are making decisions.

Whatever your customer may experience in a given day, encourage them to share real, authentic stories. As your document these conversations or observations, capture their actions (what they did), their framing (what they were thinking) and emotions (how that made them feel) through every step of their journey.

Whether it’s notes, audio, photos, or videos, capture all observations. Chad recommends creating a list of approved questions, as a team, before you engage customers in conversation. Questions should inquire, be open in nature, and not lead to certain answers you may be looking for. Another tip: encourage storytelling, and if needed, introduce visuals to spark discussion.

Use Your Customer to Drive Innovation

Are you creating a new product or service offering? Are you looking for a way to carve out better margins on your current service offerings? Knowing your customer segments—and why those customers buy from you—is crucial to your success.