When asked about innovation efforts at their companies, most executives typically point towards internally-driven projects and successes. This includes product updates, the shift to cloud computing, automating the workforce, and even transforming the company’s culture—all tied to innovation. But, what about the customer?

Consider these results from a recent Surveymonkey study on innovation:

  • The #1 goal of innovation for consumers was to “solve a need.”
  • Ninety percent of consumer respondents said “listening to customers” is the most important way companies can fuel innovation.
  • Forty-one percent of business respondents said  “understanding customer needs” drives innovation, which was the #1 response.

When looking at the Surveymonkey survey’s results, clearly a gap exists between customer and company views on innovation. To that end, a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article challenges current perceptions around company innovation, and whether companies are making life better for customers—or themselves.

According to the HBR article, “Every company believes it is customer-centric. However, most of them are product- and service-centric first, focusing on how to enhance their offerings rather than putting themselves in their customers’ shoes.”

If this sounds familiar, take a look at the three steps below aimed at helping you put “customers first” in your innovation efforts—as recommended by HBR:

  1. Understand customer problems: The HBR article points out that customers often have trouble describing the problems they are trying to resolve. It’s important to “dig deep” and identify root causes of problems, including financial, societal, and cultural factors.
  2. Identify pain points: Aiming to solve specific problems versus implementing general improvements can help companies more easily identify issues that impact the customer. For example, a retailer may decide to install self-pay kiosks to solve the problem of customers waiting in long lines at checkout.
  3. Look beyond your product: Most companies create the customer experience and related journey around their product, instead of what the customer needs. According to HBR, “This can miss what’s driving customers in the first place, which can be highly useful in understanding consumer motivation and potential opportunities to add value.” Companies need to look past their product or service and truly understand what the customer is trying to do or solve.

For more ideas on how to innovate for the customer, check out five emerging technologies that are transforming customer experience in this recent APEX of Innovation post.