Fuel Customer Experience Innovation with Strategic Ideation

August 15, 2017

Bluewolf's SVP, Customer Experience Insights, shares strategies for generating the ‘big ideas’ that have serious business impact and harnessing Augmented Intelligence (AI) to support the creative process

Every transformative solution begins as a simple idea.

Vanessa Headshot

How was that idea generated? How do internal stakeholders know the idea is a good one? What does it take for those stakeholders to align behind the idea—to nurture and develop the idea into a full-fledged initiative?

At its core, effective ideation is the ability to integrate research and understanding with a dose of creativity in order to envision a problem’s solution. But a process that sounds so simple is actually one of the most difficult steps in the transformation process.

Vanessa Thompson is no stranger to good ideas. As a former Research Vice President at IDC and now Bluewolf’s SVP of Customer Experience Insights, Vanessa has helped countless organizations research, ideate, and solution their way to a better future.

Read on to learn Vanessa’s best advice for effective idea generation, Bluewolf’s unique and tested methodology, and how the rise of Augmented Intelligence (AI) heralds a new era of ideation.

What is your role at Bluewolf?

I work across the marketing team and the consulting practice to help optimize customer and employee experiences with a focus on business outcomes.

I also lead executive workshops as part of the Align team. These workshops are aimed at driving consensus around a strategy for improving the customer and employee experience with Salesforce, and ideating solutions that transform our client’s businesses.

Why is ideation important?

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Ideation is just that: it helps us focus on the problem and then enables ideas and initiatives to come to life. It also promotes creative diversity, capturing a broad range of distinct ideas.

Ideation is a core component of the cycle of innovation. There are many traditional ways to get new ideas, such as employee suggestion boxes. However, constantly-evolving customer expectations and the pressure to transform business models requires more discipline for effective idea generation.

For example, when ROI is contained in the formal feedback process, businesses can make changes to products or services based on quantitative feedback to provide a more measured and timely response to customers. This is all done with the ultimate goal of creating a more agile and innovative organization.

Walk me through Bluewolf’s unique ideation process

Ideation is often called structured brainstorming, which fits well within our methodology. For the team here at Bluewolf, ideation is about connecting a customer or employee’s emotional touchpoints with business success metrics to ensure that the ideas we investigate are grounded in some level of business benefit. We approach ideation in two stages:

  • 1. From outside in, ideating on customer or employee moments of engagement
  • 2. From inside out, ideating on business strategy metrics

I’ll share an example from the first stage. In almost every case where a purchase is made, shoppers experience buyer’s remorse immediately after purchase. This is an extremely common ‘negative’ customer moment. During the ideation on customer touch points phase, we identify negative moments like this one, as well as other positive moments, and capture them in sentences as if the customer was saying them to us. We then use templates we’ve designed to create a needs statement around that moment and identify the internal systems, people, and processes that may impact it. It’s now time to brainstorm ideas for new experiences that solve for this moment of truth. Once we have the new experience documented on our template, we attach a SMART measure to it. (That is, a Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Timebound measure.)

Ideation on business strategy metrics is similar to the customer moments approach. Each participant takes a financial metric. We include a view of the internal teams required to enable that metric and work through ideas for a logical solution that would achieve that metric. The last part of ideating on business strategy metrics is to build an initiative. An example of this might be to grow revenue to $1B annually. It’s an overarching business goal that every solution must support. Essentially, we work backwards toward the initiative.

Connecting the current business strategy to important customer moments can be challenging because customer dissatisfaction at specific stages in the journey isn’t documented in the same format as a business metric. We offer a two stage ideation process to account for and connect both sides.

What are common challenges during the ideation process?

The most common challenge when it comes to ideation is the inability to empathize with the people, both customers and employees, that you’re solving for.

Our practice is to use a number of techniques to help the group open their minds and really empathize with customers and other employees. Empathy is a core component of design thinking. Depending on the situation, we might use an IBM Design Thinking exercise such as ‘Draw a vase’ and ‘Draw a way in which people could experience flowers differently’. This exercise is meant to help demonstrate the concept that differentiates the two tasks—empathy.

Another way is to build an empathy map (seen at right) to understand the actions, needs, thoughts, and feelings of a customer or other employees.

How do I know if an idea is a good one or if it can be made into a good solution?

Idea viability should be assessed on a matrix of business value and delivery complexity. This means that any initiatives or ideas that have high value and low complexity should be tackled first because they will yield the highest returns with the least amount of effort.

Research consistently reveals that 80% of companies know that big ideas—the ideas that have an impact across the entire organization—are critical to success, yet only 4% think they know how to turn ideas into results.* I love this stat because it highlights how hard it is to turn ideas into action in the business. Our process is designed to make that as easy as possible; ideation is critical for ensuring the business is working on the ‘right’ initiatives.

*“Big Ideas” by Jonne Ceserani

Looking forward, how will AI impact the ideation process?

Humans use many cognitive strategies when approaching a creative problem. We deliberately create harmony, discord, symmetry, asymmetry, balance, and imbalance through the creative process. The challenge is that it’s not logical, and therefore difficult for machines.

Over time, AI will become part of everything we do. AI can help with more mundane tasks, where it could come up with combinations and variations. By specifying teaching parameters for creativity, artists have gone as far as using AI to design sculptures and create paintings that mimic great works of art. For example, using the style transfer technique, artists can “teach” AI algorithms by showing them pictures of a style of painting, like Impressionism, to transpose photos and video to the same style.

It seems logical for AI to support the majority of the creative process, which is exploration and research. Finding the right options, understanding their values, and doing this in a hierarchical way is fundamental to the creative process. It’s not a replacement for the creative, but it could be an incredible partner for creative problems.

In the pursuit to deliver superior customer experience, organizations will look to smarter, faster decision-making capabilities in the form of AI. In ideation and across the entire creative process, we look to solve human problems and augment the things that we do to create new, better experiences.

The powerful combination of AI and ideation can create deeper connections with customers, partners, suppliers, and employees, and enable organizations to find new ways to meet and serve the rapidly changing expectations of all users.



Bluewolf takes a whole-company approach to delivering exceptional customer experiences. With Bluewolf Align™, we help you align goals, strategy, and technology to bring your vision to life, now.

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