With rising entrepreneurship, more and more worldly problems are being solved by new companies with innovative solutions. However, the challenge lies in bringing a customer centric innovation that can help your business to stay clear of the competition. In this blog, we’ll discuss 5 case studies of customer-oriented innovation driven by design thinking principles that every business can learn from. 

 Over the past few years, surviving in the competitive world of entrepreneurship required more – more resources, more leadership skills, more zeal, and most importantly, more innovation and creativity. In the last few decades, companies have begun to realise the need for a paradigm shift towards building strategies based on customer centric innovation. And these are the ones who have managed to make their mark in this hyper-competitive world of business. What’s their secret, you ask? The answer is simple – employing design thinking principles in their innovations. 

 Design thinking is a customer-centric approach that focuses on bringing innovations that are creative yet solve customers’ problems. It allows you to solve conventional problems faced by customers in unconventional ways – by focusing on the solution after living in the problem-space for a while to really understand it better. This customer-oriented approach has allowed startups such as OYO and Ola to stand tall as the leaders of their markets. Want to know how? In this article, we shall focus on understanding how design thinking helped 6 of the biggest brands in the world in creating customer centric innovations.  

Why Design Thinking Helps In Customer Centric Innovation 

what is design thinking and how does it lead to customer centric innovation 

Design thinking is now a buzzword within the entrepreneurship community. This out-of-the-box approach is a structured pathway to finding effective solutions. It has five major stages:  

  1. Empathise: As the term suggests, this stage is about empathising with your customers. It involves comprehending your customers’ needs by being as honest as possible. During this stage, empathise with your target audience and their problems and ask them how their problems affect their lives. This stage is all about gathering data from your customers, which, in turn, will help you come up with more consumer-centric innovations.
  1. Define: With all the knowledge acquired by empathising with your target audience, it is time to uncover deep insights that might not easily be visible and define the problem statement that your product will work towards solving. Your whole business will strive to solve this very problem statement. 
  1. Ideate: As you identify the problem statement, ideas will start pouring in. Begin to brainstorm and bring the potential solutions to the table. These will be more consumer-centric innovations as they will be based on what you learned and observed during the empathise phase.
  1. Prototype: Whatever ideas you collated in the ideate phase will now  start to take shape  as you start developing a prototype, a preliminary version of the product from which other versions may evolve. There could be as many prototypes as possible until the target audience is fully satisfied with the final version.
  1. Test: The prototypes that you developed need to be tested with the target audience to come to a certain conclusion. During the testing stage, you let your target audience use the product and give you feedback as per their experience. During the testing stage, it is likely that the prototype might receive backlash from the customers. In such a case, be ready to go back in stages, and keep repeating the cycle unless you develop the right consumer-centric innovation that hits the right chord with the target audience.

Customer Centric Innovation Examples: 5 Successful Brands That Took the Design-Thinking Route

how Netflix created customer centric innovation

A key question that always strikes the way of an entrepreneur – how to stay clear of the competition? A strategic approach that connects you more with your customers will always give you an edge over others. By inculcating the above-mentioned principles of design-thinking into your innovation strategy, you not only can stay clear of your competition but also can create your own way into the market just as done by the following brands. Let’s discuss how some well-known brands executed the design thinking process in the real world: 

  1. Netflix

Let us share a little fun fact with you: today’s “Netflix and Chill” culture is a gift of design thinking! Before the inception of Netflix, Blockbuster, its main competitor, required customers to visit the stores to rent and return DVDs. Netflix understood this pain point of the customers and created a subscription model where DVDs were directly delivered to customers at their doorstep. 

Over the years, Netflix hasn’t looked back and continually evolved with time. When the prevalence of DVDs in the movie industry began to decline, Netflix made itself more relevant by creating an on-demand streaming service. 

In the recent past, Netflix has gone one more step ahead with providing original and exclusive content that wasn’t airing on cable networks to its customers through its online channels, making the user feel special and honoured. All these initiatives made by Netflix over the years were driven by only one force: customers’ evolving needs, which is why it is a perfect example of how the design thinking principle can make such a difference in your innovation strategy.  

  1. OYO

OYO, known to be the most affordable chain of hotels in the whole world, is an innovation that has a customer-centric approach at its heart. In India, booking a hotel room was a luxury for a large section of the population. Add to it the inconvenience of booking rooms by visiting the hotels offline. There was no affordable chain of hotels for middle-class users. With its inception in the market as a hotel aggregator and booking platform, OYO created a disruption in the hospitality sector. It allowed customers to book rooms at a reasonable price without getting into the hassles of connecting with hotels. 

 Over time, the brand has grown into the largest hospitality chain in the world by changing its operating model from time to time. OYO’s working model shifted from hotel aggregation to a franchise model, which not only helped the brand reduce its operational costs and improve serviceability, but also allowed customers to have easy access to the best hotels at cheaper rates. This way, OYO adopted customer centric innovation that disrupted the world of hospitality drastically.  

  1. The Life Saving Dot

With empathy being at the core of the design thinking concept, it is no surprise that NGOs can take the maximum advantage of it. A project initiated by a non-profit organisation based in Nashik, Maharashtra, helped many rural Indian women fight iodine deficiency with an innovation that allowed a marriage between cultural significance and healthcare. 

Two organisations, The Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Centre and Grey for Good, came together and created an innovative solution to provide iodine-soaked bindi, a traditional dot worn by women on the centre of the forehead that signifies marriage in Hindu tradition. This project was named The Life Saving Dot. The goal was to fulfil the deficiencies with Bindis that were coated with daily iodine dose.

  1. GE Healthcare

As a leading medical technology and diagnostics innovator, GE Healthcare provides its users with digitised healthcare and services to give their customers the gift of health. A perfectly simple product like theirs was fully efficient until the brand noticed a problem in the ways paediatric patients conceived their diagnostic imaging procedures.  

The procedures that the paediatric patients (who were under the age of 18) went through used to happen in colder, dimly-lit rooms, which was why they were usually found crying during long procedures in the rooms. This instance took notice of the upper management of the company and the team underwent intensive research to find out solutions to the problem. They observed children in different environments to understand how they can create a favourable one for their patients. The team also interviewed child experts and hospital staff to know what could be done to solve the problem.  

By adopting the design thinking principle of developing deep empathy for the customer, this intensive research led them to come up with a customer centric innovation. This was known as ‘Adventure Series’, a redesign initiative that made Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) machines more children-friendly.  

The Adventure Series made MRI machines funnier and more interesting for children. The MRI machines were transformed from mere dark holes into theme-based scenery to attract children. It had scenes of beaches, sandcastles, and oceans to keep the attention of children and avoid any kind of imagery that could invoke negative emotions among children regarding MRI machines.  

The GE healthcare team crafted a customer centric innovation that not only allowed them to empathise with a set of their end-users but also gave them satisfaction scores of as much as 90 percent, along with the ultimate surge in sales.  

  1. Oral B

No matter how established your business is, every business requires innovation to stand out amongst its competition. Oral B was a well-established brand popularly known for its advanced electronic toothbrushes. But the brand sought more and wanted to put forward an innovation no competitor could think of doing.  

While upgrading its electric toothbrush, the brand wanted more functions to be added to it, such as a tracker for brushing frequency, gum sensitivity, and more. During the design of these brushes, one of the designers, who was working on the project, spelled out how brushing teeth was an uninteresting task for certain people and how they wouldn’t be willing to have more functionality because it could give them more stress.  

After a lot of discussions and empathising with the customers from a design thinking perspective, the designer recommended two innovations in the product: (a) to make the charging easier, (b) to enable users to order replacement heads by allowing the product to connect with phones, and send reminder notifications. Both these innovations were implemented and worked wonders as they were customer centric.  

  1. UberEats

UberEats is a food delivery service app that has connected with its customers at a deeper level by empathising with them on many grounds, which is once again a design thinking principle.  

UberEats launched its Walkabout Program in which the team observed cities in which the company operates. The cities are accessed on the basis of food, culture, cuisine, infrastructure, delivery processes and transportation. This extensive research led them to come up with the innovation of the driver app, which mainly focused on delivery partners’ inability to find parking spaces in highly populated urban areas. The driver app enabled a step-by-step direction map to guide the delivery partners from restaurant to customer to ensure a swift delivery process.  

Customer Centric Innovation with Design Thinking: The Bottom Line 

The above examples illustrate how a customer centric approach can deliver exemplary success for the brands, no matter how big or small the business is. By deploying design thinking concepts into your market strategy, you can get a deeper understanding of your target audience and scale your business to another level. As a final note, we would like to share a few more important things that must be considered while using design thinking principles: 

– Always consider the big picture. A small change can make a bigger impact. 

– Keep thinking about alternatives. Create as many prototypes as possible. 

– Don’t be afraid of failures; keep yourself motivated. 

– Keep an eye on competitors. 

About the author, Ajay Aggarwal

A Haryanvi by origin, an entrepreneur at heart and a consultant by choice, that’s how Ajay likes to introduce himself! Ajay is the Founding Partner at Humane Design and Innovation Consulting (HDI). Before starting HDI, Ajay founded the Design Thinking and Innovation practice at KPMG India. His 16+ years of professional career spans across various roles in product and service design, conducting strategy workshops, storytelling and enabling an innovation culture. He has coached 50+ organizations and 2000+ professionals in institutionalizing design and innovation practices. He loves to blog and speak on topics related to Design Thinking, Innovation, Creativity, Storytelling, Customer Experience and Entrepreneurship. Ajay is passionate about learning, writing poems and visualizing future trends!

We at Humane Design strongly believe in the human ethos and draw inspiration from humans and other elements of nature to design innovative solutions for organizations of all sizes. We will be glad to be your success partner. Email us your requirements at explore@humaned.in.

Connect with Us!