Engage Directly With Customers for Smarter Innovation

September 20, 2018

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

How CIOs can personalize, customize and crowdsource to stay ahead of industry disruptors.

Netflix has long been known to use algorithms to predict what you may want to watch based on what you have viewed in the past. It now also customizes the artwork shown for each recommendation, based on the customer's most-watched genres.

Netflix is one of many companies focusing on personalization as potential profit. This personalization allows CIOs to directly engage with the customers they are trying to sell to; this direct interaction allows for new opportunities to innovate.

“ Organizations are engaging customers earlier and more frequently in the digital world”

“A simplistic approach is to directly engage customers in the innovation process in order to understand their demands and increase the likelihood of success,” says Michelle Duerst, research director at Gartner. “The more complex answer is to create a comprehensive approach, differentiate customers and limit direct engagement to ensure accuracy without becoming intrusive. This can be accomplished using personalization, crowdsourcing and listening to the voice of the customer.”

Netflix Stranger things example for personalization


Personalization can have a big impact on more than just movie selections. For example, the Mayo Clinic uses precision medicine to treat cancer based on patients’ biomarkers, not the type of cancer.

Personalization provides value in the form of profit margin and long-term intelligence that can be used for future innovation of mass-produced items:

  • Monetary: A customer can add customization options that more than double the price of a major designer's purse.
  • Intelligence: Aggregate purchases for specific demographics can provide insight into emerging trends that can be scaled for multiple customers.

Overall, organizations are engaging customers earlier and more frequently in the digital world. CIOs can help the process and increase growth by focusing on innovation potential.


Crowdsourcing can be a great opportunity to allow anyone — inside or outside the company — to offer suggestions for new projects or bring a unique perspective to the table. This can create a lot of innovative options. It can be done in different ways depending on the company. Some organizations might create a competition for the best solution or offer a prize or job for good ideas.

For example, Airbus wanted to improve flight efficiency. The aerospace company provided datasets to teams and the teams pitched the ideas to a jury, allowing the company to gain different perspectives. Foldit has players solve scientific puzzles. The solutions enables a computer to learn more about how humans recognize patterns and apply that knowledge to machine learning that aids in medical research.

Amazon Studios combined two direct-marketing techniques when it hosted a competition for script submissions. The company received 4,000 scripts, made 14 pilots, and then allowed all viewers (not just Amazon Prime members) to see and vote on the pilots. The company had viewers fill out a voice-of-the-customer (VoC) survey to determine which pilots would get a full season of shows, resulting in two winners: Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. Both shows have had multiple seasons and won Golden Globe awards.

Voice of the customer

VoC means customers respond to a survey with offer-specific questions. For example, after using an app, the customer might receive a push notification asking for a rating.

VoC applications can pull together responses and offer valuable insights. However, CIOs should pay attention so they can figure out when these surveys should be used and how to best use them. For example, it’s important to limit the amount of questions being asked and the frequency with which customers receive surveys.

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