Lessons Microsoft Has Learned From Their Innovative Customers

Lessons Microsoft Has Learned From Their Innovative Customers

By Susana Gonzalez Ruiz

No matter how good our products and services are, as designers we cannot predict how and for what our customers will use them. Inevitably, at the time of their launching onto the market, users will begin to identify limitations and request changes.

In this situation, there are two possible reactions. We can ignore the customer (convinced that we know better than anyone how our products must be) or we can use their suggestions to innovate. If we choose the second option, we’ll find that the benefits of using the creative potential of our customers can go beyond just innovation alone.

To illustrate this, we’ll see the case of Kinect.

Kinect is a Microsoft’s motion-sensing device created for the Xbox 360 video game console, which allows players to control the action onscreen by moving their bodies. Kinect was intended to broaden the audience of gamers, but where Microsoft only saw an interactive game, developers saw an affordable device with sophisticated cameras, sensors and software.

It was only a matter of time before hackers realized the Kinect’s USB cable transmits data via an unencrypted feed. Soon, YouTube was filled with videos of Kinect-enabled applications. When those hackers emerged, Microsoft initially disapproved “the modification of its products” and encouraged people to use Kinect as intended.

However, after three months, the company released the Kinect software development kit (SDK), inviting developers to build Windows applications and extending the Kinect functionality to a much wider variety of uses. Since then, Kinect has enabled developers and researchers to create numerous amazing applications for medical use, architecture, education, etc.

The Kinect Effect (video)

With this, Microsoft benefited in four different ways:

  • They found that innovation makes its way despite the obstacles.

    Since the USB connection was unprotected, hacks would have continued. With the SDK, Microsoft achieved to “channel” creativity to controlled uses, opening the door to a more productive developer profile.

  • Microsoft gets free publicity from the best advertising agency: its customers.

    One of the basic principles of the sharing economy is that if you “give away” something valuable you’ll get public recognition in return.

  • Microsoft incorporated one of the most valued trends: transparency.

    This was accomplished by opening their product to the public

  • Microsoft managed to be socially responsible, without having to make any effort.

    This is thanks to new uses in medicine or education derived from Kinect,

Obviously, the case of Microsoft is special for many reasons,but there is no single recipe to drive user’s creativity, no matter how our products or services are.

For example, there is the case of Wix, a free cloud-based web development platform, whose system for channeling user’s creativity to innovate are the support forums.

Other companies, such as Starbucks, use the Internet to collect ideas from their customers, but in most cases these experiences are just online versions of the traditional suggestion box. Through Wix forums, however, users can establish a direct contact with the staff, getting a feed-back from the company (transparency, again). Many user suggestions are incorporated in future updates, allowing Wix to continuously innovate.

Beyond these examples, the message is clear:

We cannot ignore the innovative potential of our customers because they are, after all, who will use our products and services. If we insist on turning our backs to them, sooner or later someone will offer what they need and we as a company will become obsolete.

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