Product Experience Innovation

Feels Like the First Time

Product Experience Innovationby Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

When was the last time you experienced your product like it was your first time?

Product development is a process of cycles – followed by closure. We innovate and create a new concept. Assemble teams to research, develop, manufacture and market the product or service. We then ship it to market.

And then… What?

We leave it out there for consumers to embrace, or ignore. Meanwhile, as our products mature on the store shelves of the marketplace, we mentally have moved on to the next next thing.

Instead, we should revisit our product to gain a fresh perspective.

The CBS Television show Undercover Boss follows the adventures of executives who embark on an undercover mission “to examine the inner workings of their companies…Working alongside their employees, they see the effects that their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run.”

When was the last time you were an undercover or boss or prospect? As the CEO or Chief Innovation Officer, when did you last sample your wares, walk your store, demo your product or read your user manual? Playing the role of a “cold prospect” often gives a new point of view on even the most mature products.

Innovation Manager-as-Mystery Shopper touches on several of Robert’s Rules of Innovation. It allows us to Observe & Measure our products first hand. We take Ownership of our product lifecycle to an entirely new level. It may even encourage fresh lines of new product development. Hopefully, it encourages us to think about ways to train and coach other innovators – and even our customer-facing employees – on the finer points of the product, service or company mission.

Want to play mystery shopper or prospect?

  1. Call your customer service or main office line to make an appointment or reach an individual. Do you get trapped in phone bank hell? Is it easy to “zero out” to a receptionist? I recently spoke with a physician who lamented it taking him almost an hour to get lab results over the phone – from his own office. “Welcome to our world,” I chided.
  2. Record and listen to your customer service rep encounters. If your organization actually records customer phone calls (you hear it all the time, “This call may be recorded for training purposes…”), listen to the calls. Find high and low points. Look for ways to improve the user experience.
  3. Walk the aisles. Watch your salespeople or retail associates in action. How responsive are they? How effective are they at engaging the customer? Are they up-selling where possible? Stanley Steamer maximizes up-sell opportunities once they’re in a customer’s home.
  4. Keep a notepad handy. Be on the lookout for fresh ideas about process or product innovation.
  5. Assemble or use your own product. Are your instructions clear? Does “Ready to Assemble” really mean ready to assemble?

The saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” may be only part true. Being an undercover prospect may give you that second chance to see your product like the first time – and innovate anew.

Editor’s Note: Bonus points if you can name the link between the subtitle and the picture. 🙂

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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival”, with Martin Kleinman – published Spring 2010 by Wiley (

Robert F Brands




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