Zoe Aitken17 May 2023

Maximising customer engagement with innovation: the essential Do’s and Don’ts

One of my friends had a new business idea. So, they leveraged their friendship network (including me) to learn more about their customers. I was eager to help. Why? They were my friend (tick), they were speaking to customers (tick), and they were keeping things lean by leveraging their personal network (tick). Three big ticks from me. However, my enthusiasm began to wane when it became clear they had fallen victim to one of the most common innovation traps; they’d fallen in love with their idea. Fuelled by their excitement, they used our conversation as an opportunity to pitch their idea (shark-tank style), rather than to genuinely learn.

If you want to be customer-centric and create innovation that your customers actually want, here are some essential Do’s and Don’ts.



  • Speak to your customers… in the right way.

Customer conversations, when done in the right way, can unearth rich insights. When done in the wrong way, however, they can lead to phantom opportunities. You need to approach each customer conversation with a preparedness to learn. And importantly, in your early conversations, resist the temptation to talk about your idea. Rob Fitzpatrick, author of The Mom Test, says as a rule of thumb ‘the more you’re talking, the worse you’re doing’. Because the problem with talking about your idea, is that people (particularly your friends) will want to protect your feelings, so it can lead to false positives. Therefore, to avoid this, keep your idea (and your ego) out of early conversations. Maintain the focus on your customer and unearthing their needs and frustrations.

  • Be willing to kill your ideas.

Once you become too attached to your idea, you are at big risk of launching something your customers don’t want. This is because your attachment creates biases, particularly ‘confirmation bias’. This is where you home in on information and feedback that supports your idea, while at the same time discount information that doesn’t. To be truly customer-centric, you need to be willing to kill some of your great loves. And this can hurt. But as William Shakespeare said in a Midsummer Night’s Dream; “The course of true love never did run smooth”. 



  • Base decisions on data alone.

Most organisations are not short of data, in fact they’re drowning in it. However, where some organisations trip-up, is that they make critical decisions based on ‘what’ their data is telling them, without truly understanding ‘why’. This is a big watch-out when it comes to innovation. Because we know that the juicy insights that sit behind successful innovation require looking beyond data to get to the true customer motivation. Data can help guide us to the opportunity space, however, its true power is realised when combined with the art of customer conversation.

  • Ask customers to predict their future behaviour.

The moment you ask customers to predict how they’ll behave in the future; you’re on shaky ground. This is because customers simply don’t know. ‘Intentions’ are very unreliable predicters of actual behaviour (otherwise known as the intention-behaviour gap). Yet, so often we ask customers questions such as ‘would you buy this?’ and ‘would you use this?’. And then we base our investment decisions on their answers. A more reliable approach is to run experiments which measure customer behaviour rather than intentions. That is, you don’t ask them, you measure their behaviour instead. Because ultimately our customers don’t know how they’ll behave until they’re in the moment.


Armed with these essential Do’s and Don’ts, you’re much closer to launching ideas that your customers will love. Just make sure that you keep your love for your ideas in check.

Zoe Aitken is the Head of Consulting at leading behavioural science and innovation consultancy Inventium and has over 20 years’ experience helping organisations develop customer-centric growth strategies and innovation.