Recently I wrote about “Innovation Through Communication”, and how proper communication was an essential ingredient for innovation within the workers' compensation industry. Another important ingredient, which is an offshoot of effective communication, is understanding the needs that your target audiences have, and what solution would best solve those needs.
I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with the Chief Claims Officer of a well known carrier. He talked of wanting to give a presentation at a conference geared to vendors. In that session, he said, he would spend the first 35 minutes doing nothing but talk about his company. Why would he do that? It’s simple, really. He says that is what vendors always do to him. He told me vendor’s hopeful of selling their services will prattle on endlessly about how great their company and products are, without ever asking him, “What do you need?”
If I were ever to write a bestselling book on salesmanship, it would only need to contain the paragraph above. Ok, it would have to be a bestselling pamphlet on salesmanship.
I thought of this discussion last week, when we put out an announcement about a milestone one of our own products just passed. FlashformSSL, a cloud based library that facilitates auto-completion of hundreds of important forms for the industry, had just passed the 1/2 million mark in auto-populated forms generated. This represents an extremely significant savings for our customers, as some have estimated they save 35% to 50% in form completion time for adjusters, and one indicated they reduced 70% to 90% of IT costs from no longer having to replicate state forms for their claims system.
FlashformSSL was the first cloud based forms library available for such use. We created it in 2008, before the “cloud” was part of our common vernacular. Indeed, you could say we invented the cloud based forms auto-population system for the workers’ compensation industry.
Except we really didn’t. One of our customers did.
We had maintained a library of about 3,300 forms for several years as part of our WorkCompResearch system, and had been programming all of them for interactivity, meaning people could “type & save” data to the forms. One day we received an inquiry from a small company asking if we could develop the ability to auto-populate these forms directly out of their claims system. We did some research and experimentation, and discovered that we could indeed develop a system that would accomplish that goal. We never actually signed any business with that firm, but we knew we had a potential product in the making.
Several months later, an existing WCR customer sent me an email, telling me they loved the interactive forms in the system, but asking if we knew of any service that could auto-populate them.
And as a matter of fact, by amazing coincidence, I did; and FlashformSSL was born. Not because we were visionary geniuses, but because we listened to the needs of our customers.
We have another form based product with a similar history. We received a call one day from a carrier on the west coast, asking if the programmed forms in our library were available for wide distribution. They were looking for a way to replace the physical demands of snail mailing claims kits – posters, forms and brochures that must be sent to their customers when a policy is written or renewed, with an electronic version of the same. This request lead to the creation of our “Virtual Claims Kit”, providing all the necessary documents in a branded portal for carriers and brokers customers.
We discovered a true pain point for the industry with that particular product. We had no idea carriers were struggling so with this requirement. The fact that we had all the necessary documents, continually updated them and made them available 24/7 for convenience solved many forms management issues for these companies.
And again, we did not invent that. We merely were given a need, and worked to fill it.
Listening to the needs of your customers is an essential ingredient for innovation. Without that component, companies risk creating process that contains no value. The true value is in understanding your customer's needs, and then innovating your fanny off to fix their issues.
One gauge of innovation success, as the old adage goes, is determined by imitation. Indeed, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Others now flatter us by offering similar services to the products we pioneered, which is expected and inevitable. Competition is good and healthy for an industry. It keeps everyone on their toes, and drives further innovation. Imitation by itself is not, however, to be confused with innovation. True innovation is based on solving the needs of others; simple imitation is largely based on solving the needs of the imitator. In those cases where that occurs they are not innovating; rather they are following the well worn path blazed by their competitors customers.
Those customers are the people who communicated a need in search of a solution, and in so doing provided true innovation for the industry.