Schneider says he has never had a customer visit that he didn’t feel was worth his time.
“Virtually every time I go to visit a customer, they say something during that visit which is a good idea,” he says.
If every innovation should address a customer need, he says it should follow that customers should be your best source for innovative
ideas. If a customer has a problem with your product or service, it might be difficult to face the music and address its concerns. But that
problem might be the start of something new for your company, a new problem that requires a new solution that will benefit both the
customer and you in the long run.
But Schneider says you have to reach out to customers and, in essence, harvest their problems for new solutions.
“Sometimes visiting a customer is like going to the dentist,” he says. “The dentist is drilling a cavity, then he fills it. Sometimes going to see
a customer can be pretty painful like that. If I get called out there, it’s often to talk about a serious problem.
“But you go to the dentist to fix the problem, to fill the cavity. You don’t stop visiting the dentist because it’s painful, and you don’t stop visiting customers because it’s painful.”
Bringing customers’ suggestions back to your organization’s innovators is one of the most valuable services you can perform for your
“Any key innovation usually comes from a customer coming to us with a problem,” Schneider says.
Simply attempting to sell your ready-made solutions to customers defeats the purpose of innovation, he says. You should always keep
yourself abreast of what is going on with your customers, how they view your company and how satisfied they are with your products.
Schneider relies heavily on customer satisfaction surveys as a gauge for what FANUC Robotics needs to do better. That information,
combined with face-to-face interaction with customers, paves the way for the company’s innovation process.
“What makes customer interaction important is that a lot of times as a company, you want to go out and sell your solution to a customer,” he says. “Here’s our product, here’s our solution. But if you take that approach, you really aren’t going to learn a lot or generate
a lot of innovation.”
The flip side, Schneider says, is instead of matching a product to a customer’s need, match a customer’s need with your company’s most
creative thinkers. If you find out what your customers are really struggling with, you can better solve their problem and further your company’s reputation as innovators.
“If you go out to a customer and say, ‘What are your challenges? What are you struggling with?’ then you bring those challenges back to
your product development team, your application and systems group and say, ‘What is a way we can solve this customer’s problem?’” he
says. “That’s where I find really key innovation comes from.
“What I tell our customers is that you usually don’t see innovations coming from a product development engineer sitting in his cube
thinking about what would be a great innovation. It usually comes from a customer’s problem that our engineers work on. Then they
come up with a creative solution.”
HOW TO REACH: FANUC Robotics America Inc., www.fanucrobotics.com