Last week I ran a customer experience workshop for a client. As I was preparing, one of the inputs I got from the internal team was that the attendees really wanted to see examples from their own specific industry, healthcare.

During my corporate career, I worked in healthcare, and my colleagues always expressed a similar sentiment. When it came to evaluating different opportunities for marketing initiatives, they had a bias toward only wanting to see examples from healthcare companies, because they felt constrained. They thought that because of the regulatory restrictions in how we were able to market, anecdotes from other industries wouldn't be relevant.

It's a shame, because limiting the source of your inspiration, limits the range of your ideas. And when you feel like you've got constraints that curb what you can do, that is the time to get more creative and resourceful, rather than less so.

Besides, there's no need for you to recreate the wheel if there is something that works well within one industry, that you can apply in your own.

How innovative companies apply inspiration from unrelated areas to their customer experience

ATM machines are traditionally something only associated with banks. But the Sprinkles Bakery took the idea and used it as an innovative way to deliver cupcakes, with the 24-hour cupcake ATM machine. A simple idea that is the norm in one industry became novel and something that enhanced the customer experience when used in another.

When Safelite, an auto glass repair company, was looking for ways to improve the experience they delivered to their customers, CEO Tom Feeney told me they looked to Uber for inspiration. Now, when their drivers communicate with their customers that they are on their way to repair their vehicle, customers can now track in real-time on a map where their Safelite technician is while en route to them.

And when the Uptown night club in Buenos Aires was looking for a way to differentiate their bar and restaurant experience, they took their inspiration from the subway stations of New York City. The popular night club is fully designed as a New York City subway station, complete with a subway car that patrons pass through before entering the main locale.

You can do the same in your business. Here's how to get started. 

1. Build an inspiration list.

Innovation begins with a simple idea. And ideas and inspiration can come from a variety of sources. So as you see and experience examples of remarkable customer experiences in action, start writing them down.

Take note of features that bring you unexpected joy. Start cataloging stories of brand experiences that inspire you. Make a habit of documenting all the radical ideas that pop into your head, particularly when you find yourself wishing that something functioned or operated in a manner different from its current state.

2. Start asking 'how might we?'

Once you've got a running list of inspiration, instead of filing them away somewhere, start asking yourself what would need to be possible to implement them in your own business.

Map out the entirety of your customer journey. You could either start with your list and see if there are ways to implement elements in various touch points. Or you could look at specific pain areas in your customer journey, and go to your list to seek out opportunities for how to improve it.  

The key in this process is to keep an open mind about what is possible. Switch thoughts of "this will never work here," to "we could, if we..." 

That simple shift in looking for the possibilities in how you're able to make an unconventional idea work is the gateway to breaking out of your comfort zone of the status quo, to deliver experiences that transform your customer experience for the better.

When it comes to improving the customer experience you deliver, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. You don't have to generate completely novel ideas. Look for inspiration for what already is working well in other industries, and then apply elements of it to your own business.

Published on: May 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.