Unleashing Your Customers’ Inner Calvin: How Calvin and Hobbes Can Help You Understand the Power of Customer Voice and Creativity – Part I

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We’ve all seen it, read it, and related to it. And, it’s been nearly 30 years since Bill Waterson famously put pen to paper and wrote the first Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. It’s the story of a young boy and his pet tiger, endless creativity, wild adventures, and a world of adults that just don’t understand.

These comics have been scrutinized and examined by so many people – and many theories have emerged as to what Calvin and Hobbes really represents. A lonely boy looking for true emotional connections? A cry for help against the ADHD revolution?

But, what if I was to tell you that, to me, Calvin and Hobbes represents the inner frustration we feel as customers when our feedback, thoughts, and ideas fall on deaf ears to the companies we admire most? That Calvin really is you, or me. That his parents, teachers, and other authority figures are companies we engage with daily. That the actions Calvin takes to be expressive and creative are the actions we all take, or should take, when we’re looking for a product or service to be improved.

As consumers, we’re inherently creative. We know what we want. We don’t want brands to squash our ideas. We want to feel free to explore our minds, close out the world, and innovatively create the next transmogrifier.

In this two-part blog series, I’ll reference a few Calvin and Hobbes strips that, in my opinion, embody the disconnect felt between Calvin and the world. And, in turn, the disconnect felt by customers and companies. Part I explores how customers feel when they’re included but not listened to and how a company can course-correct the mismanagement of customer information.

Let’s get started.

Reading beyond “I want”

Too many times we’ve seen products or services launch with a bang, and fail with a whimper. From New Coke to Ben-Gay Aspirin, companies may have been able to save time and money (and in some cases, their reputation) by involving their customers in the process. But what’s worse is when companies involve their customers and listen to their feedback, but don’t act on the findings appropriately.

Like Calvin, if a customer wanted to go to the beach, for example, a company needs to understand why their customer wants that. Delivering sand and water are important, yes, but no one wants the bare minimum. They want the full experience that makes going to the beach meaningful to them – the briny smell of salty air, perhaps, or the sounds of crashing waves and raucously cawing seagulls, or the sun’s rays glinting across the water. The company that grasps that can design and develop with greater meaning, more heart, deeper utility, and stronger resonance.

The idea of listening to customers isn’t new – nor is it revolutionary. But, it is undeniably important to the growth, strategy, and the innovative processes of a company. Customers have needs and wants that are always growing and changing. If a company can maintain a continuous, open dialogue with its customers, it can uncover the real pain points and growth opportunities. And, maybe Calvin would be at an actual beach, or a desired tropical get-a-way.

Embracing creativity & guiding the conversation

An open dialogue between customers and a company should go well beyond asking for feedback. Creativity and imagination should be encouraged; they’re most important things a company can ask for if it’s looking to innovate and disrupt. And, it’s important to understand that no idea is too creative.

In these two comic strips, Calvin struggles with the notion of being told to work hard and be original, only to be called inside with his creativity left to melt. For companies, it’s not enough to ask for your customers to be ingenious; they must understand the needs of customers first, then guide the conversation and the innovation process along the way.

There’s no point asking a customer to be creative and telling them you value their creativity if you’re not going to act on it. Yet, one common, and unfortunate, side effect of talking with customers is that many companies don’t know what to do with all the customer information they gather. They reach out and say they want to understand the customer voice, to gather their ideas and perspectives, but when it’s too much to handle, they retreat with a lot of leftover data (and, as a result, a lot of missed opportunities).

A company focused on including its customers as strategic creative consultants should be prepared to open a can of worms – to embrace the creative process hand-in-hand with customers and handle the results, whatever they may be. Over the long-term, this creative inspiration fuels innovation and growth.


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