Lessons Learned from Successful Employee Suggestion Programs

Cake PopsIs your employee suggestion program effective?

Used effectively, an employee suggestion program can drive your organization forward with great ideas and valuable insights to implement in your organization. Let’s take a look at how three companies used an employee suggestion program to improve their organization…

How Amazon Prime Came to Life Through a Suggestion Box

Amazon Prime, the company’s two-day shipping service, has converted one-time shoppers into Amazon addicts who buy almost everything from the e-retailer.

Amazon has software engineer Charlie Ward to thank for that. Ward suggested the idea of a free shipping service through a suggestion box feature on Amazon’s internal website. Another employee came up with the “Prime” name and other Amazon executives, including CEO Jeff Bezos, hatched the idea of the free two-day shipping offer.

A challenge the team came across was selecting an annual fee for the free shipping service. No one knew how many customers would join or if Prime would make a difference in their purchasing habits. The team ultimately chose $79 mostly because it’s a prime number.

“It was never about the 79 dollars. It was mainly about changing people’s mentality so they wouldn’t shop anywhere else,” said Vijay Ravindran, who worked on the Prime team and is now the chief digital officer for The Washington Post. 

Regardless of how the team came up with a $79 fee, it worked.

The team that worked on the service predicted that Amazon Prime would break even in two years. Instead, it broke even within three months of launching.

After customers became Prime members, they spent as much as 150% more at Amazon. Subscription members ordered more often and, after paying the (then) $79 fee, they started buying things at Amazon that they probably wouldn’t have in the past.

Amazon Prime worked because Bezos was “immediately enchanted by the idea” and latched onto it.

Bezos took a wild guess when he priced Prime at $79 but he trusted his team and instincts. Ward’s idea went from a simple suggestion to an incredibly successful Amazon service  that changes the buying habits of customers.

The process of launching Amazon Prime brings up an important point for management: have an employee suggestion program in place to listen to your employees and act on their ideas. You won’t know if an idea will prove to be an incredible success until you give it a chance.

How Starbucks Used Their Suggestion Program to Give Their Customers a Voice

If I thought that Starbucks needed to start making a Mocha Caramel Coconut Java Chip Frappucino, I could simply submit my idea at MyStarbucksIdea.com.

The coffee giant launched MyStarbucksIdea.com, an online suggestion box, in 2008.

The site gives customers an opportunity to submit their ideas and feedback to Starbucks. People can share ideas, vote on them and discuss them.

Starbucks chief information officer Chris Bruzzo hoped that a few hundred ideas would trickle into the site in the first few days after the site went live. However, about 300 suggestions were submitted within the first hour and more than 100,000 votes had been cast by the end of the week.

What makes MyStarbucksIdea successful is that Starbucks is actively paying attention to it and actually listening to their customers’ ideas.

Great customer ideas don’t just sit in the system; featured Starbucks Idea Partners actively look through ideas, implement them and let customers know that they’re implementing them.

From 2008 – 2013, more than 150,000 ideas were submitted and 277 have been implemented.

The green drink stoppers (or splash sticks) that keep hot coffee from splashing onto you, free Wi-Fi access, mocha coconut frappucinos, hazelnut macchiatos, and cake pops are all available thanks to customer’s who submitted the ideas on MyStarbucksIdea.com. You can take a look at all ideas launched in the MyStarbucksIdea blog.

Starbucks values and understands their customers ideas. The same goes for any organization. Your employees, in addition to your customers, have first hand experience on what needs to be improved. As we’ve seen with Amazon and Starbucks, your employees’ ideas can be very valuable. IBM also encourages idea submissions…

IBM and ThinkPlace: Encouraging Ideas Through a Suggestion Box

IBM launched ThinkPlace in 2005, a website where IBM employees from around the world are encouraged to suggest innovations.

ThinkPlace demonstrates that every IBM employee can be an innovator and can submit ideas, discuss ideas, and collaborate on them. Their employee suggestion program also creates a culture where collaboration and interaction across the company is possible.

In 2008, ThinkPlace gathered over 18,000 employee ideas and more than 500 “wins” (i.e. implemented ideas) in three years. This led to recognition of hundreds of IBM employees as innovators and millions in cost and productivity impact.

ThinkPlace also has a volunteer community of “innovation catalysts” who are “IBMers with regular day jobs who are looking for ideas to champion,” according to IBM vice president of innovation Gina Poole. Innovation catalysts help further ideas and get them adopted.

To help select which ideas to implement, the innovation company has a mix of executives called the Ideas to Reality board. The board decides which ideas to move forward with and holds meetings to assign responsibility for new initiatives and to avoid inter-departmental confusion.

To learn more about implementing ideas, check out this article on how to convert a great idea into reality.  Ideas that get the go-ahead then move on to IBM’s unit called BizTech which distributes the budget and expertise needed to create prototypes.

Lessons Learned

Now that you know how three successful companies have used a suggestion box system to aid in their success, get started with your own organization.  Take the lessons away from Amazon, Starbucks and IBM and apply them to your own organization. Start with a suggestion box system to actively encourage and respond to ideas and suggestions from your employees and customers.

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Leila Durmaz

Hello, I'm your author, Leila Durmaz. I spend a lot of my time researching the best practices for Employee Suggestion Programs, and writing articles to share them. I hope you find them helpful! I work at Accompa - one of our products is IdeaGlow Employee Suggestion Program Software.

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