DESPITE the economic downturn, companies are always looking for new opportunities and ways to increase product/service offerings as well as customer satisfaction.

This is an ideal time to start thinking beyond the traditional boundaries for innovative solutions as consumers are looking more than ever for new and cost-effective products.

Over the next few years only companies that build resilient products will be able to overcome a decrease in demand.

As an employee or a leader, there are many ways that you can effect change in your company and in your team.

This year, companies will be looking for employees and leaders who can generate innovative solutions with very limited resources. Here are some ways in which you can learn to innovate:

Identify opportunities

You can find new business opportunities in adjacent and new markets, as well as your current market. These opportunities will come up as you train your employees to look at the value that customers (and potential customers) obtain or could obtain from your products and services.

For instance, if you produce electric drills you may want to answer the question: who will use my equipment? And for what purpose? You will find that more markets may open up for you.

You can stretch it, for instance, to include property agents. Ask yourself how to convince property agents to use drills.

For example, they could use the drills to display posters or to do simple renovations in properties they are marketing, or act as retail channels to final users: many expatriates do not bring their drills with them when they relocate.

Heed customers' needs

You need to identify the most pressing issues your target market faces and refine or combine your technology in order to outperform the normal market standard at a lower rate.

In the case of the drill, you may want to offer complementary products or services that will delight the customer in terms of value or convenience: suction products that can be fixed to the walls/ceilings and a wire system to display paintings, super glue, interior design advice or a drill rental service.

Throw up new ideas

Provide space, time and procedural initiatives that spur and reward innovative suggestions which enhance the value that your company delivers.

Employees can contribute ideas not only for new product development but for all the stages of the business process.

From design to customer service, employees can provide different views that will contribute to a holistic understanding of markets and customer segments, including business opportunities and product improvement initiatives.

This innovative space must be facilitated by a leader who can motivate his team to produce innovative output. A variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise always helps in the innovative process as quite often it is the intersection of disciplines that will offer innovative opportunities.

Companies can receive different types of feedback by engaging suppliers, customers and partners in their innovation process.

Brand your service

By looking into the customer experience in detail, you can plug the gaps and provide a high level of customer service that becomes part of your brand.

You can make the customer experience memorable by engaging clients and helping to solve their problems.

On the business side, customer service officers are in a good position to see opportunities for innovation from the customer's perspective.

This is one of the untapped data sources that companies can use for effective product transformation.

By giving customers what they want, your company will be seen as one that appreciates their clients.

This is not only a powerful marketing strategy but also an opportunity to strategically innovate in different areas of your business.

By empowering your rank-and-file staff and managers to think innovatively, your company will be able to leverage opportunities that come its way.