When was the last time you were surprised by a cool innovation? When you laid hands on your brand new tablet? When you drove your new car? When you got your last haircut? When you checked into your hotel during your last business trip?
I had one of these moments just over a month ago, as I was flying to Dallas for an ideation session. I do fly regularly with Air France but there was no way to reach Dallas from Strasbourg in less than three hops. So I flew KLM, which is in fact still the same company.
And the unexpected happened. Each seat, including in coach, was equipped with power plugs! Great! When you brace yourself for a ten hour flight you fully expect your smartphone and tablet to run out of juice at some point. But none of that. As weird as it may sound, I felt grateful and this simple fact changed my entire flight experience. I found myself enjoying the food, the movies and even my neighbors. I remember offering some homemade madeleines to a little elderly lady crunched up in the seat next to me.
There are many lessons to be learned here. The first, most important and most obvious one is that customer satisfaction comes from great customer experience. Customer service, customer care and customer support are all very nice and as necessary in every company as firemen in every big city. But when they do not add to an already bad customer experience, they do little to improve it. Even firemen will tell you today that they are not primarily looking at new techniques to extinguish fires or reduce intervention time on car accidents. They leave that to academics or specialized companies. Their priority today is how to improve prevention and readiness i.e. how to make people better prepared to deal with any hazard.
Which brings us to the second lesson: focusing on people and user experience is better than focusing on technology. Great user experience doesn’t necessarily require development of sophisticated and groundbreaking systems, products or applications. It may be as simple as in my example, offering an existing and well known service in a different context. It may be as simple as adding wheels to suitcases. It often looks so obvious one wonders why it took so long for it to be broadly adopted.
The last lesson is for every one of us out there trying to spur innovation in our line of work. Keep your eyes open and your mind curious at all times as you cannot predict when, where or from whom you will learn, understand or discover products, contents or people that will help you make significant advances. During our last Member event, which featured the opening of our EMEA Innovation Center near Paris (picture), Ben Verwaayen the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent reflected on this. He stated that people in the telecom industry thought they had "the stone of wisdom" and that they knew it all: "they did something and it was good for the world". Now this industry is left with the daunting task of reinventing a business model and a value proposition to catch up with leaders in user experience such as Apple, Google or Amazon.
I like to blog about ng Connect. I usually follow a simple process. I reflect on recent experiences, readings or thoughts and look at how they relate to the ng Connect Program.
In this instance let us consider the three lessons above.
It is ng Connect’s very ambition to transform the user experience in the connected world of tomorrow. The purpose of the program is not to develop new products or new technology. This may come as a side effect. The purpose is to improve user experience, solve customer problems, alleviate end-user pains in various industries and market segments – and to do it much more quickly by engaging the whole value chain right from the start. For members like Alcatel-Lucent who are not faced with end customers, this means putting their products and technologies in context so that companies or organizations dealing with end users can deliver better services and deliver them faster. However since said members do not have a direct contact with, and therefore understanding of, the end customers it is important they collaborate with service providers (e.g. network operators, cities, utility or transportation companies, etc.) from the design to the implementation of innovative services.
"Innovation is about people". If there was one key takeaway from Ben Verwaayen’s keynote about ng Connect, this is it. ng Connect is first and foremost a gathering of like-minded people, all from different backgrounds, looking to do some good things for other people by leveraging their know-how and capabilities with the goal of profitable initiatives for their companies. In a previous post I commented about trust and how it is a key ingredient to successful innovation. I also added that no matter how detailed an agreement is between two organizations to try to cement a collaboration, it will never replace the mutual, personal understanding of the people signing it. Innovation is about people and trust is what fuels it. ng Connect, better than any ecosystem I know, offers this trusted environment.
Our last member meeting, that took place in Paris last week, featured a tour of the Stade de France, the largest stadium in France with over 80,000 seat capacity. Now people like me coming from the ICT industry were expecting cool communication features or great audio and video surveillance systems. Yet, believe it or not, sending and receiving SMS during events can still be an issue, let alone getting data connectivity. On the other hand some aspects of the Stade de France completely caught us by surprise, such as its architecture.
The field is 11m below ground which allows each of the three levels to have separate access. The whole stadium can be emptied in just 7 minutes. The lower stands can be retracted, lowering the capacity by 5000, but fully uncovering the track for athletics meetings. By the way, this system is patented. The roof, which weighs 1.5 times more than the Eiffel tower, extends to a glass cover which filters UV, reds and infrareds while letting the green and blue lights through since it is needed to grow the grass. Clearly there were a lot of innovations put into this stadium which is just over 10 year old. It was interesting to see how it captivated the interest of the ng Connect audience. There was no better example for me to illustrate the third lesson and no better demonstration that our ng Connect membership "gets it".
So is the ng Connect Program applying the principles I described: focus on user experience as a goal, on people as the key success factor and on open minds as the catalyst? My answer of course is yes and I can conclude by echoing Ben Verwaayen’s closing sentence about ng Connect: "we are very happy with it!"