What is ‘intrapreneurship’ and why is it important for big business?

The way big businesses discover and implement innovation is shifting, with the launch of venture teams, accelerator panels and internal ‘incubators’ bringing a start-up mentality to corporate organisations. Big businesses are embracing this concept of ‘intrapreneurship’, an entrepreneurial approach where teams and individuals are driving new venture ideas from within the organisation, according to Peter Sayburn, co-founder of Market Gravity, the proposition design consultancy.

Intrapreneurship or corporate entrepreneurship has been adopted by some of the world’s most successful companies, such as 3M, GE, Intel and Xerox, for several years. It is a great approach to maintain relevance and keep the company agile, customer-centric and innovative. Only recently has this concept become widespread and openly embraced.

 Intrapreneurship can be defined as an entrepreneurial activity within a large, established business, usually to address a new market opportunity or develop a new way of doing things, outside the normal scope of activities. Intrapreneurship is also a change of mindset – thinking like an entrepreneur: seeing new opportunities, being completely customer-driven, making the most of limited resources, and above all moving quickly.

 Within many big businesses there are talented people with brilliant new ideas. The challenge is working out how to realise these opportunities and bring these ideas to life. Large companies have become very effective at doing one thing well and often struggle to change direction or embrace something new.  This is where intrapreneurship comes in.

 With the development of new digital technology and business models, more and more people are becoming intrapreneurs.  Employees tend to move around more often, so intrapreneurs are adept at landing in a company, making an impact immediately, delivering one or two big initiatives and then moving on to another company.

 Companies are also more willing to collaborate and work in partnership than they used to, recognising that no one company can do everything itself. Organisations often look to acquire start-ups and SMEs to enhance their offering, but you can’t rely on acquisition alone for business growth. Acquisitions can be a great way to bring in new complementary capabilities and technology and can refresh the entrepreneurial spirit and culture within established companies – so a combination of intrapreneurship and acquisition can work well.

 BT is a great example of a company that has diversified with the development of new ventures like BTVision and BTSport, which have transformed BT from a telephone company to Digital Media business.

 Aegon, a leading insurance and investments company, has applied intrapreneurship to develop a new consumer business Retiready – with the single-minded focus to get the UK ready for retirement.

 British Gas established a Connected Homes division in 2012 to access new markets and develop totally new ways of working. It still had strong links to the parent company, but offered the speed and innovation typically seen in much smaller companies. 

 Speed is key when it comes to intrapreneurship. These dedicated, purposeful teams can cut through the corporate layers that can often slow big companies down. There are other benefits to businesses, such as the ability to explore and experiment in new market areas before making a big financial commitment, and the impact on the wider workforce – intrapreneurial projects bring new energy and direction to a business.

 We are witnessing an increase in the launch of venture teams, or internal ideas incubators, as well as in investment in research and prototype development. It’s essential for businesses to work collaboratively with experts in this field, listen to creative new ideas from all levels of the company and encourage a culture of change and innovation to facilitate commercial growth.


Does brand loyalty really pay?

The last blog I wrote here was a little bit of a rant about airlines, and I started thinking about this one as a rant about hotels, but then cleaned out my wallet and thought about loyalty in general.

I’ve got cards for Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Costa, a local coffee joint, Club Carlson, British Airways, Air France, Walgreens, Starwood, Rite Aid, Foodtown, Best Buy and a whole host of others I can’t remember.

Throw in the emails I get from most of the above plus Hotels.com, Verizon, Uber, Capital One, AMEX, Lastminute.com, Expedia, Avis et. al. and it’s all seems pretty pointless.

For instance, I’ve flown a lot on BA and spent thousands on their BA credit card but can’t redeem it due to a million Terms & Conditions. That means instead of being loyal to the OneWorld alliance I’ll use Star Alliance or SkyTeam carriers instead. So much for loyalty.

On a recent project we tested a rewards element with partner brands in Canada like WestJet or Chapters. It tested off the charts in quantitative surveys but during qualitative user testing, there was a common statement ‘What’s the catch?’. 

Further, in particular for airline, hotel or credit card loyalty is the bias towards business users. You could fly with the same airline or stay at the same hotel chain several times year, with your own money I might add and receive pretty much nothing at the end of it. Meanwhile the business traveller spending his employer’s money picks up all the perks. How is that fair?

In the retail world I can fill my wallet with every card under the sun, only get the discount if I have that card or collect 7 coffee stamps and lose the card before I get my free one. Alternatively, I can bloat Passbook or other loyalty apps with all these cards and slow down the check out process. All in all, it’s a pretty dire experience that damages the brand more than anything.

A recent McKinsey study showed those that spend more on loyalty, or have more visible loyalty programs, grow at about the same rate.

While brands do this to try and make you loyal they also want your data. That’s great for them but why can’t someone make this work for me? After all, that’s what will make me loyal to you!

Thankfully, there are a few good precedents here for companies doing this well.

Hotels.com 

Hotels.com Rewards is pretty damn simple. Book 10 nights, get 1 free.

I don’t need to stay at the same hotel 10 times or at the same price. Hotels.com takes the average value of those 10 stays and gives me that as a credit towards a future booking.

I’ve just spent an incredible amount of time staying at the Calgary Airport Radisson for a project and gained no status with Club Carlson but redeemed lots of rewards with Hotels.com. To book direct was always the same price or more with the hotel itself — bizarre given Hotels.com as an aggregator will take anywhere between 10–30% commission.

If only this existed with airlines…..

Boots

Recently Market Gravity worked with Boots to launch ‘Thoughtful Inspirations’.

Thoughtful Inspirations provides customers with a little extra something as a part of their online order. A recent trial inclued a No.7 beauty product for customers to try.

This initiative aims to reinforce Boots’ unique authority in beauty product range, encourage trial and re-purchase in store as well as re-introduce some brand love loyalty reward.

What I love about this example is that a reward feels so much more special to customers when they aren’t expecting it vs. when they are waiting for something good to happen. There are so many times with the latter when the customer is ultimately underwhelmed.

EasyJet

While most airlines offer a points based rewards scheme driven by how far you’ve flown or how expensive your tickets are, EasyJet offer a more simple solution.

Initially a bare bones budget airline, EasyJet started to develop as a business airline due to low fees and convenient routes. To better meet the needs of business travellers and maintain their business, EasyJet introduced the Plus card. With an annual fee of £170, EastJet Plus members get their choice of seat, fast track bag drop, security clearance and boarding as well as an additional cabin bag.

While £170 may be steep for ad hoc travellers, it makes sense for those who take frequent short breaks or travel for business without the need for a cumbersome, expensive backend system allocating and redeeming points here, there and everywhere.

American Express

 American Express have made the age old reward mechanism of points a little bit more accessible to customers. Customers enrolled in their Membership Rewards scheme can use their points to pay for small purchases like a McDonalds or a Uber ride. 

I like how this makes it easy to spend your reward points but the challenge is that I’m never sure if I’m actually getting a good deal on the points I’ve earned. How much are my points worth and what is the monetary value of paying for my cab in points vs. cash?

Apple

And remember, at the end of the day, if your product or service sucks….a loyalty program is not the right answer. Great products and experiences will develop a loyal following.

Because no blog these days doesn’t throw in an Apple precedent….


Home is where the smart is

Smart homes crop up regularly in technology news and trend reports, but many of the smart home products being launched aren’t that smart. MG recently visited user experience (UX) research firm New Experience to get the low-down on what’s going on this area. New Experience went into consumers’ homes to see how so-called smart devices were being used and found that what the industry bills as smart home tech is falling well short of the mark.

The problem is a familiar one. Tech firms develop revolutionary innovations and rush to launch new products, only to realise that they’ve overlooked a key part of the proposition: the user experience.

The history of innovation is littered with examples of products that failed due to poor UX design. Clippy. The Segway. The emailer phone (does anyone remember that one?). One example that nicely illustrates the point that you shouldn’t do something just because you can is the wearable DVD player, launched in 2004. It consisted of a pair of glasses with a screen built into one of the lenses (stand aside Google) and a relatively small DVD player that were connected by a wire, like an old Discman. Unfortunately it didn’t take into account that squinting myopically at a small screen for the length of a feature film didn’t go well with such things as walking, driving or anything really. Users complained of motion sickness and looked silly carrying around the clunky player. The wearable player was a UX nightmare.

Ten years down the line though, the firms in the smart home industry are at risk of making a similar mistake. Billed as ‘smart’, products launched in recent years connect users’ basic home systems to their smart phones, enabling them to control their home environment remotely.

What many of these products don’t do is anticipate or learn about users’ preferences properly- a key distinction between the smart and the connected home device say New Experience. This distinction is important because it makes the difference between a gimmick that will appeal to tech enthusiasts and a product that actually makes every day users’ lives easier.

Asking the right questions

Based on the consumer needs that New Experience came across while visiting real consumers in their homes, we list the questions companies should be asking themselves when designing new propositions. Where possible, we’ve tried to find an example of a solution that addresses the consumer need in question as well.

1. How can we avoid swamping consumers with connected home apps?

This first one is intuitive, but is still causing users problems. They don’t like having separate apps for each device in their home. It makes controlling it confusing. It also makes it a hassle – if not an impossibility – to get different systems to work together. Doing so requires a smart-hub, which connects all the different devices and ideally allows users to programme conditions into it – e.g. ‘when I’m on my way home in the evening, turn the oven on.’

The open architecture-based Ninja Sphere enables users to control any connected device through a simple touch interface and British Gas’ Hive – a 2014 Corporate Entrepreneur Winner for Best Market Disruptor - is an example of a smart-hub that works with conditional commands.

2. How do we address the needs of consumers who don’t carry smart phones around with them?

Surprising as it may be, not everyone carries their smart phone around with them all day. Some people like to have their phones charging continuously when in the house. Others may have a special spot where they put their phone after coming home. Whatever the case, this is obviously a problem for products that rely on a connected device to input commands, and creates a need for alternative ways of interacting with the smart home.

Amazon’s Echo is a voice-controlled home assistant that can answer questions and perform simple tasks, but doesn’t connect to home systems yet. A system that will be able to control home systems is Homey, a voice-controlled smart-hub that successfully got funded on Kickstarter last year, whereas Jibo, labelled as the first family robot, combines both of these functions into one.

3. How can we make systems that work for users who aren’t that engaged with technology?

One problem New Experience encountered had to do with the different types of user in a household. Households typically had a tech-savvy main user, with other users depending on this person to make any changes to their systems. In a truly smart home, this wouldn’t matter, because the home would know who was around and what their preferences were. Unfortunately, in reality this can result in the unengaged users being left in unlit and cold houses when main users leave.

4. How do we make our systems guest and family friendly?

Guests posed another user-related problem. Consumers mentioned that they wanted to allow guests to control the connected systems temporarily – particularly important in the case of a bed & breakfast for example. At the moment, if systems allow for multiple users, owners have the choice of giving guests unlimited access or not giving them access at all. Regarding access, it’s all or nothing for parents who would like to give their children limited levels of permission as well.

5. How do we address the elderly with our UX design?

The UX design for connected home devices usually doesn’t take the needs of the elderly into account, even though this large segment of the population could be served well by smart tech. This neglect results in elderly consumers often viewing devices – such as smart phones for example – as annoying or difficult to use. iPads on the other hand tend to go down well with their large icons and touch screens.

A partnership between Dutch and Chinese firms Green Peak and ZTE Health has recently set out to create smart home devices specifically targeted at empowering the elderly to stay in their homes for longer (up to 10 years).

How to get it right

Now it’s hardly surprising that smart and connected home systems are still a little clunky and may not be hitting the consumer need nail on the head. The technology is still in its infancy after all, and new innovations always take time to reach consumer acceptance. But there are things that companies can do to speed up this process and improve the odds of their proposition becoming a success.

What it all boils down to, is involving the end customer in each stage of the development process. This could mean talking to consumers to find the problems they have with current offerings. It could mean co-creating a solution together with end users. Then testing propositions with customers, and iterating based on their feedback. If you’re flexible with your design process, there are many different ways to involve customers. You’re only limited by your own imagination.

Firms in the smart home industry actually have an additional advantage in uncovering consumer needs. In this field in particular, early adopters have shown themselves to be keen DIY enthusiasts, rigging up all kinds of integrated home systems using services like If This Then That (IFTTT) for example.

Leaving you with one thought on smart home devices

So if we could leave you with one thought after reading this, it would be the following. Why not go out and talk to your customers? See what they’re doing in their homes (people like to show off their ingenuity). It’s a free way to find out what they want, and where you could be growing your revenues in the future.

 


You can't innovate without insight

Last week I was at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in San Francisco with some of the Market Gravity team.

Basically it’s a group of innovation officers, consultants and technology firms talking about all things ‘innovation’. I’m not entirely that term means much anymore. Process this, software that, talk of the ‘Uber for …’ and so on. It was pretty similar earlier this year at SXSW too.

Innovation is seen to be done by agile, tech savvy, nimble start ups who design something awesome and make corporates jealous. Well, kinda, but I’m not sure that’s the whole story. Not every start up is innovative, some are cool, some are awesome and life changing but many, and I mean a lot here, will fail.

So it’s weird then that corporate America has decided that the only way to be innovative is to try and act like a start-up. That’s great, have a hackathon, buy a start-up, get a ping pong table and tell your customers in your ads that ‘product x has a pedigree of innovation’ with Woodkid or Bastille as the soundtrack.

And while some of that is cool, and you might get a few quick wins, most of it is crap.

Example Time

Just take a minute to think why we all fall over in love with Uber or Airbnb.

Hailing a taxi in the rain or late at night sucks. Calling a minicab is annoying. Paying in cash or trying to swipe a card in the middle of the street while someone is honking behind is painful. Yellow cabs in NYC (and most other cities for that matter) are pretty grim.

Uber is great because it solves customer needs. It’s now easier to get a taxi to go where I want, for a good price and I don’t physically have to pay at the end. If there is an issue my driver, I can provide feedback and customer service immediately follow up on my issue.

All in all, a magical experience designed for people like me.

One more clichéd example. Chain hotels are boring and standards have slipped. Small hotels are often pretty budget. When I travel I want to stay somewhere cool and get a good idea of the local environment. Likewise, when I travel, it would be cool to offset my rent/mortgage.

Airbnb is great because I can stay in unique accommodation, often cheaper than a hotel and meet new people. Meanwhile I can rent my place out back home. Where else can you book a lighthouse, a treehouse, country home whether in Iceland, Paraguay or Russia all in one place?

How did they get this right? They understood the real customer need!

You (probably) don’t understand the customer

My issue with a lot of companies at the moment is many have never actually spoken to a customer. “Why speak to a customer when we can use surveys?”There’s a cool technology out there so they've decided to use it. Want an example here — see Oculus Rift. “Hey, wouldn't it be cool to do banking on this.”Erm, no, not really.

I read an article on just this yesterday by the wonderful FinTech guru, Liz Lumley — go read it!

If companies are trying to design for the customer then it’s often driven by some highly paid executive speculating what customers want. News flash, if you’re a 35 year veteran banker, engineer or marketer earning a 6 figure salary and a big bonus — you probably don’t understand the mass market, let alone a millennial, young family, single parent, OAP …. whatever. You also probably have a strong opinion that drowns out others in your company closer to these groups. It’s called HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion).

Conveniently, there’s a good book out there

Dan Taylor from Market Gravity has a few good stories on this topic. Conveniently, he just wrote a book (that’s a plug to win brownie points) called The Secrets of Big Business Innovation. Funnily enough — one of those is get out the office, or as the Japanese say Genshi Genbutsu.

I’d also like to point out, getting close to customers doesn't mean you can just run a focus group. You won’t get a deep or honest enough understanding of a customer this way. Focus groups can be a quick and dirty way to test and iterate a concept but not good for primary insight.

On that note, don’t get hung up on the term insight. There’s blogs out there, like thisfrom Fahrenheit 212 founder Mark Payne, it’s long and I don’t really get the point. The short answer is go out there, learn something and take home a ‘so what’.

Just do it.

How do I do this? Well I’m the sort of person who enjoys people watching over coffee. Get out the office and check out your own company, speak to a customer in your branch, on your plane, in your hotel. Check out the competition, call the competition — pretend you’re an MBA student doing research and see what they tell you. Pay someone to experience your brand, make a mini documentary and show it to your team, your boss, your CEO. I guarantee it will have an impact.

Can’t be bothered to get out the office? Too busy? Well if you don’t want to watch your business become obsolete — try VoxPopMe. It’s awesome — you give them a question, they ask their panel, you get video responses recorded on their smartphones within the hour. It’s eye opening.

And whatever you do, don’t go creating a giant PowerPoint deck or Word report of your findings. Make it actionable, share it with the team, let them have their ‘A-ha’ moment.

Interpret the customer

Some might counter this and say “Well customers don’t know what they actually want”. You need to ask yourself if you interpreted them right. When customers in the 90s said they wanted bigger TVs, many took this literally and made ridiculously sized screens. It took piece of real insight to say “hold on, do they want a bigger screen or a better picture?” Say hello to High Definition TV!

You need to interpret the research to get to the right answer. Customers don’t know everything about the latest technology but will certainly point you in the right direction.

Insight doesn't stop there

Once you have understood the customer needs, you’re in prime position to be creative and come up with great ideas that customers might want.

Some ideas will be good, some bad. Got some ideas? Then go test them. Mock up an adcept and test it with customers through VoxPopMe, a web survey or in person with customers. Create a Lean Startup style landing page, tweet it, advertise it on Facebook etc. There is a great story in Dan’s book on how a team made one of these and pretended it was by a competitor to get attention in the boardroom.

You have to stay close to the customer throughout the innovation process — that means constantly testing and iterating. Techniques will vary depending on what you are testing but you can’t design around a survey or a focus group.

And if you’ve done it properly, you won’t end up with banking on an Oculus Rift, Pepsi AM, Google Wave or a newspaper app for Apple Watch.

And if that’s not enough — say hello to Market Gravity. It’s what we do — Discover the true customer need, Design a great customer led proposition and Deliver a fully tested and robust prototype.


Speed - the single most important factor to leverage in innovation

The best innovation comes from the fusion of three disciplines (insight, commerciality and design). While it doesn’t always make life easy, a team of people who bring these different skills can achieve amazing results – but the most important factor to leverage is speed. Here, Pete Sayburn talks to the organisers of the Intrapreneurship Conference, London and explains why innovation is a high paced endeavour and why it will most likely fail if it isn’t.

Pete, you are able to get companies to innovate faster. What is your magic trick?

The key to rapid innovation in big companies is confidence. Introducing new products or entering new markets feels pretty scary, so anything you can do to raise the level of confidence improves your chances of success. At Market Gravity, we do three things to give companies the confidence to launch new propositions:

First is prototyping – to demonstrate what it will be like to use the new product of service, and to show how potential customers react to the idea.

The second way is via the commercial case. The prototype and visualisation will provide the emotional rationale, but you still need to “show me the money!” Consumers in the early stage of innovation are not just valuable for testing; they can provide huge amounts of feedback – if they are engaged in the process.

The third element is engagement; you have to take the key people in the business with you. We keep the team size small, but we involve the managers who will ultimately own the new innovation throughout the design process, building ownership and incorporating their operational knowledge into the launch plan.

Why is it important to innovate faster in the first place?

Speed is the number one weapon in the innovator’s arsenal. It overcomes most of the causes of what we call “innovation death” in big companies. Without speed you risk missing the market opportunity and you can get stuck in that horrible cycle of corporate inertia, appearing at countless investment committees, but always coming away empty handed, promising to return next month with the answers to another round of pointless questions!

So it’s all about staying ahead of the masses?

Exactly! By moving fast, you have a chance to prove the market opportunity before everyone notices, you beat your competitors to the punch, and you learn so much more via iteration and market testing.

In your experience, what makes or breaks success of these innovation efforts?

There are several causes of innovation death in big companies and many are accidental. The single biggest cause in my experience is continuity of ownership. A great innovation is often reliant on a single sponsor or cheerleader and when these people change jobs or leave the company, great ideas are side-lined. Internalizing sponsorship within your company and getting an idea to gain traction fast are thus again highly important to successful intrapreneurial activities.

One success story is BTSport – the media offering from the UK’s largest telecoms company. It took almost 10 years from initial concept to full-scale market impact. But it had a consistent guardian in Gavin Patterson, initially head of the consumer division and now Group CEO. BT is now a credible competitor to Sky in the Pay-TV market.

Some companies try to copy startups and methods startups use to grow. What’s wise and what’s not that wise about that approach?

Big companies can gain a huge amount by adopting a more entrepreneurial mind-set and thinking like a startup. It makes them more customer-driven, with a single-minded and clear purpose. It also values action over strategy, getting into the market and learning from experience, rather than talking too much!

Finally, a focus on cost efficiency and how to make the best use of scarce resources keeps the team focused on what matters most. The other side of this is a risk of isolation. By standing apart from the core business, a new innovation might fail to take advantage of the wonderful assets and resources that a big company can provide.

Market Gravity organizes the Corporate Entrepreneur Awards. If you look to the past winners, what differentiates them from others?

Actually, the answer to that question is simpler than you would expect! It boils down to just one thing; the team. All the successful entries had wonderful team spirit, positive culture and shared enthusiasm to make the project succeed. It takes a huge amount of dedication, resilience, hard work and passion to be an Intrapreneur, so sharing this experience with a group of like-minded people seems to be the key to success.

What's the difference between a corporate entrepreneur and an intrapreneur?

I see the terms as pretty interchangeable – the most important thing is to recognise that there are highly entrepreneurial people in big established companies as well as startups and high-growth ventures. They make a very positive contribution to the world and I am delighted to see their efforts recognised and celebrated. That’s one of the main reasons to go the Intrapreneurship Conference, by the way!

Shouldn’t all employees be intrapreneurial?

There are always better ways of doing things and innovation should be valued in all roles, but I see the role of the Intrapreneur as something different. This is more about doing better things, and doing things better. It involves a level of uncertainty and experimentation than most companies (and their customers for that matter) couldn’t handle in many core business functions.

Big companies are very good at applying a consistent process to a well understood task or challenge at huge scale. The Intrapreneur’s role is to take the company into new areas, less well understood – to be the pioneer.

Why should delegates join your workshop during the conference?

We usually take around 60 days to drive a new idea from concept to prototype within a big company. We use some pretty interesting methods, tools and approaches and we take dozens of people on the journey. But 60 days still feels fast…believe me! In this workshop, we will be taking that journey in 60 minutes! So fasten your seat belts and enjoy the experience…

Find out more and book your tickets to the Intrapreneurship Conference, London.


The US Airline Industry is broken, it's about time someone fixed it

“Offer the best to the passengers and people will fly with you”, says Sheikh Ahmed, Chairman of Emirates.

I read this statement as part of an article on a recent story about US airlines trying to stop Middle Eastern carriers operating direct flights from Europe to the USA. You can understand why he said it based upon the experience flying in North America – something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

Now before I go on a rant, I’d like to point out I’m a big fan of budget air travel. If I’m in Europe I’ll still choose to fly with Ryanair over a flag carrier because it’s just so cheap.

In the US, cheap isn’t really an option yet the service on all the major carriers is pretty much as bad as or worse than Ryanair. JetBlue until recently used to be the last bastion of a customer focussed experience but scrapped this under pressure from investors and quickly added 4% to the share price by announcing baggage fees and tighter leg room.

You may ask why is this important? Well America, air travel sucks. Every carrier has chopped leg room, flies aging old aircraft, charges for baggage and provides ‘customer service’ that may as well not exist. The aim of this has been to boost ancillary revenue and cut costs. The impact of that is we’re approaching a race to the bottom.

Now when I book a trip to the US I’m looking for the lowest fare. End of. I have no loyalty to any carrier, I get little in return – only those flying business class every week really benefit. So while the analysts on Wall Street might like this for short term gain, over the long term airlines aren’t building loyal customer relationships.

Now look at Ryanair again. After years re-writing the rule book of European aviation, squeezing every last penny of costs out of the business, charging low fares and profiting from ancillary revenue they hit a wall. Customers decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and were switching to the likes of EasyJet who offered a less stressful and (slightly) more meaningful experience with happier staff and an EasyJet Plus programme.

Ryanair quickly changed tack, apologized and started to look at the customer. Their Labs programme is looking at ways to improve the customer experience. Recently results show them already seeing the benefit of this.

For EasyJet in the US, see Virgin America.

So US Airways, United, American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Spirit et al. Please think longer term, think about the customer experience because no matter what you tell us. Flying isn’t like the glory days. It’s the worst part of my week. Here’s a few simple ideas.

  • Don’t cram in all those extra rows of seats. I’ll pay more for my ticket but I don’t want to pay extra fees for legroom seats. I’m only 6ft2 but it makes the experience crappy for not only me, but the guy in front with my knees in his back.
  • Offer a meaningful loyalty programme I can see some benefit from. See Hotels.com for their super simple loyalty offering.
  • Make a nice mobile app so I don’t have to deal with your terrible website. Tell me when my flight is delayed so I don’t have to scan the airport screens.
  • Don’t sell me terrible food and little drinks at extortionate prices. I’ll happily pay a fair price for something edible rather than rush at the airport.
  • Don’t charge punitive fees for baggage – it means me and my fellow passengers crush too much in our hand luggage then you run out of space in the overhead bins. Alternatively, work with the airlines to create more space in the cabin.
  • Partner with companies looking to get their brand out there. Birchbox succeeded by finding a model to distribute small samples. I’m sure food or toiletries brands would love to access a captive audience.
  • Make your cabins more comfortable. Be prepared to introduce design features like the Paperclip armrest, couch style seating for families/couples or the fixed headrest so I can get some sleep.
  • Let me rate the service I receive – airline customer service used to be the best, now it’s terrible. I can rate my Uber driver, why not the stewardess? I might get a smile then. Let them rate passengers in return and have it count against their frequent flier status.
  • Airlines invented the yield management pricing system but do a terrible job of short term pricing. That’s why HitList is such a good app. If American Airlines have spare seats out of NYC for the weekend, tell me about it and give me a deal. You’ll win my business.

I’m sure there’s a tonne of other great ideas here. It’s about time the industry changed and the US carriers are at the back of the line.

Maybe in future years I’ll be on US carriers for long haul services instead of always choosing the European, Asian, Middle Eastern or South American option.


Why utilities are failing to seize the smart home opportunity

As we kick off 2015, there is still massive interest in the Smart Home vision. At CES earlier this month there were hundreds of smart home solutions on offer from smart doors to connected coffee machines and still massive excitement about the potential of this market.

It is early days, but the vast majority of these are actually showing very limited growth. Smart monitoring and security systems have proven attractive within their segment, but with little sign of mass penetration, whilst pretty much everything else remains a hammer looking for a nail.

The fact is that manufacturers are busy trying to make their products smart, without really understanding the consumer problem they’re trying to solve:

  • Take lighting – Personally, I don’t have an issue turning lights on/off when I enter or leave a room, but the user experience of smart lights is actually worse with either of the 2 main technical solutions: If I choose smart light bulbs, which are actually more expensive than their standard cousins, I have to change my behavior (along with everybody else around me) to NOT use the wall switch which I’ve used all my life otherwise the smart one won’t work. Plus every time it blows, I need a new more expensive lightbulb. Or I can get an electrician to rewire my house with smart wall switches – not cheap! All for the ability to turn a light on or off in a room I’m not in.
  • Take the smart coffee maker – actually why bother. You get the point. Let’s move on.

The reality is that only one smart homes’ device is showing potential for mass market take-off right now. The smart thermostat.

Smart thermostats work because they genuinely make my life better – they save real money by allowing me to turn the heating off if I’m out and don’t need it, the interface is far easier to use than the old wall unit, which combined with the fact the controls are now in my hand whilst I’m in bed or on the sofa rather than always out in the hall, I can be more comfortable with zero hassle by adjusting the temperature when I want. Great.

Now the smart thermostat market represents a massive opportunity for the utilities.

  • Recent research by Park Associates found that 14% of US broadband customers plan to install a smart thermostat this year. That is tens of millions of customers.
  • Pike Research shows customers are 4 times more likely to look to their utility than any other provider for energy management systems.
  • Further, smart thermostats provide lots of opportunities to help utilities meet their energy efficiency targets, help customers manage their bills, and establish a base for the broader smart home vision (if that materializes!).

Yet… you think about smart thermostats, and you think Nest. You search for smart thermostats on google and you get the likes of Ecobee, Honeywell, even Home Depot – but not a single utility on the first results page.

Where are the utilities? With some searching, there are a few offering them, such as Reliant Energy, but none of them are taking advantage right now whilst there is an easy window of opportunity.

Come on utilities – let’s see some action!