"I've always been obsessed with customers and customer experience" - The CYBG Story

Ben and I interviewed David Judic, Head of Retail Banking at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group, about the huge transformation journey the bank has been on in the last 5 years. When David first came to the role, he hadn’t worked in customer innovation before, so he engaged Market Gravity to provide him the support he needed.

David’s a straight-talking, super smart, no nonsense visionary who started out with an ambition to leap ahead of the competition by putting the customer at the heart of the bank.

“I felt the business was ripe for change…it had been steady going for 175 years, but had been on the fringes of being a challenger.”

David Judic

This sounds like a huge task, right?

Here’s how David approached it:

  • The core team moved to a secure site where they could co-locate
  • Far from being a fully kitted out space, this was an ex-job centre where the team had to do their own DIY to make it work
  • This created a real ‘start-up’ feeling inside the bank
  • Engaged Market Gravity to support the journey
  • The core team shared their fears, working through key questions and working out how to manage stakeholders together

How did they bring the customer into the heart of everything?

  • Every day and month, CYBG constantly tested and re-tested with customers; testing with 10,500 all in all
  • Each time they ran a session with the bank colleagues, they also ran a mirror session with customers. This gave fresh opinion to every session
  • The team ran different types of sessions with customers, including 1-1 interviews, user experience design, focus groups, workshops and co-creation sessions.
  • The bank acknowledged that customer insight provides direction, but not the complete answer.  Having created a product with a price point that was developed with customers, it launched and became apparent that customers were not wiling to pay. The bank had to pivot quickly based on the fresh evidence.

What part did Studio B play in this?

  • Studio B is CYBG’s innovation studio on Kensington High Street – a physical space in the bank that customers can walk into and work on real problems with the team, to co-create solutions
  • The idea for Studio B came from the acknowledgement that the bank wanted to create an ideas factory – one that came from customers and not bankers
  • The ‘Labbers’ working in Studio B were from a mixture of backgrounds, united in being uninterested in pursuing a career in banking.
  • Studio B also showcased the outputs they created within the core banking space. This served to break the taboo of walking into a bank that you don’t bank with, in order to find out what’s going on.
  • Studio B also played a commercial role:


“Whether customers want to buy products and services and experience today, or are inspired by what we’re talking about so they come back to us later…this builds awareness and brand. Hopefully over time that translates into commercial performance. “

  • David acknowledged that every facet of running Studio B was – in his words – scary, but it has delivered results. They recently won an FS Tech Award for their augmented reality currency conversion app – a concept which came out of Studio B.

What’s next for the bank?

  • A recent launch by CYBG is B Works with the tagline: “Learn, work, bank”
  • B Works is the new creative hub for small businesses in Manchester and demonstrates the future of banking in action
  • It’s a mixture of free co-working space, a coffee shop and a business hub. There’s on-hand access to experts, a social studio (where you can even record a podcast) and the ability for businesses to showcase their content
  • Untraditionally, there are no banking counters. It’s all about conversations with the customer, rather than a transactional banking experience
  • CYBG have also acquired Virgin Money; it is still the early stages of the transition programme but the acquisition demonstrates the journey that CYBG have been on, to get them to this point

A huge thank you to David for giving us his time and so much rich insight and perspective on this transformational journey. 

If you’d like to listen to the podcast, you can find it here (also available on Spotify) 

If you’ve been inspired by David’s story and CYBG’s journey, and think that Market Gravity could help you, then get in touch with us, at launchbreak@marketgravity.com

10 benefits of Sprints

You have a business challenge that needs to be addressed quickly. From experience you know that it will take weeks- if not months- to mobilise the business into action. But instead of creating a massive programme and stretching out the work, you launch a proposition in days. You adopt a mission mindset, make decisions quickly and within ten days, you move from idea to prototype. From a prototype you find rapid ways to go live and experiment. You learn from real customers, with real data. This saves your business time and unnecessary cost. And it gives much needed confidence to invest before you scale. What’s more this new way of working starts to change the way you do ‘business-as-usual’ (BAU).

Welcome to the world of sprints, a concept that is gaining traction in both the UK and US since three partners from Google Ventures published, “Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”.

We've been using the sprint technique with some of our clients over the last year and these approaches to business challenges have transformed the way we deliver projects and launch new propositions for our clients. For big businesses, sprints bring together the best of both worlds; the tools and ways of working that digital pioneers such Spotify and Google Ventures apply with the scale and deep domain expertise of big companies.


10 benefits of Sprints:

1. Reduced costs
Small teams working to tight deadlines minimises investment cost. They simplify decision making and are more likely to deliver real impact versus large big project teams that generate lots of process, governance and PowerPoint presentations.

2. Rapid growth
Organising sprints and small teams around growth opportunities as they present themselves allows businesses to quickly go after new opportunities.

3. Improved team morale
Removing hierarchy and empowering people to get things done creates a feeling that they can affect change in their company, despite how big it is.

4. High productivity
Time boxing responses to business challenges simplifies decision making and focuses the team on an outcome, not a process.

5. High energy levels
As team morale improves, adrenalin kicks in and everybody focuses on getting the job done within the timeframe.

6. Less risk
By creating a culture and environment that enables teams to experiment before- and as they scale- ensures that decision making is informed at all stages by real customer data, not hypothesis.

7. Competitive advantage
As business environments become faster and more uncertain, the ability to mobilise teams of talented people to start and deliver projects quickly is critical. This helps organisations become more resilient.

8. Better outcomes from diversity
The most successful sprint teams embrace diversity. Diversity of culture, experience and expertise. This helps them solve modern, complex challenges.

9. Seed cultural change through delivery
Sprint teams are empowered to define their own working practices and make their own decisions, stripping out layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and reporting that can slow progress down.

10. More agility
Being able to pivot quickly to the challenges of our rapidly changing world is vital. Sprints bring talented and diverse people together to solve problems. Once the challenge has been met, they disperse or kick off the next challenge.


Sprints focus on real business challenges- not blue sky thinking- which means that new opportunities and innovations are delivered quickly, refined, validated and tested before they are scaled. We've used sprints to transform ideas into breakthrough propositions at speed whilst unleashing entrepreneurial talent that exists in big companies.

We recently worked with Standard Life on 20-day mission-based sprints which explored ways to increase the retention of one of Standard Life’s customer segments.

Stephen Ingledew from Standard Life said, “We wanted to launch a disruptive solution quickly, but one that would have minimal impact on our core technology systems. By using the sprint method introduced to us and run by the team at Market Gravity, we are able to find one. A small empowered team, or squad as a sprint team is called, was brought together to respond to the challenge we’d set, with a constraint that was time boxed. The result of the experiment was the development of “The Butler”, a new smart chat interface which we were able to get in the hands of a small number of customers, in a real environment with real data before scaling it.”


Get in touch if you'd like to talk about how Sprints can work for you!


Contactless is killing savings

It’s time to introduce some pain into payments

The best new business propositions we develop hang off an unresolved tension between opposing needs or desires.  “I want a girlfriend but I can’t be bothered to leave my sofa” – hello Tinder.

In banking, customers have a pressing need to save money, but are constantly presented with easier ways to spend it. UK contactless transactions per month trebled in 2015. Yet customers tell us that contactless makes them feel out of control. They miss the time they had to hand over hard cash. But what’s the difference? It’s all money isn’t it?

Well, no. Contactless removes a ‘decision point’, where the customer has to stop and think about whether this is money they should save or spend. So how can you insert more ‘decision points’ in retail banking to help the customer save, without affecting convenience?  You could give customer electric shocks each time they’re faced with the temptation to spend money – that’s what first direct’s savezap does.


Well it was a good April Fool’s gag…

But here are a few ways you might really approach it:

Split up big sums of money into smaller lumps which consumers can relate to. Or partitioning, in behavioural economics. This Wired article describes how, when people are obliged to open several smaller packets of crackers rather than eat from one large bag, they generally eat fewer crackers. They have to stop and think before they open each new bag. In banking, seeing the split of spend by category follows the same principle: tell someone they’ve spent all of the salary this month and they’ll most likely shrug. Tell them they have spent 25% of it improving their castle defences in Clash of Clans, and they are more likely to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror.

Make small sums seem as important as big sums. Yes, the old adage of ‘look after the pennies’ is very true. Fact is few people do it. Behavioural economics tells us we are less likely to save small amounts like a £10 scratchcard winning than bigger ticket items like a 10% end of year bonus. But that £10 is money which can be saved – the customer needs help to understand that. Like tracking daily progress towards a pre-established savings goal. That £10 might make all the difference to a daily goal.

Minimise the mental separation between purchase and payment. Credit cards separate the joy of a new purchase from the pain of having to remove money from your bank account – often causing horrors at the end of the month. The new move towards ‘predictive’ banking (as touted by Atom) is starting to tackle exactly that problem: showing you how spending behaviour today will affect your future balance (like the amount of interest you’ll earn).

Give customers a chance to think twice. Pension reform now gives customers the freedom to spend a proportion of their pension early. ‘Cooling-off periods’ are proven to reduce projection bias (the thing which convinces you ‘my future self will want this Ferrari just as much as I do now’). One of our clients, Standard Life, has introduced a 2-step process, whereby there is a week’s gap between the first call and completion of the withdrawal. In the interim, Standard Life can provide information on all of the implications of withdrawing, such as the impact on future income.

Try it. A little pain can sometimes be a good thing.

Market Gravity can help you turn an idea into a breakthrough proposition.

Get in touch with Andrew to find out how.



NEWS: Market Gravity brings digital disruption to Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank with the launch of B

Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank have teamed up with proposition design consultancy Market Gravity to design and launch a pioneering new smart digital banking service – B.

Market Gravity worked collaboratively with the team at Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank to develop what is believed to be the UK’s first customer-design-driven banking service, specifically for mobile and tablet devices. Launching on 3rd May, the unique B app promises to bring in new users and create long-term value for the bank and its customers with the fastest account opening process in the UK and a host of features designed to enhance customer engagement and retention.

The Banks aim for the new technology to encourage existing customers to make the transition into mobile banking and bring in new younger, and tech-savvy users from other retail banks who will be attracted by the new experience. This investment in disruptive technology represents an opportunity for the Banks to appeal to customers across the UK and increase their reach beyond its traditional heartland.

Designed and developed following customer feedback, and in collaboration with Market Gravity, the B proposition is built around an app, available for free for the first 12 months, then for £2 a month. It features intuitive smart tools to help consumers take control and manage their money much more effectively. As well as allowing users to sweep cash between current and savings accounts and make payments at the touch of a button, B will offer multiple savings pots, tagging and tracking of spending and tailored messages, and hints and tips to help customers. Plus dedicated support is always on hand either at the touch of a button on the app, through the branch network and via a free UK-based dedicated call centre. The new technology brings cost-effective, instant digital and virtual support to customers and allows them to become their own money expert on their own devices - something the bank recognises as greatly appealing to the new tech-savvy generation of banking customers.

B aims to have a broad appeal to encourage new customers looking for a convenient way to bank, remotely, on the go, 24/7. It will be matched within branches with specially designed B branded areas that will support customers in exploring the new functionality B offers.

Peter Sayburn, CEO and founding partner at Market Gravity, says: “We were delighted to work with Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank on the development and launch of the new B platform and it’s exciting to see the concept come to life. It’s great to work with such a forward-thinking team looking to bring innovation and disruption to a traditional sector.

“We are seeing the emergence of new entrants to the sector and it’s great to see an established banking organisation become a New Challenger and bring their offering into the digital age. It’s important for businesses within the banking industry to stay one step ahead and transform themselves into digital banks.

“Today’s consumers want banking options that are built around the lives they lead now; convenient, easy to manage and use technology in an intelligent way to practically help them achieve the things they want in life. New technologies from apps and wearables, to Facebook messenger bots will change the way consumers bank, shop and manage their money. With new legislation, such as the Payment Services Directive 2, we expect to see even more developments in payments and finance as well as more challengers entering the marketplace. Established banks have to develop their products and services to meet the demands of the consumers of today and the future.”

The launch of B represents the first major initiative for the Banks since the company’s IPO in February this year and signals the importance of innovation in the company’s growth strategy. It forms part of the group’s wider omni-channel strategy across the business using digitisation to deliver better, sustainable services for customers.

Helen Page, Customer Experience Director at Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, says: “We worked in collaboration with Market Gravity to devise a new banking experience for our customers and to disrupt the category. B represents a challenge to other banks and is based around an app that has been extensively tested and trialled - we know it’s what people want.

“As part of our background research, over 10,000 people told us what they wanted from a bank; to take the hassle out of money and make life a bit easier. We listened, learned and took their advice throughout the process to create B - a product designed by customers for customers.”


To find out more about B, visit www.youandb.co.uk.


See what the press are saying about B.

The FT - Clydesdale and Yorkshire develops artificial intelligence app

The Guardian - Bank accounts: to B, or not to B – that is the £2-a-month question

ThisisMONEY.co.uk - Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks take on Atom with launch new app-based challenger bank called... B

Scottish Business News - Market Gravity develops pioneering new app for Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank

Finextra.com - Yorkshire and Clydesdale Bank launch digital challenger bank B

bankingtech.com - UK's CYBG to launch-new-digital-banking-platform

Market Gravity can help you turn an idea into a breakthrough proposition.

Get in touch with Nick Sherrard to find out how.


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 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…..


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.


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?


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.

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!

Building a new joint proposition with the Bank of Ireland and Post Office

We recently worked with the Bank of Ireland and Post Office to build a new joint proposition, taking them through our Discover, Design and Deliver methodology.

In this short video, Richard Exton, Head of Transactional Banking for Bank of Ireland and John Willcock, Head of Financial Services for Post Office reflect on why they chose to work with Market Gravity and how they found the experience.


What did the project entail?

We worked together over a period of six months, taking their identified opportunity through each of our three stages of proposition development. In Discover, we built customer and market insight around the opportunity and used this to generate ideas and concepts. In Design, we developed the concepts further into the proposition, customer experience and a lo-fidelity prototype. In Deliver, we further tested and built out the proposition in more detail, developing the operating model and go-to-market plan, ready for the Build phase to begin.

To find out how Market Gravity can help you, get in touch with David Cowser - david.cowser@marketgravity.com.