Business and People Strategy and Performance

Blog: Innovation During Uncertainty: Customer-Facing Case Studies

  • July 12, 2022
Hamish Taylor, innovation expert and former CEO of Sainsbury’s Bank and Eurostar

Hamish Taylor shares some insights into key business innovations… 

Across industries, businesses are facing similar external challenges – such as digital transformation, increased regulation, the pandemic, more knowledgeable and challenging customers, the demands of sustainability, and increasing competition. Uncertainty and risk are simply part of the business environment now. These external challenges are beyond an organisation’s control. But the organisation’s own environment, and its understanding of the value of customer-centricity, are within its control. So where does an organisation start with customer-centric innovation? 

Organisations tend to be good at statements of intent – aligning strategy and values around customers; they tend also to be good at some degree of measurement – assessing customer satisfaction, market share, Net Promoter scores, and so on. 

What tends to get lost is the middle part – actually doing customer-centric innovation. To get started, the organisation needs to identify its customers – both internal (leaders, teams, colleagues) and external (end consumers, suppliers, shareholders, and partners). It is internal customers that pose the biggest challenge – to execute customer-centric innovation, the whole organisation is needed, and HR is critical to bringing the whole organisation along on the journey – supporting the workforce to gain the skills and motivation needed for innovation. 

At a recent CRF event, Hamish Taylor, shared the lessons he’s learned over decades of putting customers at the heart of innovation through some key case studies. 

BE CLOSER TO THE CUSTOMER THAN ANYONE ELSE 

Sainsbury’s Bank was initially built on customer insight data, such as the social groups that would comprise the customer base and their financial product needs. But analysis of soft insights led to a critical understanding of the importance of mood – are customers in a good mood? This insight allowed the business to innovate around the environment and customer service, in order to enhance customer mood and business outcomes. 

When Eurostar first launched, the company was losing money, although the service was excellent. Soft insights led to the realisation that the service wasn’t capturing leisure travellers, and that this was a brand management issue. The company needed to finesse its offer. It wasn’t selling railway tickets – it was offering the excitement of a trip to Paris. This insight changed the whole business model, with entry into joint ventures, expanded destinations, and a broader offer. These customer-centric innovations greatly expanded Eurostar’s market share and business performance. 

CREATE A NEW CUSTOMER VALUE PLATFORM FOR EVERYTHING YOU DO 

British Airway’s staff noticed that business travellers often arrive feeling exhausted after a red eye, so they asked a question: How can we help the customer arrive ready for business?  

This focus on customer needs led to an understanding that less hassle, more sleep, and refreshment were key to helping customers arrive ready for business. Everyone inside the organisation was activated to answer this question; ideas started coming from everywhere. IT looked at how to remove hassle from the process of checking in (British Airways became the first international airline to remove check-in). Desk staff at JFK International in New York innovated the idea of offering dinner in the business lounge before boarding, so that customers could get more sleep on the flight. Sure enough, 85% of customers accepted this offer. 

BRING FRESH THINKING TO YOUR CUSTOMERS (INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL) 

British Airways also became the first airline to offer beds in airplanes, to help increase customer comfort. But when they started to design them, they didn’t speak to aircraft designers. After all, if you want a breakthrough, look outside your current environment. Why? Because your current environment is steeped with assumptions. People can be more open to new ideas and principles when you take them out of their home environment.  

So, the company went to luxury yacht designers for help. Why? Because designers of luxury yachts are experienced and knowledgeable about how to create maximum comfort in minimal space. 

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