Verizon, Comcast turn to consumers for ideas

03 December 2009

NEW YORK: Verizon, Comcast and Telstra are among a growing number of communications companies that are including consumers in their innovation programmes, new research from Accenture shows.

The consultancy estimated that $1 trillion (€662bn; £600bn) was spent on research and development globally last year, with many major players in the communications sector investing heavily in this area.

It also surveyed 270 industry executives from Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, and found that 42% believed the process of bringing original products to market was often overly protracted.

A third of its panel now regularly seek the input of third parties, such as consumers, when generating new ideas, as part of what is regarded as a more "open" approach to this aspect of their operations.

Verizon, the US giant, is just one example of a business that is placing a heightened emphasis on securing this kind of insight.

Eric Bruno, its svp of corporate marketing, said the organisation is "completely and totally committed to open development because we will not drive sufficient innovation on an internal basis alone."

Alongside working with its customers when formulating fresh offerings, the New York-based firm is trying to ensure that all of its services are equally user-friendly.

"If you went back two or three years ago, you would find companies launching independent sets of applications and sending them out into the marketplace," Bruno added. 

"Now we're spending much more time integrating those experiences, centralising all the applications so customers can go to one place for a total experience."

Telefónica has even constructed "customer labs" in its research centres, so representatives from its target audience can speak directly with staff, and built an online forum, with the same goal in mind.

Bernardo Quinn, its chief strategy officer, said "we are already seeing the difference this is making in terms of customers who are more engaged with our company and products."

The Spanish operator has also created an in-company programme asking employees to make such suggestions, receiving around 600 in all last year, with 25 going on to receive internal prizes.

France Telecom has strived to reduce the size of its portfolio so that it offers fewer, more valuable products, with its tests among members of the public helping to shape possible future additions.

Jean-Philippe Vanot, its senior executive vice president of innovation and marketing, said "if a product is perceived to be easy to use, development continues. If not, we modify the product and try again."

In a similar fashion, Comcast, the US broadband-to-cable provider, often solicits the opinions of users from the first stages of "ideation", Karen Gaines, its vice president of customer operations, said.

"That way we can help build the customer's perspective into the service – including how they will learn about and use a new product," she added.

Telstra, the Australian telecoms giant, was also said by Accenture to have "made considerable investments in a deep, segmented understanding of its customers."

This means "the company's marketing units are able to provide better guidance about the types of products and services most likely to be profitable."

Data sourced from Accenture; additional content by Warc staff