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Let’s make the post-pandemic era a new golden age for invention

Consumers can’t tell us the future, so let’s create it, says this Capgemini executive, who calls for sweeping new ideas across industries.

Let’s make the post-pandemic era a new golden age for invention
[Source images: Jenpol/iStock; .Katie Harp/Unsplash]

The move to customer-centric thinking has generally been wonderful. For almost two decades, companies have turned to their customers to help call the shots, employing empathetic research to generate shelves of new products and services based on deep consumer demands. Customer-centricity alone is a thoughtful, useful, and teachable practice, but also a painfully obvious way to do business and create new things.

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Every new digital banking feature or chatbot offers another incremental step, but rarely a meaningful leap. There’s nothing wrong with consumer input (it’s critical), but I’d argue that companies have become a bit over-reliant on a cycle of research, design, and small wins, with few major breakthroughs. It has taken the pandemic, and the massive behavior shifts it is ushering in, to break the ask-the-customer addiction and redefine the consumer-centricity model.

Businesses should no longer rely on customers alone for idea generation. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, go down to the basement, and start tinkering. Pour something orange into something greyish and see if it fizzes or explodes.

When the pandemic started, Capgemini research found that 58% of consumers considered postponing planned high-value purchases of items such as cars, furniture, and electronics. While many have started buying again, routines have been uprooted, and it has become nearly impossible to predict what consumers will want and need next. Add on the fact that we now have a wave of incredible potential from new technologies, but consumers can’t tell us the best use cases for them.


Related: You don’t know your customer anymore


This lack of clear direction from consumers has put the next decade of growth and market share up for grabs. Let’s stop trying to figure out what they want right now and instead create products and services that they can’t live without. This means a stronger connection between R&D and innovation teams. More investment in experimentation and use-case exploration, fewer dollars for fail-fast prototyping of the latest digital feature.

The next era must be driven by true creativity and managed risk-taking, which is often inspired by customer obsession but not defined by it. Expose your teams to new technology, new art, and new foods, and build a sustainable innovation capability to transform this inspiration into killer new ideas. Lengthen the timeline for impact by aiming for research beyond curbside pickup.

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The post-pandemic era could be the next golden age for inventors. All new concepts are born out of necessity and pressure—and there has never been another time with as much pressure as we are experiencing right now. Here are ways companies in several industries can lead the charge on this new approach:

Healthcare

Forty-six percent of consumers now say they are comfortable with the growing use of technology for managing their health, up from 38% pre-pandemic. Thirty percent even said they prefer to interact with a doctor via a voice or video call rather than going in-person for a first-time visit.

Let’s view this as the beginning of the tele-health story, not the fabled “new normal.” The winners here will be the ones that leverage this new channel openness to invent something completely different. Who will help consumers prioritize and triage their healthcare needs with technological channels? Are we ready for group physical therapy (and business models) with those with identical issues? Should employers carry less burden of employee health?

Transportation 

Crowded airplanes and congested subways have consumers wary of returning to public transportation. Due to health and safety concerns, 46% say they’ll use public transportation less, and 40% say they’ll use ride-hailing services less.

We may have a new urgency for creative, personal mobility models, but let’s not stop thinking there. In between the current state and self-driving passenger vehicles, does the fact that we can permanently live with fewer trips mean we should instead crack a smarter approach to public transport?

Hospitality 

Consumer safety has always been a priority for hotels and restaurants, but we now have an entirely new rule book. Hospitality innovation calls for new attractions for customers that will entertain and delight them, while also offering confidence in their safety. It’s a crucial piece to include, as 62% of consumers say they’ll start purchasing from brands that show higher levels of safety. What does it mean for a property to more seamlessly shift between normal and “distance” mode? What disinfectant technology can make this concern irrelevant?

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Our customer obsession isn’t over—it’s just not enough to deliver the badly needed wave of change ahead. Let’s find ways to fund and fuel these leaps and enable our inventors and innovators to surprise us.


Todd Rovak is managing director of innovation and strategy at Capgemini Invent and head of its innovation firm Fahrenheit 212. His teams create new products, services, and business models for the world’s leading companies to drive sustainable, profitable growth.


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