Make People Happy, Make More Money in 2016

Making customers happy is good business, but many companies fail to connect the innovation process with increasing the happiness of their customers. The next time you call a meeting to come up with some new product ideas, try out one of these simple ideation exercises:

1. Think of a small (or big) way to make people happier.

I was at Star Wars last week and there were a LOT of happy people. And rightfully so. They were tremendously entertained at an IMAX 3D screening. As I watched the previews, I wondered whether I really wanted to see every one of those movies or whether I just wanted to live inside the IMAX theater. After further consideration, I think it was the latter. IMAX has found a way to differentiate itself from run of the mill movie theaters and I think their business is not really about better projection and sound technology, its about making people happier. For IMAX, each advance in technology that can bring greater pleasure to audiences could lead to an extra upcharge.

The exercise: Create a box with four quadrants. The vertical axis will be “difficulty to implement” and the horizontal axis will be “cost.” Now write a list of all the easy, hard, and crazy ways you could make your customers happier and plot them on the axes. Consider how to make people who aren’t your customers happy, too (for example, your customer’s children). Which of these will increase customer acquisition and retention? Could you charge extra for any of these services?

2. Help your customers share what makes them happy.

Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook have been successful because they let people share what makes them happy. In addition to sharing pictures and videos, consumers also like sharing their feedback and insights. In 2014, Domino’s in Australia introduced “Pizza Mogul,” an app that let consumers design their own pizzas, share them on social networks, and then get paid a commission every time someone clicked and ordered that pizza. In the first six months of the campaign, 55,000 “moguls” created 160,000 different pizzas. Your might want to consider a mechanism to help your customers express themselves.

The exercise: Look at your website and marketing materials. List all the ways you could make it easier for people to share what they like about your products and services. Discuss new ways to create shareable happy moments for your customers. Outline a contest that could encourage people to share their designs, feedback, and ideas with you.

3. Think of a way to help people relieve stress and anxiety.

I was at Baylor hospital recently for a family member who was undergoing surgery. The hospital had a variety of services and processes in place to reduce my anxiety, including free valet parking that eased my arrival, ample comfortable seating in the waiting area, free coffee and snacks, strong enough WiFi to watch streaming movies during the long down time, and regular patient updates to reduce my concerns. While I wasn’t the patient, the hospital recognized that I was an important part of equation and relieving my stress and anxiety would make me more likely to use and recommend them in the future. From the classroom to the workplace, more people are reporting higher levels of stress. While relieving stress and increasing happiness aren’t exactly the same thing, one can lead to the other. You should consider the ways you could relieve stress and anxiety for your customers.

The exercise: Write out your entire sales cycle on a timeline and identify each area your customer might experience stress before, during, and after the sale. Don’t forget about all the people associated with the customer that might feel stress, too. Now think about how you could go about reducing and relieving stress in all those situations.

The Bottom Line

Too many professionals lose sight of the human component of business and don’t spend enough time thinking about the people behind the transactions. Make people a little happier and you might find yourself a little bit wealthier.

Charging Stations for the Homeless

Why charging stations for the homeless?

image: Derek Mindler (flickr)

image: Derek Mindler (flickr)

“62 percent of homeless youth own a cell phone. 51 percent use cell phones stay connected to friends from home and 41 percent connect to their parents, and 36 percent use the phone to call current or potential employers,” according to a study published in the Journal of Urban Health.

Without a physical mailing address, a mobile phone becomes the sole means of connection to the outside world. The homeless use mobile phones to get updates about shelters, meals, and jobs.

A mobile phone enables communication and even commerce. But minutes and data are expensive, and without a permanent address, a simple task like charging becomes difficult.

“And connections enabled by mobile devices can give disenfranchised populations a sense of community while they work to rebuild. A cell phone offers a cheap way to communicate, and even a very basic Internet access can connect them to a wealth of information and resources. On a larger scale, a mobile device is a tether between a homeless person and the larger fabric of society, keeping them from falling into the pale and completely in the margins,” writes Margaret Rock, managing editor of 2machines.

Providing a solution to mobile charging for the homeless may not seem like a direct path to profits, but companies might want to consider how such a solution could positively impact their bottom lines by selling the solution in developing countries where consumers face similar challenges.

Are Robots Better Drivers than Humans? Yes.

Robots and humans approach driving somewhat differently.

The Turn Signal

This blinking indicator helps humans notify other human drivers about their intention to change lanes. Of course, its also an indicator that someone will be pulling in front which requires speeding up to prevent said passing. The obvious answer to this problem for many humans is to not use a turn signal at all.

A robot would approach this slightly differently. It knows when all the vehicles on the road work together they’ll get where they’re going more efficiently. A robot would give advanced notice to all the cars on the road when it intends to change lanes so others would give it space to make merging easy.

Rubber Necking

Everybody knows that an accident is essentially free entertainment. The worse it is, the higher the entertainment value. Naturally, humans will slow down as much as possible when approaching an accident so they can get the best view of the accident free entertainment as possible, and perhaps the best quality picture that they can immediately share with their friends on social media. #trafficaccident

A robot sees no value in slowing down for an accident unless it will prevent other accidents. Passengers in self-driving cars will have to make do with a quick glance. Then again, passengers in self-driving cars may be too immersed in something else to even notice.

Texting While Driving

Humans can’t communicate telepathically… yet. So until brain-computer interfaces are fully developed, its critical to respond immediately to any and all texts, even while operating heavy machinery. Humans are terrible at multi-tasking, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to read and type on our tiny devices while driving 75 mph.

Robots on the other hand, are excellent multi-taskers and can communicate wirelessly with other robots. They could read the news, communicate their location, and make dinner reservations all at the same time without it impacting their driving ability.

Driving Under the Influence

More than 10,000 people each year in the United States die in vehicle accidents that involved an alcohol impaired driver. Interestingly, a recent study out of Temple University suggests that a strong Uber presence in cities may cut DUI fatalities. They posit that when the price of taking an uber home is cheap enough, people are less likely to drive themselves. Humans, it seems, are willing to risk their lives and the lives of others to save a few bucks. Actually, that sounds about right.

While robots don’t drink, they could be driven under the influence of a hacker and thrown into a tailspin, wreaking havoc on a major highway, potentially killing thousands of people in a giant fiery crash. That’s actually quite scary, and the reason Mark R. Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said “We must reassure vehicle owners that their data is secure, that their vehicle is secure, and that we are looking out for threats from hackers, thieves, and anyone else who might seek to tamper with safety-critical technology.” Hacking is probably the biggest technological impediment to self-driving cars. And until they become hack-proof, humans will continue to take the drivers seat and do all the crazy stuff humans do while driving.


Would You Consider Sex with a Robot to Be Adultery?

ex machinaMy wife and I recently watched Ex Machina, a film about a seductive female robot with artificial intelligence. After the movie I asked playfully, “would it be cheating to have a sex with a robot like that?”

Her answer was a resounding yes. In her opinion, that machine was designed to act and look authentically like a real person, so having sex with a robot that has the capacity to have a romantic and intimate relationship would cross the line into adultery.

“Does it matter that it’s not actually a human?” Her answer was no, it wouldn’t matter. It’s just taking the place of another woman. While this is a theoretical question right now, I suspect more people will be asking these questions as we get closer to a future where humanoids are not just movie magic. If a humanoid possesses the type of emotional intelligence displayed in Ex Machina, it might be difficult for humans not see them as fellow humans.

toshiba robotAdvances in material sciences and robotics are already allowing companies like Japan’s Toshiba Corp. to create humanoids (pictured left) that look and move like real people. This robot was on display at a department store in Tokyo and actually fooled some customers into thinking it was just a regular person.

After Ex Machina was released, the founder of a sex doll company, Matt McMullen, announced he would be developing AI to add an emotional and intellectual dimension to the dolls. He even promoted the idea that a virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift could be used to add to the experience.

One possibility is that we’ll see a robotic sex industry take shape similar to the one we see in Steven Spielberg’s futuristic film, AI, starring Jude Law as a robot gigolo. If something like that occurs, which societies will embrace it? Which will attach a cultural and social stigma? And will couples need to discuss such a thing before getting married?

What do you think?


What’s Driving Athletic Wear Sales?

image: Billie Ward (flickr)The athletic wear as regular wear trend has been going for a while. And when AdAge reported that Backpack Sales Rise as Professionals Ditch Briefcases it indicated to me that the “trend” was picking up steam among more than just hardcore fitness buffs.

There are several drivers that provide support to the idea that what we’re seeing is not just a fashion fad, but a longer term shift in consumer demand for apparel that is comfortable and sporty:

  • Healthy Living: For some, sports and fitness are not just daily activities, but a lifestyle. And as consumers are increasingly making plans on the fly, adjusting schedules on a moment’s notice, and deciding where to go, what to eat, and what to do based on real-time input from their friends, family, and coworkers, that means needing clothes and accessories for both “sweating and socializing.”
  • Popularity of Wearables: Many consumers who use wearables for tracking their activity are likely to be candidates for gear that helps them stay active throughout the day. If your goal is 10,000 steps a day, you might be in the market for comfortable shoes.
  • Growth in cities: As cities grow, traffic increases and driving becomes more onerous. Many residents bike and walk to work (and use public transportation) as a means of avoiding driving. This also means more people wanting comfortable clothes to wear on the way to work and clothes they don’t need to change out of once they get there.
  • Time Constraints: We’re constantly pulled in different directions and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. Consumers want gear that adapts to various parts of our lives –  stay in same basic outfit at work, to run errands, to work out, to go out for a drink, etc.
  • Casual Office Spaces: As the nature of work changes to more distributed and virtual tasks, the nature of the traditional office has also changed. The rise in coworking spaces, open layouts, startups, and more virtual work all contribute to a more casual office space which in turn makes it perfectly acceptable to wear sneakers, leggings, and other athletic gear at work.
  • Millennials: The newest generation of workers are the least likely to believe office wear has to be traditional and are more likely to adopt the casual attire of athletic wear. They’re also used to blurring everything, from mixing work time and personal time (such as answering work emails at home) to blending different food cultures, so it would be natural to try to blend casual and dressy.
  • Badges of identity: According to Kevin Osborn at Future in Focus, “People may be using athletic wear (as they use smartphones and certain brands) as a badge of identity, to signal to others who they are (I’m young, I’m fit, I care about my health) and what matters to them.”  It helps that athletic gear is more fitting and makes people look thinner.

All of these drivers influence a broad group of consumers and increase demand for athletic gear and associated products.

Agree or Disagree? Tell us why!