On December 13th 2010, the Parisian branch of Crédit Agricole, one of France’s leading banks (whose co-creation efforts I already covered here in French) announced the launch of the Alpha Project. By creating a physical space in the center on Paris, the co-creation project is meant to invite consumers in a physical store, to let them suggest and test new ideas and to eventually co-create the bank-client relationship. This is an interview of Tugdual de Latour, the manager who handles the Alpha project since the early days.
I met Tugdual in the Alpha Agency, and asked him what results the experiment has provided so far. His 2-and-a-half years experience as a co-creation manager prove to be invaluable for all those who are curious about customer involvement. Here are his answers about running a co-creation experiment in the banking industry, about the good and bad sides of customer involvement, and the future of the Alpha Project.
Hello Tugdual, could you briefly present the Alpha Project?
The Alpha Project, set up three years ago by Crédit Agricole Ile-de-France (the administrative region of Paris), had an ambitious goal: co-create tomorrow’s banking relationship by listening to clients and testing innovations with them in situ at their local branch. It’s like a lab (not just a show room since we also provide traditional banking services to our clients), situated in Paris’ 8th district, divided in six parts dedicated to different innovations.
The branch has 900+ “Alpha Clients,” who all registered on a voluntary basis because they want to participate and give their opinion about their banking experience. For them, we have created a dedicated facebook page, which has over 1,000 fans today, where I share updates about the Project, upcoming events and other news that can be on interest for our clients. Of course, they can also start discussions and share their ideas on this page.
But having a facebook page only is of course not a co-creation effort! A very important aspect is to take co-creation offline and to make people realize you genuinely take time for them. So I’d say that we have three ways to co-create with our consumers today:
- We run workshops with clients, which are quite short (about 2 hours) and always very lively
- We organize individual interviews to get client feedback on web sites or mobile apps. It’s also a great way to learn about navigation and improve online user experience. That’s why we sometimes invite UX-designers to these interviews.
- We send out online surveys to our 900+ clients to get simple input about a variety of subjects. Response rates are very high as about 40% of our clients reply to these surveys.
We’re happy to witness a decent participation on our co-creation initiatives: in 2012 we had 126 workshop participants in 15 workshops. Also, the number of internal requests for workshops has doubled between 2011 and 2012, and the first months of 2013 shows that the trend is continuing, as we currently have 25 workshops planned.
How does it happen? How do these internal “requests for co-creation”come along?
That’s a very important point, and to me this is the genuine innovation of the Alpha Project. When a project manager at the headquarters is working on a specific project, she or he is asked to “qualify” the project through co-creation. At the beginning it was strongly suggested to them by our top management, but as the Alpha Project gains notoriety, they increasingly come spontaneously. And today, a lot of managers see so much value in this co-creation approach that they don’t want to miss it!
The process is really simple: The project managers gets in touch with me, we write a short document to present the project (context, objectives, expectations etc.), the project manager presents it to the steering committee, who gives feedback and, if it is accepted, green light for co-creation. Once this is done, I can start organizing the workshop: contact our Alpha Clients, write a workshop animation guide, coordinate with the project manager etc.
Co-create a project with consumers allows us to be more realistic, to better adapt the project to their needs and to optimize our investments
This is different from qualitative market research because we’re not paying consumers to participate, they know they are heard as clients and will benefit from the upcoming innovations, and they know that I will provide them with feedback, which is crucial. I always send participants a debrief which summarizes their main ideas, whether we plan to implement them, and -if yes- how and when we will do it.
Why has this form of co-creation never been practiced before?
I think that a lot of it has to do with culture. Some corporate departments tend to think that clients don’t know what they want and that it is worthless asking their opinion. Others think that clients will come up with ideas that are impossible to implement, and that asking for their ideas will therefore only generate frustration. It is also seen as a time-intensive initiative and, surprisingly, some people think that clients will never show up as they don’t want to co-create with you!
The initial doubts make sense, and the only way to prove that they are wrong is to try! I think it is very important to build a co-creation initiative with all stakeholders: marketing, communication… And you need a nudge from top management. If the top management doesn’t support your co-creation strategy, it’s very difficult. I’m glad that we started co-creation, because today it is an essential part of our innovation process, and it allows to be so much closer to our clients! But I agree that it is difficult to measure in terms of return on investment.
How do you see the Alpha Project evolve in the future?
In the short term, we will have a redesign of the branch before the end of the year, partly to renew the innovations that we present to our clients. We initially had eleven innovations at the Alpha Project branch, six of which have shown potential to be rolled out across the other branches in the Paris region. One is actually already rolled out: the infrared sensor to count the number of entrants, which is absolutely crucial to know for a bank manager, because it allows her or him to better manage the work flows. So we will redesign the branch, keep some innovations, and bring some others in. So I’m currently looking for innovations to showcase here at the branch before the end of the year. For that I often go to the Crédit Agricole TechnoLab, which is our prospective technology center.
I also think we need to communicate more internally. While we have broad visibility among marketing executives and innovation experts, the Alpha Project could have wider notoriety among our own network of collaborators. Our headquarters have provided the initial push to get us noticed by project managers, but we’ll ramp up our efforts to share the benefits of co-creation with our Crédit Agricole collaborators.