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The Vision of the 2020 Customer Becomes Clear

Innovation Labs Emphasize the Evolution of Engagement

Technology has become an undeniable force in the customer experience space. With every new gadget and solution comes the opportunity for increased customer engagement and stronger brand loyalty. Yet, while such tools offer many advantages from the B2C standpoint, most organizations must also look internally for new ways to drive improvements. More so than ever, companies are establishing innovation labs to facilitate employee and partner collaboration in an atmosphere that works to resolve the challenges of today and predict the obstacles of tomorrow.

Innovation labs offer organizations an area to test ideas for new services, programs, and products, while also exploring how the latest technologies will impact business overall. Mark Grindeland, chief marketing officer at TeleTech, says that, regardless of industry, today's companies recognize that changes in technology and innovation are something they must continually invest in to stay ahead of the competition and remain relevant. With technology evolving at an increasingly rapid pace, companies must also cultivate new methods for staying in-step with what the public wants and how consumers behave, for customer experience stands as the primary differentiator when building long-term relationships. 

Innovation labs also give employees a platform to share ideas for the future, empowering those at all levels within the company to contribute insights and perspectives that may otherwise go unheard. While it's important for companies to focus on constantly improving the customer experience, there's much to learn from staff members who interact with these individuals at varying points along the customer journey. Providing a welcoming, collaborative space aids not only strategic development in the moment, but such tactics also lay the groundwork for improved internal communications that reach beyond departmental lines to boost employee morale and create a consistent approach to customer service.

Florida Hospital and Chicago Public Library both use innovation labs as a place for newborn ideas to mature, and for relationships to blossom and grow. Their labs explore potential concepts and strategies, and educate staff on how to prepare for impending trends in their respective industries. By bringing in outside partners and experts, these organizations continuously aim to improve customer experience and service by focusing on what they can learn about the people behind these interactions. While they both work to integrate the latest, most relevant technologies, their first priority remains the customer.

Florida Hospital Embraces the Healthcare Consumer of Tomorrow 

The introduction of the Affordable Care Act turned the healthcare industry on its head. Florida Hospital began preparing by opening an innovation lab in January 2012. The Florida Hospital Innovation Lab (FHIL) embodies the organization's co-creative spirit by welcoming employees throughout the hospital to collectively solve healthcare's greatest challenges. FHIL brings people together in order to eliminate the top-down issues plaguing many other organizations, allowing all those with ideas on how to improve service to share their insight.

"When we started the innovation lab, we began at the grassroots," says Karen Tilstra, Ph.D., co-founder and consulting director at the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab. "We decided it wouldn't be a mandate from the top. We just let people come in and let word roll out from there. We didn't market, we didn't advertise—and we still haven't to this point—and we've been so busy. A lot of companies don't have a space where employees have a voice. Every place needs a safe space where people can come, have a voice, and exercise their intellectual and leadership capacity. Companies would just be amazed at what the people within the organization are capable of doing to move the needle."

Since its inception, FHIL has tackled more than 100 innovation projects, while inviting more than 2,000 individuals to collaborate within the space. From hospital cleanliness and equipment allocation to staff responsiveness and interdepartmental communication, healthcare professionals engage with FHIL daily. For instance, the hospital's stroke team brainstormed and used collaborative techniques offered in the FHIL to shorten the average stroke intervention from 72 minutes to 48 minutes. Though this change might seem miniscule, a 10-minute reduction in treating stroke patients could save that patient's hearing, vision, and basic faculties, for stroke victims lose over 2 million neurons per minute.

However, much of FHIL's success stems from the buy-in of the CEO, David Banks and CFO, Doug Hilliard. With backing from both the administrative and financial leads of the organization, FHIL has prospered as an incubator for ideas and solutions. "In today's rapidly changing world, hospitals must find better ways to solve problems," says Banks. "FHIL provides answers by accessing and incorporating the organization's creatives and intellectuals so their insights may be applied to the hospital's toughest problems."

Chicago Public Library Explores Relationships Through Education

For libraries across the nation, technology can be both a blessing and a curse. While such tools enable librarians to assist patrons with speed and simplicity, easy access to information has made many of the traditional librarian's services obsolete. Instead, libraries must seek to engage patrons in new, exciting ways that allow for growth both inside and outside the organization. Chicago Public Library (CPL) created an innovation lab as an avenue for experimentation, enabling the institution to explore new ways to interact with patrons and extend relationships beyond books and computer screens. Known as design thinking, CPL's model involves small teams solving problems through research, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing.

Launched at the Harold Washington Library Center branch, CPL introduced this physical space, known as the Maker Lab, on July 8 as its first "lab" project. The initiative was designed to expand offerings, improve library services, and extend engagement within the organization and throughout the community. Patrons participate by registering for lab sessions and workshops that enable them to "make" and experiment using emerging technologies, such as 3D printers and laser cutters, which are bound to play a pivotal role in the evolution of science and industry. CPL also cultivated a strong relationship with Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry in order to educate librarians so they may conduct workshops and classes for the entire community.

"We placed the innovation lab on the third floor of the Harold Washington Library Center, which is our central library here in Chicago," says Andrea Sáenz, first deputy commissioner of Chicago Public Library. "The space that it occupies is directly in the path of any patron who walks through our doors. Right now, the lab is staffed by librarians running workshops, hosting open lab sessions, and it's open to the public free of charge."

Because the demand for library services continues to evolve, the lab was introduced in an effort to test different engagement strategies for future development. By introducing the innovation lab, CPL hopes to not only offer an environment for advanced learning, but also explore new territory with regard to the librarian-patron relationship. 

While this particular space will close next Spring, the feedback and insights gathered from these workshops will go on to influence future innovation labs and the library system's approach to patron engagement overall. The Maker Lab itself focuses on physical creation, but the lab's overarching goal aims to cultivate knowledge and innovation in the community.