Some of the best and brightest Customer Experience (CX) leaders from across North America gathered in our virtual studio for the GDS CX Innovation Summit, discussing the best ways for brands to differentiate today.
In the opening keynote of the summit, we heard from Alan Boehme from H&M, the Executive Advisor to the CEO for Future Technology. Boehme was full of insight for attendees, describing how the retailer remains innovative by continually asking one simple question: “What if?”
“Tech is moving so quickly that throughout our careers we always have to ask the question, ‘what if?’”
– Alan Boehme, Executive Advisor to the CEO for Future Technology, H&M Group
Here are some key learnings for CX leaders to keep in mind as they strive to remain relevant and valuable to consumers in this digital age.
Innovation Is Driven by Asking Questions
Now boasting nearly 5,000 retail outlets in 75+ countries, H&M was born from one small store in the Swedish countryside in 1947. Boehme says it was one founding question guiding it all, “what if fashion was available to everyone?”
Ever since, the fashion retailer has been asking questions Boehme claims. “What if the fashion industry changes?” “What if society changes?” “What if the consumer changes?” As the organization answers these questions through the years, it finds itself evolving and innovating right along with consumers.
What If Fashion Could Be Sustainable?
Today, the retailer is busy answering sustainability questions. “What if we could create fibers from clothing that you’re no longer wearing,” asks Boehme, “and turn them into new fashion?”
It’s something H&M is working to make happen in more and more stores with its innovation around recycling and repurposing materials.
The retail group is also exploring alternatives to traditional mass market fashion approaches by asking, “what if you have clothing that fit you perfectly?”
Boehme says H&M’s Stockholm store is already taking customer body scans and using AI to craft custom-made denim. The experiment also happens to meet the experiential desires of the customer, as well as the craving for personalized attention.
And even more green possibility is out there. Like making products out of thin air!
“Air has carbon. Carbon is now a by-product that we can use…and we’ve now created sunglass frames and glasses frames just by extracting carbon from the air. But if we hadn’t asked the question about how to be sustainable, if we hadn’t asked the question about new materials, we never would have got there.”
Ask, Test, Learn
As Boehme spoke with CX leaders at the summit, he urged them to think about “what if” questions as an investment—both for the short-term and the long-term—where the cost of the technology needed to innovate will come down.
“We have to make investments for the future today,” Boehme shared. “Then we work to miniaturize, we work to gain the efficiencies to make that technology work for us. Whether it’s for the recycling, whether it’s for other parts of what we’re doing. At the same time, we also know that some of this isn’t going to work. When you start dealing with innovation, you have to manage it like a portfolio.”
Test and learn, he says. Some responses will work, some won’t, and corporations need a mindset that reflects that. But that, Boehme says, is often the hardest piece of the innovation puzzle.
“I think the hardest part is getting people to see the future.”
So, how do you get leaders and employees on board with innovation? Boehme shared a brilliant illustration.
“We tend to always look at the world through panes of glass,” Boehme began. “We can only see what’s in front of us. If you really want to look at the future, if you really want to get people on board and start getting people excited, you have to teach them to look through a prism.”
Why a prism?
“A prism is going to bend that light. You’re going to see new colors. You’re going to see new shapes and sizes,” said Boehme. “It’s the job of leaders to take people to where they can’t go on their own, and don’t want to go on their own, and to see through that prism all the world of possibilities.”
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