How to Take Customers into Consideration

in Service Innovation Projects
MARI ANNE ABRAMOVI CI and
LAURENCE BANCEL- CHARENSOL
In industrialised services activities designed for customers, the
success of the innovation depends on, besides the traditional
factors used, the wav the customer deals with the innovation, all
the more so when the innovation introduced has modified the
tasks conferred upon him in the service production process. In
these conditions, how can the validation of innovation bv the
customer from concept definition to the implementation of the
evaluation methods be integrated? This article first discusses
theoretical works in profect management to answer this question
for service innovation profects. The basis for the analvsis is a
series of three case studies of French services firms. It underlines
the diversitv of solutions used bv firms. This preliminarv
research makes two methodological points. First, it presents
different wavs of identifving the stages in which these problems
can be solved. Second, it clarifies what should be validated at
each stage, and which factors determine the methods and the
necessarv resources to carrv them through.
I NTRODUCTI ON
Service and industrial innovations can have an impact on the entire
management systems oI the organisation (inIormation system, human
resources management, marketing, etc.). In this regard, several authors have
studied various aspects oI innovation which can impact on service
production systems (technological innovation, organisational, innovation in
service delivery, product/process innovation, etc.), as well as their
characteristics and their impact on the Iirm and the customers |Elipo, 2001;
Barcet, Bonamy, 1999; Gallouj and Weinstein, 1997|.
Marianne Abramovici and Laurence Bancel-Charensol, Business Management,
GREGESE/PRISM/OEP, Marne-La-Vallee University, Marne-La-Vallee, Erance.
The Service Industries Journal, Vol.24, No.1 (January 2004), pp.5678
PUBLI SHED BY ERANK CASS, LONDON
241sij04.qxd 27/11/2003 14:08 Page 56
However, service innovation also raises the issue oI its methods oI
development and implementation. The latter stems Irom two particularities
oI service activity in relation to the customer |Eiglier and Langeard, 1987|.
Service consumption by one customer implies the existence, at a
particular moment, oI a production process workIlow, a direct contact
between the Iirm and the person providing the service and the customer. At
the same time as this contact takes place, other customers are usually
present in the production system.
Eurthermore, the customer participates in the production process, either
because he is himselI subject to transIormations stemming Irom the
production system (customer as target), or because he participates in the
execution oI certain tasks (customer used as production system resource).
His willingness is thus necessary to provide an eIIicient and cost-eIIective
service but also creates uncertainty |Bancel-Charensol and Jougleux, 1997|.
Particularities in service production, as opposed to industrial production,
are even more obvious when we consider services designed Ior a large
number oI customers, in a continuous and recurrent manner, in production
systems which derive their added value mainly Irom the Iront oIIice.
As soon as an innovation transIorms the Iront oIIice production process,
it is likely to modiIy how the customer is involved. In this case, the success
oI innovation depends on, besides the traditional Iactors, the way the
customer deals with the innovation.
The conditions Ior implementing an innovation project appear to be
particularly Iragile in cases where the customer is used as a resource in the
production system |Bancel-Charensol, 1999|. Indeed, when the customer is
approached as such, the Iirm must be capable oI training and guiding the
customers` participation. When the customer is used as a resource, he can
be considered as a partial` employee oI the Iirm |Mills and Morris, 1986;
Bowen, 1986|. However, the customer is not subject to the employee
subordination rules.
ThereIore, the risks involved in co-production oI service innovation do
not depend solely on the impact oI the innovation or on the quality oI
service delivery to the customer.
1
Indeed, by being a participant, the
customer also evaluates the quality oI the interaction with the Iront oIIice
elements. R. Normann |1994| reIers to the moment oI truth` to designate
the moment when the customer and the service provider are Iace to Iace.
Hence, the success oI the innovation depends on, among other things, the
impact oI the transIormation process on the customer, all the more so when
the innovation introduced has modiIied the tasks conIerred upon him. The
question is not only whether or not the customer is capable oI Ireeing
himselI Irom these new tasks (does the customer have suIIicient knowledge
and competence to know, understand and assume the role assigned to him
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by the Iirm?), but whether he can Iollow directions, whether he wants to
participate and how can he can be taught to accomplish new tasks.
This phenomenon has repercussions on the way the customer views the
diIIerent stages oI the innovation project. It is necessary to evaluate his
expectations or to veriIy the ergonomics oI the product during the various
phases oI the test. Besides, it is important to think about the design oI the
production system in the Iront oIIice Irom the customer`s perspective and to
anticipate the Iirm`s external communications and the customers` training
methods, which can help them to accept the innovation.
The risk is high because entire sectors oI the service economy (whether
they are connected to services only or to services related to goods) are Iaced
with tough competition. Whether the Iinancial proIitability oI the activities
is based on cost price management and/or diIIerentiating various qualities
oI service, the success oI an innovation project as planned is what matters
the most. This phenomenon is even more obvious with the accelerated
development oI automation and the rationalisation oI production processes
in the Iront oIIice which are now available thanks to progress made in data
transportation, processing and compilation.
In these conditions, how can the resource-customer be integrated at the
various stages oI an innovation project? How can the validation oI
innovation by the customer Irom concept deIinition to the implementation
oI the evaluation methods be integrated? How, when necessary, can the
customer be taught to accomplish new tasks? How can one strike a balance
between customer adaptation to an innovation and innovation modiIication
while taking the diIIiculty oI customer learning into consideration? It seems
important to address these issues upstream and to integrate them in the
organisation oI the innovation project.
Here, we are interested in service activities on stabilised, Iinished and
normalised products, which the customer chooses (or not) to purchase as
such. Service options exist, but in a closed range oI solutions, and they
are deIined in ex ante describable Iorms. As mentioned above, the
problem oI taking the customer into consideration in the innovation
process appears to be speciIic to industrialised services designed for final
customers. It is indeed in this case that the service requirements are
usually characterised by the massive, permanent and recurrent presence
oI customers. Thus, it is in this situation that service providers are more
particularly Iaced with the problem oI how to reproduce the service result
throughout time. This is especially true with highly intangible services.
Keeping the service results homogeneous Irom one customer to another
with a similar result Ior a given segment is another issue. It is also under
these circumstances that Iirms have most diIIiculty directing service
delivery toward customers who are simultaneously present in the
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production system, while mastering the impact oI the interaction among
these customers on the quality oI service. It is Ior that reason that this
empirical research is Iocused on production innovations as deIined by
Barcet, Bonamy and Mayere |1987|, who mostly Iocus on mass
industrialised services. As Everaere |1997| indicates, innovation in these
types oI services is thus identiIiable as ex ante. It represents the breaking
oI a rigid mode oI service. Its development can become a structured Iorm
oI profect
2
which can be compared to the processes oI innovation in the
industry.
Explaining the way the resource-customer must be taken into
consideration in services provided to Iinal customers, in service innovation
projects, leads us Iirst to examine the beneIits and limits oI work reIerenced
to date in management research on service innovation projects. At this
stage, the risks oI an experimentation phase centred on the customer and the
diIIiculties oI its implementation will be examined. Second, we will
continue with an exploratory study based on three examples oI service
innovation projects (Eormule 1, Navigo, Cab X). The method Ior taking the
customers into consideration during these projects helps to underline the
diversity oI solutions used by Iirms in the three cases studied. This
preliminary research leads us to present diIIerent ways oI identiIying the
stages in which these problems can be solved. It clariIies what should be
validated at each stage, and which Iactors determine the conditions Ior
expending the necessary resources to carry them through.
NORMATI VE PROJECT MANAGEMENT MODEL GUI DELI NES
Many models attempt to describe the progress oI an innovation project as a
succession oI clearly identiIied stages, the end point oI which represents a
milestone Ior the project. The number oI stages can vary a great deal
according to whether the model tends to be normative or descriptive. In this
study, we rely on a Iour-step model
3
resulting Irom research on industrial
innovation projects. Its advantage is that it helps to locate the majority oI
other models under study while being extremely generic. The process
begins with a needs identification phase (including a customer needs
analysis), a needs interpretation phase (including the research oI concepts
or ideas), a development phase or product deIinition and a product
validation phase which helps to decide whether the new product should be
industrialised or commercialised. As mentioned by Lovelock and Lapert
|1999: 216|, iI we compare the chronology oI this model with the one
proposed by Booz Allen Hamilton, and later adapted by Jallat
4
|1992, 1994|
in his works on services innovation, most phases (generation oI ideas,
development test) are common to goods and services.
5
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As a Iirst approach, we can assume that the customers will be taken into
consideration mostly during the needs identiIication phase and the product
validation phase.
Taking the Customer into Consideration in a Profect Upstream. A Crucial
but Fragile Behaviour Pattern
Taking customers into consideration in the development oI innovation
projects is essential Ior the evolution oI project management. It is the basis
Ior distinguishing between the profect customer, Iuture owner oI the project
result, and the profect manager, the entrepreneur who is responsible Ior
developing the project Ior the customer. The task book is a document which
speciIies the inIormation necessary Ior the project manager to accomplish
the project according to his customer`s expectations. It is a key document,
the basis Ior the Iormal agreement between those two key players. Indeed,
it plays a doubly protective role: it is a guarantee Ior the project customer
that the project will correspond to his request and Ior the project manager
that this initial request has remain unchanged |Charue-Duboc, 1997|.
The customer` at the heart oI this relationship is clearly identiIied,
whether he is a private or a public entity. The customer/provider
relationship, as described in this model, corresponds essentially to a B-to-B
relationship. The model cannot be applied directly by analysing the
relationship between a Iirm developing a product (goods or a new service)
to satisIy` Iinal customers and those customers. When a product is
developed Ior a large number oI heterogeneous customers, this model does
not work.
6
In particular, it is based on the dogma oI the 'customer`s need¨`
|Chanchevrier, 1997|. This dogma assumes that it is possible to clearly
identiIy which customer needs will be able to be satisIied by the innovation
being proposed. The idea that it is possible to identiIy and explain the needs
oI Iuture customers creates a virtual relationship between the`
representative customer, the Iuture beneIiciary oI the innovation being
developed and the Iirm responsible Ior developing the innovation.
Thus, the theoretical development oI an innovation project begins with
the deIinition` or identiIication` oI the needs. It uses the results oI the
customers` expectations` marketing research, sometimes by placing a
hierarchy on these expectations through value analyses.
However, as underlined by Chanchevrier |1997|, among others, the
identiIication oI customer needs raises several diIIiculties. Expectations
under study are not only a reIlection oI purchasing decisions but also oI how
the user values a particular product during his liIe cycle (which includes
indirect uses). Two main questions arise.
Eirst, with regard to an innovative product, this step should not only
take into consideration the customer`s expectations oI a particular result
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but also the expectations oI the conditions Ior developing the beneIit
provided by this service. Langeard and Eiglier |1994| show that service
perIormance is equally based on the Iinal perIormance oI the service
(result) and on the experience oI the customer (service delivery). This
implies that the customer`s experience derived Irom the service must
comply with his expectations` |Langeard and Eiglier, 1994|. To solve this
problem, the Iirm would need to be able to evaluate, at this stage, the skills
the customers are willing to mobilise in the production oI service. This is
independent oI the conditions in which they will be asked to mobilise
them (service characteristics as a whole
7
are not yet deIined at that stage
oI the project).
Eurthermore, when we take a look at the expected results Ior the product,
the way the customer perceives its value depends on the timeIrame under
consideration. Customer expectations are thus determined diIIerently
whether the service is short term or long term, i.e. immediate service or
service result |Gadrey, 1991|.
Thus, in order to be valid, the task book is based on the assumption that
it is possible to reduce customer diversity in order to associate a targeted
segment with clearly identiIied expectations. Grönross |1984| stresses that
this operation is oIten diIIicult, especially when it concerns services aimed
at mass consumption. Besides, it is based on the idea that customer needs
pre-exist the innovation, which will help to satisIy them, and that the Iirm
will be able to clariIy them. Einally, these needs are supposed to be stable at
least Ior the duration oI the development and commercialisation oI the new
service.
It is only when all these conditions are met that the identiIication oI the
customer`s needs can help compile a task book. However, we will note that
a number oI tools used to analyse quality oI service can be mobilised
useIully at this stage oI the project to help speciIy the new service
characteristics and to design the service delivery system. Eor example, it
concerns quality oI service evaluation criteria as developed by Zeithaml,
Parasuraman and Berry |1990|, or process representation techniques such as
logigrams and blueprints |Shostack, 1992|.
II the need identiIication stage is considered as crucial in project
management, it appears as a Iragile structure in service innovation. So much
so that, in considering innovation projects, some authors |Callon, 1999;
Gallouj and Gallouj, 1996| Iavour a direct integration oI the customer in all
stages oI the project development process rather than intermediation made
possible by the task book. This recommendation is well adapted to a one-to-
one relationship and is particularly relevant in the case oI B-to-B service
innovations. What shape can such integration in the process take when we
consider innovations in massive industrialised services?
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THE VALI DATI ON STAGE: BROADER OBJECTI VES
In the classic development oI an innovation project, the validation` stage is
one that Iollows the conception oI goods. Its goal is to validate the chosen
technical options through the construction oI a prototype.
8
Its goal is to
respond to the latent needs oI the customers by presenting it to Iuture users.
This stage is crucial in project development because it will result in the
decision to stop the project, re-develop it or produce the product.
However, the number, type and timing oI customer validation tests can
vary Irom one project to another. During the development oI new Iood
products, we can ask a customer panel to test a very complete prototype
(including a package and a speciIic message). The test represents the last
development stage by placing Iuture consumers in conditions extremely
close to Iuture commercialisation conditions. By contrast, more and more
soItware developments integrate Iuture users in the early stages oI product
development, increasing the number oI tests on speciIic Iunctions oI the
program |McConnell, 1996|. ThereIore, the Iinal user takes part in the entire
development oI the product.
As underlined by Thomke and Bell |2001|, the use oI tests during the
project depends on the degree oI uncertainty surrounding the project, the
cost oI the test (model, testing conditions, etc.), and the cost oI a late
redevelopment. More precisely, the project manager must strike a balance
between the additional costs oI earlier testing and the value oI inIormation
that early testing can provide.
However, the cost oI the test depends largely on the model chosen to
reproduce the characteristics oI the Iuture product. Considering goods, the
model can be, among other possibilities, one oI a kind (prototype), a test
model or a virtual simulation. Each one oI these solutions implies speciIic
costs and results. Indeed, in general, one considers that the more closely a
test reproduces the characteristics and conditions oI use oI the Iuture
product, the more lessons can be drawn Irom the test. Thomke and Bell
underline that the reliability oI a test with customers is based on the
characteristics oI the model shown to customers during testing, as well as
on the conditions oI reproduction oI the real use environment oI these
goods. These parameters will come into play during testing, at a more or
less early stage, involving the customer`s participation in project
development.
Test conception is thus a complex activity, which requires deIinition oI
the characteristics oI the model, the test environment, the conditions Ior
experimentation, their timing, and which are most likely, in one or several
ways, to respond to one or more Iacets oI validation` oI the product by the
customer.
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The validation stage with the customers, while it is not so systematic in
the conception oI new services |Jallat, 1992|, is equally considered as a
crucial step. But the intangibility, the inseparability oI
production/consumption and the co-production oI services necessarily
modiIy the outcome oI the experimentation.
The intangible nature oI services raises the issue oI the type oI models
which can be used during experimentation. There appear to be extremely
diverse situations. In a number oI cases, the innovation oI a service is based
on development or use oI a technology (automatic tellers, web sites, etc.),
the characteristics oI which will have to be necessarily reproduced. The
notion oI model is thus no diIIerent Irom that oI the development oI goods.
In other cases where innovation concerns a highly intangible service (new
training oIIer, new placement oIIer), the model must describe the main
characteristics oI the Iuture service so that the customer can have an
accurate representation (scenario, training kit). In this case, we may assume
that the cost oI developing the model is signiIicantly reduced.
Simultaneous production/consumption requires testing the service as a
result and as a service delivery. It diIIerentiates between the characteristics
oI the model and the characteristics oI the test environment. More precisely,
the model used in the validation phase oI a service may include the
characteristics oI the service delivery system. Thus, it can duplicate part oI
the production process, especially the providercustomer interIace. This can
create a preIerence Ior a prototype, which reproduces the liIe-size
characteristics oI the service being developed. This is the option that Accor
chose in the development oI Eormule 1. The implementation oI the service
validation stage being developed led to the opening oI the Iirst Accor budget
hotel in Erance |Bourgeois and Jallat, 1994|. The test, which must be placed
near the end oI any development process, has thus the characteristics oI a
killer test` |Reinersten, 1997|. Regardless oI the option used, the
simulation oI the test environment will condition the nature oI the risks
taken by the Iirm: dropping the project in its Iinal stage (killer test) or
damaging the corporate image in the case oI premature experimentation.
Eurthermore, with the presence oI the customer while the service is
being provided, Iront oIIice personnel play a prominent role in the success
or Iailure oI the innovation. Indeed, contact personnel oIten serve as an
intermediary between the customer and the innovation. It is also the Iront
oIIice personnel who will eventually train the customer with the new service
script` |Solomon et al., 1985| which requires Iirst that the innovation
process be accepted by the contact personnel |Jallat, 1992| and second that
personnel be trained in the innovation process beIore testing.
Co-production also requires being in a position to test the conditions Ior
customer participation, which include his ability to become aware oI his
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participation and his support. Reproducing real` conditions during the
customer validation tests is insuIIicient. It is also necessary to have the test
customers play their role, which should include a clear explanation oI any
modiIication in the process, and iI need be, customer training.
Thus, the customer`s validation oI the service innovation appears to be
more complex than the validation oI goods innovation because it requires
responses on Iour distinct elements:
· the customers` recognition oI an added value produced by the service
innovation;
· the customers` participation in the consequences oI the innovation Ior
their participation in the service and Ior the conditions oI their
interaction with other customers who are simultaneously present in the
production system;
· the customers` ability to participate in the desired conditions;
· the customers` communication and training conditions.
In order to include all oI these elements, Scheuing and Johnson proposed
a model Ior developing new products in services which integrates six
distinct testing phases, in the Iollowing order: concept test; service test
(which requires users and Iront oIIice personnel); process and system test
(requiring Iront oIIice personnel exclusively); marketing programme test;
mock trial and marketing test. The last three tests systematically require
user participation |Gallouj and Gallouj, 1996|. The choice to increase the
number oI tests helps to take into consideration, in a successive and
independent manner, all oI the issues raised by a service innovation:
· the customers` recognition oI an added value produced by the innovation
(concept testing);
· the customers` ability to participate in a controlled environment and to
accept the consequences oI the innovation Ior their participation
(service test`) integrating customer participation in the production
process;
· marketing tests;
· the customers` ability, in liIe-like conditions, to participate in and to
accept the consequences oI the innovation (mock trial).
II this model takes into consideration the customer as a resource Ior the
project, which must be integrated in the conception phase oI the new
product, one can wonder whether it is realistic and whether it can be
extended. Eurthermore, it does not bring any answers concerning the
characteristics oI the models shown to test customers, the conditions and
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their recruiting mode. Einally, it does not address the precautions which
should be adopted while conducting these tests.
The industrial development models help to clariIy the distribution oI
roles among the various actors, the theoretical development oI a project, and
the role and the risks oI testing. Yet they do not integrate the speciIic
elements oI production innovation in services. The service model study
helped us to pinpoint uncertainties speciIic to services by linking them to
their own characteristics. These works show that the production process
must be tested Irom the customer`s viewpoint. They recommend that Iront
oIIice personnel and customers be trained. However, the practical way oI
taking the customers into consideration during the production oI service
innovation projects remains.
TEACHI NGS DRAWN EROM CORPORATE PRACTI CES
The diIIiculties underlined above bring us to the issue oI the way some
service providers conduct their service innovation projects. In this article,
we examine three main projets: The creation oI the product Hôtels Eormule
1` by the Erench group Accor, and two projects developed by the RATP, the
public urban transportation authority in Paris (Cab X and Navigo).
9
Cab X
is an automation project designed to clean subway stations. It was
developed in 19821983 but was never carried through. Navigo is a
development project oI a magnetic card Ior public transportation in the Paris
area. Introduced at the end oI the 1980s, its development started in 1998 as
part oI a Iormal project structure and the installation oI tollbooths began in
2002.
Both Iirms oIIer individual services: urban public transportation and
inexpensive lodging. Those services are industrialised services Ior a large
public, produced by a Elow Shop type oI production system. The system is
characterised by short-term cycles, a standard product and a high production
volume |Eitzimmons and Sullivan, 1982|. In these systems, cost
management is very important. Production activities are thus standardised.
Although the employees providing the service have minimal contact with
personnel, customer participation is high due to his indispensable presence
within the inIrastructures (transportation or hotel inIrastructure). Part oI the
value oI service to the customer is dependent upon the interaction with the
service equipment and with the other customers who are simultaneously
present in the delivery system. We can then identiIy these organisations as
mass service` as meant by Dumoulin and Vignon |1991|.
The three cases presented above are production innovations. They are
part oI cost management and productivity gains plans and oI the
industrialisation
10
oI services. However, the contexts which led to the
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implementation oI these projects varied. The Eormule 1 case deals with
reducing the inIrastructure and production costs oI hotel services to respond
to the demand identiIied in the budget hotel market (a room Ior less than
100 Irancs in 1985). By contrast, with the two RATP projects, what
prompted the innovations was not the market but technical requirements:
they were linked to the necessity oI rapidly renewing the magnetic tolls
which give network access, in the case oI Navigo, and to the desire oI
conducting research Ior the purpose oI automating the cleaning process in
subway stations, in the case oI Cab X. Thus, the Eormule 1 project is mainly
a marketing management project, whereas Navigo is managed by the RATP
Project Department, and Cab X is an R&D project.
In the three cases, the innovation modiIied the customer`s participation
in the production process. The innovation characteristics and their context
led managers to make distinct choices in conducting the projects. AIter
examining approaches used to take the customers` needs into consideration
in the task book, we will analyse the test methods used.
Incomplete Customer Needs Assessment in the Profect Task Book
One oI our hypotheses is that the context which leads to the implementation
oI an innovation project serves to structure the identiIication oI needs.
Indeed, in the Eormule 1 case, what prompted the innovation was the
existence oI a potential market. Accor`s marketing department was in charge
oI evaluating customer expectations. In a standard way, a qualitative study was
conducted Iirst to identiIy customer expectations in terms oI price, and second,
in terms oI service content Ior a previously determined reIerence price. What
distinguishes this project Irom a traditional industrial project is the necessity to
take into consideration in the task book all oI the repercussions oI customers
expectations on Iront oIIice design, under production cost restrictions derived
Irom the reIerence price. The needs, in terms oI use, must then be satisIied
according to methods compatible with restrictions imposed by the use oI the
customer as a resource, the simultaneous presence oI several customers in the
production system and expectations concerning the quality oI the interaction
with the Iront oIIice. Thus, the wish to have a very clean, sound-prooI room
with a comIortable bed could be oIIered along with common baths (which
would help to reduce production cost). However, customer participation
required taking into consideration the attitudes oI other customers sharing the
Iacilities and, Ior instance, their impact on the cleanliness oI the bathroom.
ThereIore, obtaining the customer`s validation oI this solution on the basis oI
the concept alone is generally not suIIicient.
As Ior the two RATP projects, the need Ior innovation did not stem Irom
the pre-existing demand oI customers but Irom the search Ior productivity
gains. However, both task books integrated the customers` needs.
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In the Navigo case, since the innovation modiIied the Iunctions oI ticket
payment and network access, the problem oI customer as resource arose.
During the project, a collective document was used as a task book. In
particular, this document integrated the role oI the customer through a
number oI restrictions, taking into consideration the resource customer as an
individual, with his own oI knowledge and behaviour. In particular, it
included:
· Iunctional restrictions: the ability to read and write without direct
contact, Iast inIormation transmission corresponding to a pedestrian toll
booth;
· ergonomic restrictions: the ability to perIorm a transaction with the help
oI user-Iriendly ergonomic equipment;
· technical restrictions (weight, card autonomy, etc.).
The customer who is taken into consideration is not an isolated
individual. He is a pedestrian immersed in a crowded environment. This
characteristic oI urban transportation is integrated in the task book under the
Iorm oI a double restriction: a maximum rapidity oI passage (with the
shortest possible contact) and saIety (the transaction must be reliable and
only accept one commuter at a time).
The Iinal validation oI this reIerence document Irom the customer`s
viewpoint was conducted by a committee oI users and by the project
customer.
The Cab X case presents a paradoxical situation Ior our research
problem. In Iact, the cleaning robot was to Iunction in commuter zones
during opening hours and thus in the presence oI passengers. However, Ior
project members, the presence oI the robot was not supposed to modiIy the
customer`s perception
11
oI their participation in service delivery. This case
is interesting in the sense that it constitutes one a contrario example oI the
manner in which the customer must be taken into consideration during the
project (so that the innovation may not compel his participation in service
delivery). The impact` oI this innovation on the clientele has thus been
anticipated through highly restrictive saIety constraints, which were
integrated in the task book and which were supposed to prevent the robot,
whether moving or not, Irom colliding with commuters. However, the
impact the presence oI a cleaning robot could have on a moving crowd,
whose behaviour could not be reacted to, was not anticipated in the task
book. This lack weighed heavily on the timing and on the proIitability oI the
project.
The example oI the two RATP projects shows that even in the absence
oI initial demand Irom clientele as a Iactor Ior innovation, taking into
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consideration customers` needs and the constraints induced by their
participation in the production process can Iacilitate customer approval oI
the innovation. It also brings us to consider the conditions under which
customers will perceive innovation as an improvement. Hence, it helps the
Iirm to increase the perceived quality oI the Iuture service. In the case oI
mass services, the Iirm has, at this step, to take into consideration the needs
oI all the various customers Ior the service.
Hence, whether the innovation belongs to demand pull` or science
push` types , the needs and expectations oI Iuture customers were integrated
in the Iirst stages oI these three projects in a Iorm close to that oI a task
book. However, the latter did not necessarily incorporate a clear description
oI the innovation Ior customer`s participation in the production process.
ThereIore, it was an incomplete description oI customer demand.
Considering the diIIiculty oI taking into account all the uncertainties
generated by the presence oI the customer in the production process, the
needs identiIication phase does not seem to be able to Iully play its role in
the development oI new services. Thus, in the Eormule 1 case, the
consequences Ior the perceived quality oI service oI new concomitant
relationships among hotel guests |Eiglier, Langeard, 1987| oI the Iront
oIIice changes were not taken into consideration. In the Cab X project,
consideration oI robotcustomer interaction was reduced to saIety
restrictions (stability, visibility, etc.), which did not help to deIine pertinent
strategies as to how to make the robot avoid commuters (avoidance
strategies). As Ior Navigo, elements relating to external communication on
service innovation and customer training methods were not introduced
during need analysis.
We should also note that no customer participation in the concept test
was planned in these three projects. Hypothetically, in services, the
realisation oI a concept test requires overcoming the diIIiculty oI providing,
at this stage, an accurate representation oI the service which reIlects that
provided by a Iunctional description oI goods.
We can then suppose that the product validation phase will serve to
compensate Ior all these diIIiculties.
Diversitv of the Testing Phase Methods
The three projects adopted customer-test methods, which are relatively
diIIerent.
Upon launching Eormule 1, a real liIe size` test was developed. In Iact,
it was a meta-test, which covered several simultaneous experiment on the
appearance oI various products. This strategy, which can be termed a big
killer test` |Reinersten, 1997|, is justiIied both in terms oI cost and duration:
This prototype development option obliged us to conceptualise our project.
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As a result, we are one year ahead. Otherwise, we would have had to
conduct studies and then try to interpret them` |Bourgeois and Jallat, 1994|.
This model, which was adopted, is a prototype because the test consisted oI
building two hotels in areas which corresponded to the targeted segments
under consideration (business and budget tourism) and in opening them.
Real` customers corresponding to the two targets which were initially
under consideration tested the prototypes. No distinction was then possible
between the recognition by the customers oI the added value brought by the
innovation, their ability and their willingness to adapt to changes in the
production process and the communication and customers` training
methods. The testing phase lasted one year and helped to analyse reactions
Irom both types oI clientele. Eollowing several adaptations`, it helped to
extend the Iormula.
Only one customer test was conducted during the development oI the
Cab X cleaning robot, but Ior very diIIerent reasons. In particular, this
innovation raised the problems oI the impact a moving robot could have on
a moving crowd which could not have been anticipated in the task book.
Several prototypes oI cleaning robot were thus developed and tested under
real conditions Ior almost ten years. This long testing period can be
explained by the radical nature oI the innovation and the high number oI
uncertainties it raised; in particular, strategies to avoid the robot, its external
aspect and customers approval in the principle oI automation oI cleaning
tasks. However, strategies oI avoidance and external appearance oI the
robot were not validated until aIter several attempts. Eirst, they were
supposed to be adapted to a public with high expectations and second, to
commuters belonging to all segments oI the population with heterogeneous
needs, in particular, children (who as soon as they realise the robot is
automated test its reactions playIully, Ior example by having the robot
carry their school bags along the platIorm) and disabled people who are not
sensitive to the same alert signals.
This test is original in that it did not use a selection oI test groups. Only
the test sites and time slots were monitored. The robots were then placed in
the presence oI non speciIic commuters who were unaware oI the project.
This choice is coherent with the goal oI making this innovation invisible to
the customers Ior the duration oI the development phase. However, this
device raised several problems concerning the analysis oI passengers
behaviour because it was impossible to question them aIter the Iact about
their reaction. At Iirst, the project members Iilmed commuters` reactions to
the robot with a shoulder camera but they realised that this disposition
aIIected the test by making it visible` to the customers. ThereIore, they
chose to install the camera on the robot. It is that particular device, which
itselI represents another innovation,
12
which was Iinally adopted.
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By contrast, during the development process oI the Navigo Pass,
customer tests increased. These methods present two major characteristics:
strong personnel involvement during the Iirst phases oI the test (the
personnel are placed in customer` conditions and validate the Iirst
characteristics oI the pass) and an important number oI customer trials
throughout service development:
· 1992:
13
Technical feasibilitv test in laboratorv. 100 RATP maintenance
employees participate in this test to veriIy that the pass corresponded to
the Iunctional speciIications required in a controlled environment.
· 1993: Test in a real context with RATP operations agents. The
experiment took place in a real context (subway line 11) with 900
operations agents. It involved using station access gate openers (which
were only equipped with the new system) and at checkpoints (some oI
which were equipped with the new system). The operations agents were
thus obliged to use the pass to open the gates whereas they had the
choice oI using it or not at checkpoints. This test aimed, among other
things at validating the concept oI a pass with no commuter contact.
· 1994: Two customer tests took place. The Iirst one served to veriIy the
reliabilitv of the pass in a crowded environment. In order to do this, 200
checkpoints were installed at the entrance oI the RATP administrative
building and 2,000 agents participated in this experiment in a controlled
environment. The second test, done in a controlled environment, served
to take into consideration the various modes oI urban public
transportation in Paris area as well as the pavment function. 4,000 RATP
administrative agents who played the role oI commuters conducted the
test using Iictitious money and booths. Thus, it was the use oI the pass
as well as the Iare payment method which were tested. The commuters`
were systematically debrieIed upon their return.
· 1997: 40,000 operations agents used Navigo (the system is thus
extended internally). 1,000 real` customers tested Navigo in a liIe-like
situation. An independent survey institute (IEOP) recruited a
representative sample oI regular commuters.
14
The customers had to
travel within a given area because they could only access two network
gates. The booth agents involved in the experiment were trained Ior two
days (where the project was being developed). In Iact, testing, which
was initially supposed to take six months, took a year and a halI to
complete.
During this experiment, an original testing device was put in place to analyse
the behaviour oI booth agents in relation to customers. ProIessional actors
were hired to play the role oI Navigo customers and artiIicially produce
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challenging situations so as to observe the behaviour oI booth agents in a large
panel oI liIe-like` situations |Memeteau and Soulard, 2000|.
· 1999: Two liIe-size` experiments were simultaneously put in place in
order to test two distinct payment scenarios. They were conducted by
two key players in public transportation in the Paris region (SNCE,
RATP) and monitored by the Svndicat des Transport Publics Franciliens
(STIE). They were involved more than 2,000 commuters and 50 subway
stations Ior over a six-month period and were monitored by the
independent survey institute responsible Ior interviewing and observing
commuters. This experiment was to intended to help to choose a
payment scenario to extend the magnetic pass to non-subscribing
commuters. Its aim was also to help transIerring commuters use the
magnetic pass. In the end, although the experiment results helped to
show the commuters` preIerred scenario, the project members picked the
other test scenario in order to minimise cost, delays and Iraud.
Einally, more precise local experiments were conducted during that
period. Such was the case, Ior example, with experiments done with
disabled commuters between 1997 and 1999. Another Iocused exclusively
on the behaviour oI commuters who obtained their magnetic passes on
buses. Due to problems oI technical reliability and Iluidity constraints, the
introduction oI the pass made it necessary Ior customers to validate their
ticket on entering and exiting a bus, which was a constraint Ior them. The
issue oI extended entry validation has not been resolved because bus
conductors decline any responsibility Ior inspecting the validation process.
Although this goal does not seem to have been consciously studied by the
project members, it appears that the mobilisation oI personnel during testing
played an internal marketing role |Berry, 1983|. This helped to validate the
internal customers` approval oI the innovation, while preparing them to
train external customers.
The increasing number oI tests involving various users
(internal/external, subscribers/non-subscribers) seems to have helped
validate the main characteristics oI the magnetic pass (by the customer and
the operations agents). However, the generalisation oI the magnetic pass to
annual Iare subscribers, which started in 2001, revealed the diIIiculty in
training Iuture users oI the booths. According to one oI the members oI the
project team, it is the mode oI acquisition oI the pass and its result which
explain this diIIerence. Indeed, during the experiment, individuals had to go
get their magnetic pass. It was a good opportunity to present the booths to
them, show how to use them and answer any questions they had. During the
generalisation phase, the pass was sent to customers.
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In these three service innovation projects, the customer-test phase plays
an essential role. But the way it turns out and the objectives it helps to
achieve vary tremendously Irom one project to another.
Thus, we can observe the models used to challenge the customers oI
Iuture services. When they essentially come as prototypes, their level oI
development diIIers. This is especially true with the types oI service they
reproduce: with respect to Eormule 1, a prototype which corresponds to a
real environment; with respect to Cab X, prototypes which are modiIied
throughout the learning process but evolve in a real environment; with
respect to Navigo, prototypes which slowly integrate all oI the Iunctions oI
the pass but are Iirst tested in an artiIicially created environment beIore they
are progressively tested in a real environment.
Also, the number oI tests and their timing diIIered Irom one project to
another. As mentioned above, Eormule 1 conducted only one test which was
to help to validate the project as a whole at the end oI the conception phase.
The duration oI this phase can be estimated at one year. The test ended with
the decision to extend the service. Although it is diIIicult to diIIerentiate the
phases oI the tests with respect to Cab X, the test, which lasted over ten
years, Iully contributed to the development phase. The prototype, which
was tested, was modiIied almost constantly in order to integrate what had
been learned in terms oI avoidance strategies, saIety devices aimed at the
public and the Iinal design oI the robot. On the other hand, the Navigo
project was characterised by a large number oI diIIerent tests which were
integrated in the project upstream and continued throughout its
development.
Einally, there appear to be two opposing types oI reasoning governing
the choice oI user tests in these diIIerent cases: representative reasoning and
experimental reasoning.
· Representative reasoning consists oI placing the prototype in Iront oI
users who are representative oI the Iuture targeted customers. This
strategy is particularly clear in the Eormule 1 case where the location oI
the hotel prototype was chosen based on the types oI targeted segments:
business clientele and budget tourists.
· By contrast, experimental reasoning consists oI researching guinea pig
users, who are more easily observable and controllable, to validate the
basic Iunctions oI the product being developed. Thus, in the Navigo
project, experiments were Iirst conducted with internal users (operations
agents) and with a controlled proportion oI real customers beIore being
extended to a loyal and captive clientele (the users oI the annual Carte
integrale).
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These two opposing strategies help to achieve diIIerent objectives.
Indeed, the representative strategy appears to be coherent with the
decision to test a particular prototype which is very complete in a real use
environment. It is about maximising test accuracy, regardless oI cost. In
Iact, the presence oI real customers helps to achieve direct interpretation oI
test results. It is the killer test reasoning. In other words, the costs and risks
oI the test are accepted and help provide the project managers in a short
period with a deIinite answer on the proIitability oI the solution being
developed. However, this solution presents risks. In order to develop a
service, the risks in terms oI image are important, since in the case oI
Iailure, customers can report their negative experience not only with other
product models created by the Iirm but more generally with the production
process oI the Iirm. Eurthermore, whereas the test helps to veriIy customer
recognition oI added value, approval Ior the consequences oI the innovation
on their participation and their ability to realise these tasks and Iinally the
perIormance oI the communication and training methods, it does not help to
diIIerentiate the lessons learned on these diIIerent problems. Thus, it is not
helpIul in detecting possible obstacles to the development or the
generalisation oI this new service. The Iinancial risk remains low Ior a
group like Accor. Especially within the context oI integrated hotel chains,
the Eormule 1 example should not hide the ability to recycle` the hotels and
other hotel Iormulas in that category in case the project is not validated
during the meta-test.
By contrast, the experimental strategy seeks to limit the risks oI a test Ior
the Iirm, even iI it means increasing development delays and costs. Hence,
the Iirst devices used to test Navigo are invisible to the customers despite
their being the Iirst target oI this innovation. One oI the strong points oI this
strategy is to ensure support Irom Iront oIIice personnel and to train them
through experience. One day, those Iront oIIice personnel will be in a
position to train customers. The decision to choose employees as a test
population implies that personnel (whether Ior personal use or external
customer contact) are representative oI the customers` expectations. Besides
the internal customers` recognition oI the beneIits oI this device, this
strategy is consistent with limiting risks pertaining to image and keeping the
project conIidential. However, we can have reservations on the
representative nature oI these customers` and on the reliability oI the tests.
Indeed, as long as they neither have the same knowledge
15
nor the same
competence as external customers, and the Iact that the consequences oI the
innovation on their proIessional role can inIluence their judgement, Iront
oIIice personnel probably do not react the same as external customers with
regard to the innovation. Einally, it is not representative oI the diversity oI
real customers.
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Moreover, as opposed to the representative strategy, the experimental
strategy helps to diIIerentiate validation Ieasibility (testing the customers`
ability), the support, communications and training methods oI the
customers.
16
However, in the end, it is not clear whether the external
customers` recognition oI the innovation`s added value has been tested. This
issue became crucial throughout the integration oI new Iunctions oI the
Navigo Pass, especially in regard to the Iirm`s ability to use the gathered data
to propose special oIIers to its customers.
17
Thus, we can wonder whether
increasing the number oI test stages has not also contributed to a Iailure to
address the issue oI the customer`s overall support Ior this innovation.
More generally, we can wonder whether the issues surrounding service
production and innovation do not modiIy the role oI tests in the
development process. This exploratory study has shown that as long as the
device chosen is slightly visible to the customers the customer tests could
contribute to the development phase oI the project, thus helping to
overcome uncertainties generated by the presence oI customers in the
development process. Moreover, testing devices involving employees play
a role in training customers, whether in their Iuture role once the innovation
is put into place (cI. the maintenance agents in Cab X) or their role as
customer trainers at the time oI generalisation (cI. the case oI Iront oIIice
personnel in Navigo). ThereIore, tests also play an internal role within the
Iirm, especially by making the project visible to the internal role players
as soon as the experiment goes beyond the walls within which the project
team works and by pushing Ior its support or its rejection.
CONCLUSI ON AND DI SCUSSI ON
Starting Irom the particular role oI the customer in services, we wished to
understand how monitoring the production process management oI
customers in mass industrialised services could be integrated in the
development oI an innovation project.
We have shown that this issue can be divided in Iour distinct elements
(recognition oI an added value by the customers, desire and ability to
participate, training methods and external communication). These are
necessary Ior the customer`s adoption oI the innovation.
Examination oI the literature raised the diIIiculty oI resolving these
issues during the single identiIication oI needs phase. We then proposed that
these issues are better resolved during the customer experimentation phases.
It was thereIore important to explore the notion oI test in order to
understand the speciIic risks oI this stage in service innovation projects.
The second part helped to underline the importance oI the problem
concerning the types oI models used during testing, the methods oI
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reproduction oI the environment oI service delivery, the timing oI these tests
and the identity oI the customers being tested. The interdependency oI these
problems makes the conception oI the experimental phase particularly
sensitive.
The analysis oI three projects helped to conIirm the preponderance oI
the customer`s experimental phase in making the project a success, taking
into consideration the problems encountered upstream. It also underlined
the diversity oI experimental approaches which are adopted by project
managers.
However, the strategies that were kept appear to be consistent with the
restrictions imposed by the conditions oI service production and the context
Ior implementing the project. In regard to the Eormule 1 project, the priority
given to a short development period and the Iinancial stability oI the Accor
group justiIied the decision to develop a complete prototype Ior
implementing a killer test oI a hotel structure.
By contrast, the decision to drop the cleaning automation project is
linked to the absence oI a strategy which is clearly based on priorities: the
wish to develop a Swiss army kniIe` robot seemed, during the project, to
be clearly incompatible with goals oI costs management oI the
development. The maintenance oI the project within a research and
development unit, which was disconnected Irom the strategic priorities oI
the Iirm, partly explains this situation.
The development oI the Navigo Pass responded to a technical need, the
necessity to renew magnetic tollbooths by 2007. It pushed the Iirm to adopt
a new technology which has to be adopted by all oI the service users, or
several million customers having various relationships with the Iirm
(subscribers, regulars and occasional users). This restriction justiIied the
increased number oI tests and partly explains extending the duration oI the
project.
In the end, it is unlikely that experimental methods in the
implementation oI service innovation projects could become a normative
model. However, this study shows the importance oI a test strategy which is
consistent with the conditions oI project development. The diversity oI the
models could then result Irom a risk/Iidelity/cost balance which is
consistent with the organisation oI the project.
More generally, this preliminary work serves the hypothesis that taking
into consideration Iour elements contributing to adoption by customers is a
success Iactor in innovation services. The latter must be taken into
consideration as much as those that were already identiIied. It also helps to
underline the interest oI the role played by the tests Ior personnel, especially
Iront oIIice personnel.
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
A preliminary version oI this article was presented in September 2002 at the TwelIth International
ConIerence oI the RESER (Manchester, UK). The authors wish to thank the RESER members
and the participants oI the PRISM/OEP seminar, especially Amina Becheur and Eaiz Gallouj, Ior
their comments and suggestions which have helped to clariIy their ideas and to make corrections
to their text.
NOTES
1. The deIinition oI service that we use here is that oI Jean-Claude Delaunay and Jean Gadrey
|1987|. However, we make a distinction, without neglecting the ambiguities surrounding the
notion oI product in services |Gadrey, 1991|, to distinguish service, as a product oIIered on
the market and result oI the interaction oI the diIIerent elements oI the system oI production
and service as a process which includes all oI the production operations necessary to obtain
the service. Keeping this in mind, by service delivery` we mean part oI the production
process which takes place in the presence oI the customer.
2. Meaning an oIIicially recognised speciIic approach in the Iirm which helps to methodically
and progressively structure a Iuture reality` |Giard, 1991: 7|.
3. This model, proposed by Aoussat |1990|, among others, is today used as a reIerence in most
research works.
4. In this model, the innovation process goes through Iive phases beIore it is commercialised:
generation oI ideas, Iiltering oI ideas, commercial analysis, development, tests and
commercialisation |Jallat, 1992|.
5. It is important to underline the model proposed by Aoussat which corresponds to a demand
pull` approach, since the starting point oI the project is the existence oI a commercial
opportunity |Gallouj, 1994|.
6. Here we Iind the distinction between a project with a controlled cost and a project with a
controlled proIitability |Giard and Midler, 1993|.
7. Here, by characteristics of the service, we mean the Iour categories deIined by Gallouj and
Gallouj |1996| in their integrative typology oI the innovation to describe any production
activity: characteristics oI the product, technical characteristics oI the process, competence
oI the service provider and competence oI the customer.
8. The notion oI prototype is usually used to designate one oI the Iirst specimens oI a product
used Ior experimenting, under service-like conditions, the qualities oI this product Ior mass
production |Woodward, 1965|. We observe in recent works |Thomke and Bell, 2001| an
extension oI the acceptation oI this term to designate any intermediate representations oI a
Iuture product`, thus including virtual simulations and models. In this article, we keep the
usual deIinition oI the prototype. We use the notion oI model to designate all the means
used to represent a future realitv` |Garel, 2002|.
9. The data relating to these three cases come Irom bibliographies and/or semi-direct
interviews with the members oI the project teams.
10. Here, the industrialisation concept is meant as a process helping to make the service
production autonomous in relation to the customer and the service provider |Barcet,
Bonamy and Mayere., 1987; Gallouj, 1994|.
11. Here, it is indeed a perception` because the users instinctively move when the robot gets
close to them.
12. This research was, in many respects, a pioneering experience in automation in a public
environment. In particular, it has helped to make the development oI surveillance robots
equipped with a camera operational today.
13. In Iact, this device was Iirst tested in 1988 as a card with a microchip, serving as an
electronic pass Ior ski liIts at the La Plagne station in Erance.
14. Only the occasional travellers are not represented.
15. Paradoxically, the 1994 test raised diIIiculties linked to the administrative agents` lack oI
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knowledge about the price scale. These diIIiculties did not surIace while testing external
customers.
16. In this instance, by deIault since the team members did not realise the importance oI the
training methods Ior the customers and did not integrate them to the elements which we
sought to validate Ior testing. This probably lead to a setback with regard to tollbooth
ergonomics.
17. The RATP has been nominated Ior the Big Brother Award in 2001 in the Iirm category. The
development oI the Navigo Pass is one oI the elements that were pointed out. It has been
recognised Ior its use in tracing passengers without their knowledge and accessing highly
sensitive inIormation without the user`s prior knowledge (·http://bigbrotherawards.
eu.org~).
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