The renowned science fiction writer Sir Arthur Clark once said, “There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.” I take Clark to mean that the full power and potential of ideals and ideas can be realized only when many, sometimes countervailing, forces contribute to their development.
Clark lived until 2008: long enough to see the Internet put his principle into motion every day, through its wide and instant sharing of myriad ideas and opinions. He didn’t quite get to see the commercial power that crowdsourcing and other social web-driven phenomena have unleashed. Among those is co-creation: enlisting customers and other outside constituents with the experience or expertise to help refine products or services, or invent new ones altogether, whether working physically as a group, or virtually.
Co-creation is a concept that has been internalized throughout Avis Budget Group. Doing so takes a healthy measure of courage at a big company, where there are multiple stakeholders’ interests to balance. It also takes a willingness to seek out and consider, with eyes and ears wide open, unvarnished opinions, and sometimes, harsh critiques. Further, it takes the resolve to bring your “external creators” along for the whole journey, not just the occasional check-in along the way, always giving their opinions and recommendations careful consideration.
To be sure, co-creating doesn’t mean throwing away experience, judgment and objectivity to rely on opinion only. To the contrary, done right, the process generates more reality based inputs, more frequently, that are then evaluated and acted upon by those well qualified to make well informed, financially responsible decisions.
When co-creation is embraced in such a manner, outsized success can follow. For example, our recently updated Avis mobile app intends to re-engineer the entire car rental experience. The initiative started with quantitative and qualitative research intentionally designed to be open-ended and ask, “What if?” We challenged our customers to help us solve challenges endemic to our company, and our industry, by probing to understand exactly where the pain points were, and how bad the hurt was. The medicine was at times tough to swallow, but with an ultimate goal of giving travelers total control of their car rental experience, nothing less would do.
The process revealed that corporate travelers on a tight schedule want three things: speed, efficiency and control. So any new Avis mobile app feature that would be developed needed to not only serve at least one of these needs, but exceed expectations for them. The rest of the co-creation process would involve the actual creation: tapping those same opinion-givers to help design the features and look-and-feel that would go to market.
Ultimately, the commitment to two-way transparency, and to learning from a group of people from different backgrounds and cultures, held the key to success. Downloads and usage have exceeded projections since launch last summer. It’s really quite simple: Our customers are the people for whom we need to innovate — not for ourselves. Call it co-creation or whatever you like: The process’s logic is irrefutable working from that premise.
Larry De Shon is Avis Budget Group’s CEO.