6 minute read 10 May 2022

How Proximus turbocharged its innovation through user research

By EY Belgium

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Contributors
6 minute read 10 May 2022

Together with EY VODW, Proximus developed a new model that democratizes user research.

Telecom giant Proximus was looking for a way to accelerate its innovation cycle. User research can become a catalyst for new products and services. Together with the innovation experts from EY VODW, Proximus developed a new model that democratizes user research. Not just one team, but all squads working on innovation now ask for feedback directly from the users. “Before, market research was mainly about validating solutions, today we dig deeper and start from what customers need,” say Laurent Lemay (Head of Customer & Market Intelligence at Proximus), Raphaël Hombroeck (UX manager at Proximus) and Yasmine Raes (Senior Manager Innovation at EY VODW). “We innovate faster and we create better products and services.”

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Eliminating the bottleneck

Laurent Lemay explains the challenge Proximus faced. “The telecom market is a challenging one. For many people, telephony, internet or digital television are a commodity, and in the case of a commodity, you mainly compare prices. With Proximus, we go a step further, outside the traditional scope of telecom. We aim to reinvent our products and services. We no longer compete only with other telecom companies, but also with the Googles and the Netflixes of this world. This transformation into a true digital service provider forces us to innovate faster.”

“Our main challenge is to make consumers’ voices even louder, to bring them faster and closer to the decision makers. We used to have just one team that captured the consumer’s voice and passed on the feedback within our organization. We were overwhelmed with questions from our colleagues to set up user research on new products and services. User research threatened to become a bottleneck and we couldn’t afford that. We needed a new approach, a model that eliminated that bottleneck.”

We needed a helicopter view, external expertise to bring structure and speed to our transformation.
Raphaël Hombroeck
UX manager at Proximus

Make it happen

To help successfully meet this challenge, Proximus turned to EY VODW, which specializes in customer-centered innovation. “Our challenge at Proximus was of course not unique: Today, every company wants to put the customer radically first,” explains Raphaël Hombroeck. “But the set-up is different, of course. Take my expertise: user experience and UX design. Different people and multiple teams were working in these areas, all with their own habits and their own way of working. There was a great drive to innovate, but the overarching structure was lacking. We needed a helicopter view, external expertise to bring structure and speed to our transformation.”

“We needed to develop a model that we could embed in the agile way of working at Proximus,” adds Yasmine Raes. “A model to make user research not only scalable but also more efficient and impactful. With a layer that we could place above all the teams. Fortunately, there was already a lot of awareness about the issue. Everyone was convinced of the need to put customers first, to listen even better to their needs and wishes, and to allow these to flow throughout the organization. In particular, there was a need for processes and structure. That was our role: to make it happen.”

Democratizing user research

Democratizing a large part of user research turned out to be the key to speeding up and strengthening the innovation cycle at Proximus, explains Laurent Lemay. “User research is no longer the exclusive domain of a team of experts. Each squad developing new products, services or business models should do its own user research. This is how we eliminate that bottleneck. User research is no longer the task of one team or department but of everyone involved in innovation. Each employee can get in touch with their users to improve their product.”

Designers need to break out of their comfort zone. They now get their feedback directly from the customers and users, one on one, unfiltered.
Raphaël Hombroeck
UX manager at Proximus

“Everyone realizes the added value of the new model. But the approach does of course require a different mindset, on both sides. Our research team will guide more and more squads in user research and share their unique competencies in the company. Conversely, it’s also a question of adapting for the squads that develop the new products, services or value propositions. They have much greater contact with the people who use their innovations, there is no longer an intermediate layer.”

“Designers have to break out of their comfort zone”, emphasizes Raphaël Hombroeck. “They have to be vulnerable. They now get their feedback directly from the customers and users, one on one, unfiltered. It can be confronting to hear that people weren’t waiting for your innovation. But in the end, that user research and that feedback does lead to better, more relevant products and services. That’s what it’s all about in the end.”

The shift from solution to problem

The new user research model is now on track, says Yasmine Raes. “The blueprint is there, the squads have access to a toolbox with concrete methodologies for user research, and we’ve already trained many employees at intensive five-day boot camps. Now it comes down to plenty of testing and experimentation. This new model is a work in progress. The best way to learn how to properly conduct interviews is to just do them. The model is iterative. Just as products and services are adapted based on user research, the model itself is also continuously improved. We notice that the squads are starting to feel more comfortable doing user research with each passing day.”

“I also see a noticeable shift in the way they use user research. Previously, it mainly served to validate products and services, at the end of the process. Now the focus is shifting to experimenting earlier in the process. The squads are digging deeper to understand what customers need and want, rather than present these customers with a ready-made solution. You’re no longer going to ask: ‘Is my solution good?’ No, you ask: ‘What’s your problem?’ That’s the big revolution.”

Laurent Lemay has also noticed that shift. “The faster we test, the faster we can kill projects for which there is no great need in the market. Fail fast. We innovate faster and we create better products and services. By democratizing user research, we also encounter new opportunities. Sometimes you’re in a meeting with colleagues and you’re sure that A is the way to go. But then you do user research and determine: our customers don’t want A, they want B. Or C, or D. Then we drop A and go for B, C or D. If you only discover that when a product or service is almost complete, you’ve lost a lot of time and a lot of money.”

The faster we test, the faster we can kill projects for which there is no great need in the market. Fail fast.
Laurent Lemay
Head of Customer & Market Intelligence at Proxi

Impact on the decision makers

Raphaël Hombroeck notices that designers are gaining more confidence by doing their own user research. “Our people dare to make choices or pivot more quickly, the feedback from users provides empowerment. In the past, innovation was more top-down. User research reverses the roles. People can come to the table with data in hand. It’s no longer ‘I think B will work better than A’, but ‘I know B will work better than A’. The new model has really crept into the company’s DNA. There’s clearly an ambition to penetrate even more deeply, to get even more people to engage in user research.”

The ultimate goal of user research is to have an impact on decision makers.
Laurent Lemay
Head of Customer & Market Intelligence at Proximus

“The ultimate goal of user research is to have an impact on decision makers,” concludes Laurent Lemay. “You don’t do user research just to pimp a presentation with extra figures and graphs. You do user research to bring better, more relevant products and services to the consumer. Your customer is your boss.”

Whitepaper on unique agile user research model


In our whitepaper we extensively reflect on the model Proximus installed to scale user research in their agile organization.

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This article is part of a series in collaboration with Bloovi. You can find the full series in Dutch on www.bloovi.be/ey.

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Summary

Proximus was looking for a way to accelerate its innovation cycle. To help successfully meet this challenge, Proximus turned to EY VODW, which specializes in customer-centered innovation. Together they developed a new model that democratizes user research. Now not just one team, but all squads working on innovation ask for feedback directly from the users, which allows Proximus to innovate faster and create better products and services.

About this article

By EY Belgium

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Contributors