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The Backwards Way To Get Ahead In Business

If you’re looking to get ahead at work, common logic might tell you to watch out for yourself. You may think that in order to get ahead, you have to be watching for every possible opportunity and take every possible benefit you can. While keeping an eye for opportunities that benefit you is absolutely part of getting ahead, it’s not the key to success. 

For those truly looking to get ahead, the real lesson is much more community focused: the less you focus on yourself, the more likely you are to get ahead. Specifically, focus on helping as many groups as possible with every project or action.  

Collaborate to extend your capacity

[lyft app logo on a smartphone]

Regardless of industry, the projects you work on should help multiple groups of people in some way. Take the shopping world, for instance. A huge pain point for shoppers is leaving with the goods they purchase. If you have your own car, this issue is mitigated. However, urban malls, like the ones operated by Cadillac Fairview in the downtown areas of major cities, are a different story, with many shoppers having arrived by public transit or foot.

It’s this last step of the shopping experience where Brandon Milner, Director of New Ventures for Cadillac Fairview, thought about this last step of the customer experience and realized there was a problem: if customers have a bad experience after purchase, they are less likely to come back. This is doubly true in a world of easy online commerce where malls are not the only way to get what you want. 

Thinking about how to solve this problem in a novel way, Milner focused on nurturing a collaboration that would not only help provide a better shopper experience but also help Cadillac Fairview extend its capacity – providing an easy win-win situation. Since the problem centred around helping people leave the mall in a way that made them want to come back, a logical partnership would be a company in the transit space. That company ended up being Lyft.

“Our partnership with Lyft offered them an exclusive pick up spot on Albert’s Way, and a safe place] to pick up and drop off people,” said Milner, noting that most people usually try to enter the mall through Queen Street, one of Toronto’s busiest streets. 

The collaboration meant that Cadillac Fairview could easily address a customer pain point without having to fundamentally change their business model to become a transportation company. Further, Milner said the partnership helped Lyft increase its brand awareness. In a world where ‘innovation’ and ‘new ventures’ can often pull a company away from its core offering, Milner’s collaborative approach helped both companies focus on what they do best.

“We found through … our agreement with Lyft that we could generate a lot of value and increased awareness of Lyft, but also value to our own shoppers,” said Milner.

Solve community problems first 

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At Cadillac Fairview, Milner and the team looked at how to take an established traditional business – managing real estate – and modernize the approach to property and experiences. This, of course, means leveraging technology but also delivering service and improvements that have a personal, human touch. Without this human touch, there may be confusion from people either used to the old ways or who are unaware of how new technology might affect them. According to a study by Oxford Economics, over 20 million jobs could be automated by 2030, so people questioning the impact of technology on their jobs is grounded in legitimate research. 

Instead of rip-and-replace, the best forms of technological innovation look at how humans can work with technology to produce a better outcome versus either one working alone. This insight was at the core of Milner and the team’s thinking about how to make the business stronger with technology, but also about where humans could provide critical input throughout the process.

One pain point that the team uncovered was parking. The company owns and operates multiple office towers and some of the largest shopping malls in Canada. That means parking is always on their minds.

To address this, the company wanted to launch an app that would allow users to purchase premium parking – spots closer to the front doors – more easily. Traditionally, guests would need to cruise around a parking lot to scope out a spot. The app’s goal was to make it easy to pre-purchase and reserve a premium spot for your visit to the mall. Milner and his team chose to run a pilot program and see what the feedback was, looking at both data from shoppers’ actions on the app and human feedback loops. 

Milner’s team did all the classic things: research, social listening online, and customer ‘comment card’ style feedback, but one particular feedback loop drove real innovation – Cadillac Fairview’s customer ambassadors. These humans on the ground could observe far more (and on a deeper, more intuitive level) than machines, which meant they had valuable insights. To capture this insight, the innovation process was structured to make sure this feedback was heard, just as the team ensured they were looking at machine-collected data.

“We had daily meetings with [customer ambassadors] to solicit any feedback,” said Milner. “… They provided feedback, [for example], that Mr. X or Mrs. Y came to book the parking – these were the concerns, or these were the positives. Using our brand ambassadors as the voice of our pilot proved very successful. It spoke to owning the expertise and providing a forum where true collaboration and no ego could solve issues. Everyone wanted to create an elevated experience for our shoppers and our retailers.”

Focus on how you stand out

[image of a small airplane on a runway]

Physical shopping centers face a number of challenges in today’s world, in particular the elephant in the room – e-commerce. Since it’s easier than ever to buy something without leaving your home, the simple act of buying isn’t enough for shopping malls to win. Shopping malls need to deliver an experience worth coming for and Milner’s head isn’t focused on the competition, he’s focused on what his team can do for Cadillac Fairview guests. 

“I think it’s always important to watch what others are doing and to track … trends, but I think the important thing, especially with innovation, is to never chase the proverbial shiny ball, but to make sure that you are delivering products, services, [and] platforms that are relevant to your market,” said Milner.

With that in mind, Milner is thinking about how he can help shopping centers become a place of experience, not just a physical version of online commerce. It’s one of the reasons, for example, that Cadillac Fairview focuses as much on the beauty and look of their spaces as they do the flows of traffic to stores.

“I’m not saying online is not a factor that we think about, but retailers need and want people to come into their stores and browse. So we try to find ways that actually facilitate and amplify that in order to provide that additional service but also to give our shoppers a beautiful place to walk around in, and enjoy the atmosphere.”

This article was powered by Intersect, a global product development consultancy headquartered in Toronto.

Read the next article: Why this CEO thinks innovation labs are a bad idea

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