Is there a business model for Deutsche Telekom in “me time”?

What do you do when user research throws up a need that looks like it has no business model attached? Can a telecoms company make money from people switching off?

Warning: liveblogging

Prone to error, typos and crimes against grammar. Post will be updated and corrected during the talk and over the 24 hours afterwards. 

Julia Leihener & Thomas Welzel, Deutsche Telekom

Have you ever got closer than you want to get? Have you seen something on someone’s phone you didn’t want to see? Or heard a phone conversation on a train you didn’t want to hear?

Service design has led us into some unwanted findings…

The question was very simple: what is presence on a mobile phone? We know what it looks like on the web, via instant messenger or Facebook. What does that look like on mobile phones? They set up a team of users, especially those with extreme habits, product managers, and the creation centre. They’re a small team, with a range of disciplines. They go out and about to deeply research and understand their users’ habits and needs – and then go up to explain or match that with the viewpoint of management. They’re aiming to be a platform for human-centred innovation – birding the gap between science and business.

They started with cultural probes of people’s habits. They used Flip video cams to capture people’s lives. They then used a text message to encourage people to give video feedback. This rolls into ind-depth interviews, before they filter and make sense of what they’ve gathered.

One unexpected insight: people wanted “me time” freed up. They wanted to disconnect.

What opportunity could there be there for the company? Maybe – so they went through an ideation process, even using an “idea napkin”. People don’t like being “always on”. Could you allow prioritising by caller – for example, only your wife can interrupt a meeting with news from the baby scan. Could your phone filter out personal calls during working hours, and then let you follow up afterwards? How about Facebook messages?

The service journey for this has to be very straightforward and simple. They worked out prototypes, and then built one on an Android device which they tested with several users. The device is capable of “learning” when you’re available for certain types of communication. They started with 50 people for six weeks. Some feedback suggested that they needed a way to “force through” Me Time. In the end, though, it wasn’t friends and family who sued it – it was salespeople. So they dropped that.

You need a mindset that opens you to the unexpected and ideas that are off your normal business model. Unwanted findings can become wanted findings, with the right process.