Last week, Screenmedia attended the 3rd annual Northumbrian Water Innovation Festival at Newcastle Racecourse.
Even though we attended the festival in 2018, we weren't sure what to expect when we were told that this year’s event would feature a beach, morning pilates and live music! Confusion aside, what transpired was a fantastic few days working with 3,000 people from 700 different organisations, sharing ideas and helping to contribute to the future of the water industry.
We arrived on Thursday to an event already in full swing, and immediately started exploring the festival grounds. After making sure to check out the beach and tipi, the tannoy sounded to round everyone up into the ‘Funderdome’ for the morning briefing. To our surprise the briefing took the form of a musical comedy routine, with hilariously brilliant comedy song/poem/raps by ‘Harry and Chris’. With that, the tone was set for the rest of the day being interactive and full of laughs.
We then joined in on the sprint ‘Unrivalled Customer Experience - Just add Water.’ Graeme Kendrew, Creative Director at Radley Yeldar, gave us an early preview of the new branding for Northumbrian Water and East Sussex Water. Graeme and the NWG team asked for our uncensored input on the new brand direction and it yielded great feedback!
Our particular sprint audience was split into two groups, one comprised entirely of NWG customers. The collaboration and early customer engagement as part of the NWG design process thoroughly impressed us - it’s no wonder that customer satisfaction is high with a company where customer service is right at its core.
Following the brand unveiling was a chance to discuss and develop ideas generated from the customer experience tent. These included Superhero Employees, Customers as Colleagues, NWG Foundation and more. We discussed the background of the ideas and then broke for lunch to refresh our brains for an afternoon of innovation!
As lunch was served Georgie Barrat, Tech Journalist and Broadcaster for the Gadget Show, spoke on all things innovation. Having worked at the cutting edge of technology and getting hands-on experience with new and exciting products before release to the public, she reassured us that the robots you see in Channel 4’s Humans are quite a while away, and that robots will be helping us with our jobs rather than taking them from us for the foreseeable next few years!
The afternoon’s session kicked off with talks first from Ian Mullen, Creative Director at Shout Digital, then Shirley Marland, Customer Experience Manager for LNER.
Ian talked us through the process for ensuring customer experience is incorporated into digital product creation and touched on the 'dos and don’ts' of brand recognition and likeability of companies.
Shirley led us through the employee pioneer programme that she led for LNER’s launch of the new Azuma trains. Her focus was to ensure that LNER employees on the ground were involved right from the start of the process, leading to staff early adoption and creation of the new processes required for the new fleet. Her idea was that employee enthusiasm and excitement is contagious and would quickly pass onto the LNER customers! A fantastic takeaway from our time talking with Shirley was an insight into getting management buy-in for a project of this type - her answer was to show management the risks of not getting your employees and customers involved in the process.
Fuelled with some new insights from Ian and Shirley, our sprint team began drawing out a map of how NWG employees and customers would interact with each other throughout a newly-realised customer journey.
The work day ended with a flash exercise exploring how we could leave an immediate lasting memory of the new ideas generated from the customer experience tent. Dropping chocolate eggs from drones, comedy rap songs and IKEA-style flatpack building were also all thrown into the mix!
After this fun, the tannoy sounded once again for the end-of-day wrap up in the Funderdome where some of the sprint leads gave us an insight into their tent’s thoughts for the day. It had been a full-on day so it was time for a well-earned drink and a lie in the sun on a deckchair on the beach.
The day didn’t stop there though, and at 6:30 dinner of an Italian feast was served to perk everyone up for the evening activity: Rock and Roll Bingo. This turned into a hilarious, fun-filled evening with great music and the chance to meet some brilliant new people. When the craziness was over and all prizes had been won (2 prizes for Screenmedia!!) everyone with their new-found friends headed to the tipi to warm ourselves round the firepits and listen to some brilliant acoustic music. Day one at the innovation festival closed on a high.
Admittedly, day two began with a slightly fuzzy head, but it didn’t stop us from participating in one of the many health and wellbeing activities arranged at the festival. We donned our Screenmedia t-shirts and headed over for some 8am outdoor Pilates, followed by a well-earned breakfast.
Having perked up with our pilates, coffee and breakfast we re-joined the Customer Experience sprint where we enjoyed more industry talks from Dave Lee at Connect Managed Services and JP Hughes from Smooth radio.
Dave’s team consult on the optimisation of NWG’s contact centres, and his presentation focused on where technological advancements in augmented reality and AI may take the customer’s contact centre experience.
JP, a fellow Scot, completely enthralled us with his audio-only presentation. He focused us back on the meaning and impact that sound plays on emotion, brand and buying impulse. He emphasised some effective and iconic uses of sounds by brands like Apple and HBO. JP also spoke about the use of audio over visuals in the workplace to better engage with people. Communicorp, for example, have started communicating company updates and strategy in the form of Podcasts, and have seen a vastly improved uptake in employee knowledge and satisfaction.
As Friday was showcase day, the team were to create a short video to be played at the closing ceremony, so we set about planning this. This involved a morning of colourful poster-making to highlight the key stages of our customer journey. Our coordinator Steve from Word Nerds brought in a train track for us to visually link the journey together. Some hilarity ensued as we tried to create the feel of a never-ending track from one side of the main festival concourse to the other. Teamwork made everything come together in the end, and some quick and snappy editing resulted in a surprisingly professional video being created right in time for the closing ceremony.
After lunch, a chance to peruse the other sprint tents, and after a quick serenade from a brass band, we were welcomed to the Funderdome for a final time to wrap up on a fantastic week of innovation and share our thoughts and videos with the wider festival.
The other sprints showcased ideas from CGI, O2, IBM, Ford, Wavin, ICE, Newcastle University, Ordnance Survey, Mott MacDonald, Microsoft and loads more. Some of the highlight ideas that will be explored further as projects are:
Reflecting on our time at the festival we felt it was an amazing event to be part of, and have come home exhausted, but with many more connections and ideas for innovation not just for NWG, but other clients too. We are very excited to hear the next steps from the festival and to hopefully be involved again next year!
Our innovative work with NWG is just part of what we do. If you're looking for an award-winning and experience innovation, design, or technology partner, get in touch and we'd love to chat.