David Goodspeed 2015-09-10 10:58:56
PART STORE, PART THINK TANK, ONE U IS HELPING TO FOSTER A SMART CAMPUS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA. At the University of Oklahoma, we have two campus technology stores with two completely different missions, yet at the same time they’re the same. We have the OU IT Store, which straight-up sells technology hardware and solutions with service and support. It’s the typical sort of down-and-dirty tech store you see on many college campuses, and it’s a very successful concept that serves not just the OU community but the entire city of Norman. The second operation is called One U and it’s part store, part technology playground. As a spinoff of the University of Oklahoma’s Digital Initiative, it offers much more than typical retail. It’s home to all types of new innovative technologies that we may or may not sell, such as 3-D printers, Google Glass, Leap Motion, Google Liquid Galaxy, Osmo, Tiggly, and more. The idea is to bring these technologies off the Kickstarter pages and out of the basements where they reside on campus and get them into people’s hands. Future and current students, faculty, staff, K-12 kids, alumni, and the public all get to experience these kinds of innovations on a daily basis thanks to One U. Just the other day I was told, “You guys are moving the needle on campus.” It feels good to know we’re making a difference here at OU instead of just “selling stuff.” The One U Store is also part think tank/skunkworks project. We’re often pulled into conversations with the academic and administrative side of the university about what’s possible in terms of integrating technology, which has opened the doors for many other opportunities. We take great pride in saying, “We don’t focus on selling; we focus on problem-solving.” If a customer buys something that’s great, but if they don’t that’s OK, too. Selling technology has become secondary to our goal of helping create a smart campus here at OU. We don’t even have a mission statement anymore, because we’re constantly adapting to what the campus needs. Why pigeonhole yourself into a single vision or mission? We’ve expanded our team from student sales associates to now include students who can write code for apps, create interactive displays using new and existing technology, and dream up cool, creative ideas. We currently have a team of three student employees, led by one full-time employee, working to create a health-and-wellness app for the Apple Watch for campus use. We’re hoping to take the app public, too. It’s incredibly rewarding to have a student worker say, “You guys are allowing me to learn more than what I am learning in the classroom right now.” That’s real-world experience, where the coders work with the marketers, and the struggles and victories are shared daily. Everyone can help in some form or fashion. I myself am by no means a coder, but I say, “What if?” a lot, and we’ve set up a team of people who can take those questions and ideas and make them reality. When we opened the One U space in September 2013, we tried something new and different. Instead of traditional price cards, we used iPad minis as digital price cards, which gave us more than just pricing. We built in buttons that told the One U Digital Initiative story, including interactive videos showing the product, warranty service, etc. This really set us apart. Then, we began struggling with the challenges of using custom, built-from-the-ground-up technology and keeping the devices current on pricing changes, sales, up times, and so on. It began to cause issues with the customer experience, which I didn’t like. I started to see we were relying on technology to enable or complete the sale so much that we were losing human interaction and not engaging customers the way we needed to. So I challenged the team to remove the digital price cards, along with any reference to pricing; retrain the students to engage customers differently; and help sell even more with price taken out of the conversation. I hadn’t planned it, but this has caused us to rethink our onboarding and training process. It’s not just a “remove the price cards and good luck” type of idea. It was truly a moment where we realized that we had to go back to page one and start all over to make the store experience better. It’s going to be an amazing journey—one that I know we’re all looking forward to making. David Goodspeed is assistant vice president for digital innovation at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.
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