Hackathons have been around for over a decade in the tech industry, possibly longer if different terms are used. Basically, a group of techies get together and spend a period of time focused on fixing a single problem or creating a new idea entirely from scratch. They are periods of intense activity often involving long night sessions fuelled by coffee and pizza.
The Facebook ‘like’ button was born from one of these hackathons, so almost everyone has seen products, apps, or services that were a result of a hackathon, but what has become an established tradition in the technology business is going mainstream. A recent article in The Economist reports that hundreds of companies in a variety of industries are now using hackathons as a way of stimulating innovation and fixing problems fast.
The credit card company Mastercard held their most recent hackathon last month, something that they run regionally with the best ideas from teams across the world percolating up to a global event. Disney holds four internal hackathons every year and storage company Dropbox dedicates one week a year to allowing employees to do anything creative – to just follow their ideas to see where they might be useful for the firm.
Last November a group of UK train operating companies got together for a 48-hour hackathon on board a train. The focus was to work out a system to help customers find vacant seats on trains – all in just two days.
Many large companies are now holding hackathons as external events, sponsoring the events rather than just holding them internally. It’s great for marketing, some great ideas can be built in a short period of time, and it is a fantastic way to recruit people who excel within the hackathon. Many HR commentators now believe that the hackathon is a much better way to recruit people than just holding a job fair and handing out leaflets describing your business.
I’m really interested in the way that hackathons work and how we might be able to apply these ideas to customer experience. It’s true that many of the changes to CX in the past 5 years or so have been driven by technology. Perhaps we could see some interesting innovations by concentrating just on how to improve the technology that supports CX for a 48-hour period?
What do you think about the idea of a customer experience hackathon and what issues do you think would be worth focusing on?