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Verizon customers helping shape video products

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Verizon is taking new approach to testing and launching consumer products, using a group of selected customers to do its beta testing and linking those customers directly to its engineers, all in the name of getting better products to market more quickly.

“That’s how we are going to go beyond ‘me-too’ television – by working with our customers,” said Joe Ambeault, director of consumer product strategy for video at Verizon. “That’s how we will develop interactive services – by collaborating with our customers.”

Under a reorganization last year, Ambeault assumed the strategy role for both wireline and wireless consumer products and has combined the two groups, and acquires content for all screens – TV, PC and mobile phone.

“We have a very engaged group of customers – we solicited over 1000 and took a few hundred – that are all across the country,” Ambeault said. “We asked them to be active participants. It’s an amazingly exciting thing – we are on our third and fourth beta products this year.”

The customers have password-protected access to new features which they test primarily for usability. “There is no shortage of ways to get that wrong,” Ambeault said. “This way, consumers get to live with the [upgrades and new features] because we can’t really do usability studies.”

The test customers have direct access and provide direct feedback to Verizon’s engineers. “It’s an open dialogue,” Ambeault said. “We have some customers who can be very critical. And we let our engineers respond directly to them.”

This approach to product development smacks up against a telephone company culture quite unaccustomed to putting out products that “aren’t fully baked,” Ambeault admitted. “These things aren’t getting 20 weeks of testing before we put them out there for customers to try, the only testing we do is to make sure it’s not going to break the network.”

The customer participants are not under non-disclosure agreements, nor is the direct feedback they give to Verizon engineers – and the engineers’ responses – put through the usual corporate channels, Ambeault said.

Interactive TV and Internet video sharing as a streaming service are among the beta products that have been consumer-tested so far this year, Ambeault said. “I expect to do six [software] upgrades to our video offering this year and my fourth is in the lab right now.”

Verizon employees have been the alpha round product testers.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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