Co-Creation With Customers: 5 Ways to Drive Better Results

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What does co-creation with customers really mean?

Co-creation means letting your customers in on the ground floor of innovation and creating new products, services, and customer journeys in sometimes real time with them. Customers become partners and advisors, not just end users.

And it isn’t limited to just customers. Organizations can also co-create with vendors, suppliers, resellers and specific groups of employees.

Co-creation also means finding ways to include customers where they haven’t been invited in the past. The voice of the customer is “heard” in the process earlier than the typical process of waiting on survey results. Customers benefit from being included in ways that help them feel heard and part of the community.

It’s great to actually reward customers for participating, too, through simple things like company swag or more complicated reward systems based on participation “points.” Customers often participate because they want to help create an experience they want, with a brand they already like.



Here are a few ideas to get you thinking of ways to include your customers in ways that will serve both them and your organization.

1. Co-Create Your Customer Journey Map

It’s amazing we have to say this, but customers are often not included in customer journey mapping.

Invite customers to participate in innovation sessions around key parts of the journey or invite them to help you build your map from the ground up. There is a wide range of how to include them, based on the size and scope of your organization and your mapping goals. Co-creation can be as simple as inviting in a customer cohort to a workshop or asking for feedback directly along the way.

Create an “ideal state” journey map or innovate around a new process with your customers. This can lead to the first layer of your service blueprint. With their input, they can help you create the actual experience they want before developing the supporting processes and systems required to deliver it.

2. Follow Up Directly on Suggestions

Negative reviews — at least those that include suggestions — on social media channels or review sites are coming from customers who care. They took the time to not just complain, but to say “here’s the way I think it should work.”

Business leaders are still likely to ignore customer complaints. We know that 62% of companies flat out ignore customer service emails!

These customer complainers-with-a-purpose are actually TRYING to work together, so why not let them? Follow up with these customers and discuss their suggestions. Keep them informed as you roll out improvements aligned with their original complaints.

Customers often have great ideas. Let them know you appreciate them.

3. Speed Up Your Research and Development

With today’s technologies, customers can co-create from around the world. Research is time-consuming, but including customers via online focus groups, digital communities, and moderated forums helps research teams determine if more research is required or not.

Methods like virtual focus groups leverage artificial intelligence to avoid the classic focus group issues of not hearing from everyone and herd mentality. In real time, a specific group of customers can share their insights in a safe and easy environment, then up-vote or down-vote the best answers from the group.



Customers can then be included throughout the research process. They can share insights along the way instead of just reacting to what is eventually developed.

4. Think Like a Non-Profit

Some of the best co-creation comes from the non-profit world. Constant fundraising means constant collaboration with donors. No Kid Hungry, a campaign dedicated to ending child hunger, invites web visitors very directly to co-create solutions with them.

“Whatever your strength, there’s a way you can share it to help kids and create child hunger solutions.” This quote from the “Ways You Can Help” page is a direct invitation to co-create solutions. Most non-profit organizations do this to create a community of action with their donors.

Co-creating ideas with donors could be inviting ideas around events, fundraising opportunities or socially-driven peer challenge campaigns like the amazingly successful Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS funds a few years ago.

We probably all remember participating by dumping buckets of ice water on our heads or others and challenging our friends to do the same, all in an effort to raise money for research. A recent report showed that Ice Bucket Challenge campaign increased funding for ALS by a whopping 187%! That was a form of co-creation, as the actual ALS Association was hands-off in the execution of the challenge.

Your company can do this, too. Invite your customers to share their strengths with you.

5. Ask Customers To Share Ideas Directly

One of the most well-known and successful examples of co-creation with customers is the incredibly robust Lego Ideas program. Customers can submit their own Lego set ideas to the site, then other customers vote these ideas up or down. Lego picks winners to produce based on popularity and other factors.

As of the writing of this blog, ideas included a full set to build the International Space Station alongside a 30th-Anniversary special Seinfeld apartment set, complete with Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer figures.

Starbucks has also enjoyed success in similar co-creation fashion with customer ideas on everything from new drinks to loyalty perks. The original format included ways to vote and comment on submitted ideas, but now the brand relies on suggestions from social media and a form to submit directly, sans community.

Starbucks has credited its hugely popular pumpkin spice flavor and several parts of its loyalty program to customer ideas. The return on those co-creation investments seems to be paying off.



When was the last time you really invited your customers into the process of creation? It’s ironic, but most of us don’t include customers until it’s time for them to give our products and experiences a thumbs up or down. Why not get those ratings earlier in the process to produce what they really want?

All of this is easier said than done, of course. To co-create effectively, leaders need discipline around prioritization, closed-loop processes, and efficient customer communications. But taking just one idea from a customer could mean the next success of your business. Pumpkin spice latte, anyone?

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