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Annette Franz

Customer Care

Participative Relationships: Co-Creating the Experience With Customers

Sharing roles in CX can provide dividends for both customer and proprietor

Published: Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 12:02

In 2019, I wrote about a marketing phenomenon that I kept hearing about, that customers are in control, that they have all the power. I never felt like that was right.

In that post, I wrote:
“So, when you see those headlines about customer control and customer power, what are they really talking about? I don’t believe customers want to be ‘in control.’ Honestly, it’s less about control and power, and more about expectations and having their expectations known—and met. It’s more about brands doing the right thing and doing what’s right. It’s about customers knocking brands over the head and saying, ‘We’re tired of being treated like crap! Why is this so hard? You ask us for feedback. You capture all this data about us. And yet, you still deliver an experience that is primitive, at best.’”

I then went on to describe the role that I believe customers want in their relationships with brands:
“Ultimately, I think a better word for what customers want is a participative role in the relationship. That’s not about control; it’s about not being one-sided. Customers have needs and have jobs to be done; companies’ products and services help them fulfill those needs or achieve those jobs. Companies are in business to create and to nurture customers. They need each other. So, let’s shift from control to co-creating.

Participative. Participation. I think the more common term that we use in customer experience design is “co-creation.” Let’s co-create the experience with customers. Let’s not dictate to each other. Let’s not have the power over each other. Let’s work together. Let’s create the ideal experience together, and then everyone wins.

How do you do that?

Well, if you’ve been following along for a while, you know that I believe the groundwork begins with customer understanding. And you know that there are three ways to achieve that understanding:
1. Feedback and customer data
2. Personas
3. Journey mapping

These are all examples of participative customer relationships. You take the time to get to know your customers, learn about their needs and problems to solve, and use what you hear to make a difference/change.

But let’s dive a little deeper into some of the specific ways to co-create with customers. And trust me, there is no shortage of tools and methods, so don’t let anyone tell you that co-creation is a mystery. And don’t let them tell you that it’s expensive because the alternatives are endless, and they don’t all require you to spend your entire budget in one shot.

Remember this: Co-creation is a collaborative innovation effort; it’s not a one-way street. Work together—with your customers—to define and design new value to be created, improvements to be made, and experiences that meet their needs as well as experiences that see you achieving your desired outcomes.

Co-creation tools

In journey mapping, the current-state experience and opportunities are identified with your customers, and more important, the ideal future-state experience is designed with them. (Yes, I needed to share this one here again to make the point that the journey mapping process must involve customers.)

Ideation is an important way to begin the co-creation process with customers; when you’re doing future-state design workshops (journey mapping or other), ideation is a big part of this work. It’s typically about gathering quantity over quality of ideas from customers; those ideas are grouped into common themes, and those themes are then voted on or prioritized by your customers.

Another form of ideation is to crowdsource ideas, like Starbucks did with “My Starbucks Idea,” Lay’s and its “Do Us a Flavor” campaigns, and more currently, Chobani’s “I Dream of Creamer” campaign. Other brands that have done this well include IKEA, Lego, Heineken, and more.

It’s not enough to just gather and prioritize ideas; you’ve got to prototype and test those ideas with customers. It’s important that you continue to work with customers to fine-tune the final product.

Years ago, when I was at Mattel, the power of games and play was an important tool to co-create toys and other products with moms and kids. Here are some great talks on innovating through play, and it’s not just about toys. And it’s not just for kids.

Online communities, where customers are engaged in ongoing conversations about products, services, designs, and ideas, are also an important method or source of co-creation.

Keep in mind that co-creation is not just about the idea and collecting ideas. It’s a closed-loop process. You must continue to fine-tune the idea into the final product, service, or experience with your customers. Prototype, test, gather continuous feedback, refine, and then launch with a concept that has been blessed by your customers. And continue to ask for feedback and have the conversation with your customers about design and expectations. It’s about active engagement with your customers throughout the entire process. And beyond.

“Leading innovation is not about getting people to follow you to the future; it is about getting people to co-create it with you.”
—Linda A. Hill

First published Feb. 3, 2021, on the CX Journey blog.

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About The Author

Annette Franz’s picture

Annette Franz

Annette Franz, CCXP is founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. She’s got 25 years of experience in both helping companies understand their employees and customers and identifying what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience – so that, together, we can design a better experience for all constituents. She's an author (she wrote the book on customer understanding!), a speaker, and a customer experience thought leader and influencer. She serves as Vice Chairwoman on the Board of Directors of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), is an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council, and is an Advisory Board member for CX@Rutgers.