We’re both staunch advocates and practitioners of customer co-design. We don’t limit our customer co-design practice to new product development. We’ve learned over the years that there are many different ways you can take advantage of co-designing with customers: from the ways you engage with customers on your Customer Advisory Boards, to involving them as stakeholders when you’re redesigning your firm’s internal processes.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to convince others in your organization to embrace customer co-design. Most executives think it’s a good idea in practice. But, deep down, they are skeptical that customers actually know enough to be useful. They’re concerned that customers will be too demanding and will take them in directions that may not be profitable. They’re scared that customers will pull them in directions they don’t understand.
Absent a strong cultural appetite for customer co-design and engagement, we often find the following symptoms occur:
1. Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) are often thought of as sales tools or product road map validation forums; not business strategy co-design opportunities.
2. Voice of the Customer (VOC) has unfortunately become a required toll gate before the deployment of a new solution. It is seldom used to inform internal business process design initiatives. Online customer communities are often thought of as a customer support channel that will save money; not as a key opportunity for customer co-design.
4. Very few business process transformation projects or Six Sigma initiatives involve customers directly in their activities. The (incorrect) assumption is that customers shouldn’t be bothered. Or, if they’re consulted at all, it’s as a last-gap sanity check (did we miss anything that’s important to you?). Unfortunately, that’s too late!
5. When it comes to product and service development, many R&D executives firmly believe that customers can’t foresee or articulate unmet needs. They fall back on the proverbial chestnut, “If Henry Ford had asked customers what they needed, they would have said, a faster horse.”
6. Designing and evolving your partner ecosystem are currently thought of as a business development activity and/or as a partner channel sales activity. It doesn’t occur to most of the people charged with growing a profitable ecosystem that they should inform the ecosystem design by starting with customers and by supporting the activities that are most critical to customers’ success.
So I’m presenting my thinking on when and how to embed customer co-design into your projects along with tips on how to be successful. Hopefully, this article will help you overcome the internal impediments and allow you to start injecting customer co-design into the projects over which you have purview. And, once you can demonstrate the value of co-design to your execs and peers, the practice can grow throughout your organization.