Saturday, April 25, 2009

“I just volunteered your name”

!! … something does not sound right with this quote, isn’t it? I would hear this once in a while from the outside of my cubicle at Melbourne, my boss would have finished a call with her boss and she would start assigning work to me “I just volunteered your name for..” she would go. We both knew the lighter side of it, and I still cherish those moments.

In recent decades, we make products, launch new services, and create new processes on behalf of our customers, volunteering ourselves to create something they might need. Not bad, we put ourselves in customer’s shoes, a definite progress since the days of Henry Ford and his famous declaration “Any customer can have a car painted any colour so long as it is black.”

Since then, this paradigm is shifting big way, customers are now part of the effort that companies otherwise volunteered themselves to, … co-creation is the name of the game.

Simulated car racing game or a 4D roller costar is fun, but not as much as fun as driving down Great Ocean Road or experiencing Wipeout! Companies are constantly simulating consumer behavior to stay in competition, be it by predicting, doing a market research, trial and error or using a suggestion box. It is only a logical progression that we now have reached a stage to do co-creation with our customers; we are out on the road to get the real experience.

So simply put, instead of creating a product and then expecting that customers might like it, in co-creation you allow your customers to have a say or decide what you build, customers are on boarded well before the product starts taking shape or sometimes even before it is conceptualized.

So what does it take for companies to co-create?
  1. First and the foremost, companies need to start moving towards complete transparency. When you want to prove that your restaurant’s kitchen is clean, you can advertise that your kitchen is the cleanest, or get somebody to certify it … best way is to allow your customers to walk into your kitchen, if and when they wish. One needs to have an insight to provide any value inputs. In other words if you are not moving towards transparency, you are not moving towards co-creating.
  2. Find ways to encourage voluntary involvement from customers, employees, any stakeholders. Asking for a slogan for your product in return of holiday-for-two is not co-creation. If you need value input, it needs to be voluntary, it has to be spontaneous.
  3. Gear up your communication infrastructure and CRM to enable two way communications. The partners in co-creation need to come together physically, virtually, or in whatever way. Also your CRM should no longer aim only to sell more but also to bring back more on what customers are experiencing.
  4. Last but not the least, is preparing yourself on what you do with the inputs you get from your partners in co-creation. This is the tricky one; you might get all the first three steps right, but if you do not have a solid strategy to deal with the outcome of first three, you haven’t moved an inch.
To sum it up, closed doors opening up to greater transparency, requests replaced by engagement, value derived from the point where it is experienced, and the inputs received not being just tick marks.

When you co-create, you are actually going back to the fundamentals and going back to the fundamentals never hurt.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Having customers and even competitors come in for a tour of our plant has yielded positive outcomes. Customers have an appreciation of our operations and have ordered more from us on the spot. Competitors have praised us on the employee engagement and cleanliness and pride of our facility. Lean manufacturing has contributed to our competitive edge in the market. I enjoyed your article.

  2. Hi Jayesh,

    The idea of transparency is great and works well in all the industries.
    The practice of getting continuous feedback from the customer serves as one of the key inputs to process and product improvement.
    However, we have to analyze what we must co-create/build/improve depending on its immediate consumption. I would measure innovation by the number of users/customers it generates.

    Therefore we have to be judge mental and do a good amount of investigation mainly around profit/cost analysis/ROI before we spent time building something, which might be unique/new but might not have enough customers/user base.


  3. Hi Jayesh,

    All mentioned points are valid...but how to do that?

    I think these should be standard practice for this co-creation projects.


  4. Jayesh

    bang on - for the last 25 years we have included our clients in our design and development - everything was customer centric.

    In recent times (since Groove) the first thing we do with a new client is install a copy (at our cost if needed) at the clients office. This creates a persistent realtime conduit between us and the people using our system - customer requests / comments are visible to all as are our responses.

    Indian companies talk of CRM but use such tools to focus on marketing to new clients. What most forget is how important it is to create support channels for existing clients.

    Help desks created in groove are far more responsive to users needs that typical mail based support incident based tools - in groove it is a two way dialogue.


  5. the biggest obstacle (only one) we have seen is that people fear transparency :-)

  6. Agree with Ashok. The fear of transparency is a huge obstacle.

    The C-Suite that was not bred on wikipedia just don't get it.

    The correcting force of a large group of brand champions is still not understood.

    I guess the transition is as difficult as when people who are right handed or left handed are asked to become ambidextrous.

    Years of doing things in one way atrophies the other arm.

  7. Culture of transparency needs to flow top down and it will take care of the rest of the things...:-)

  8. Thanks all
    Great to read your experiences wrt co-creating and transparency.

    Yes the question is how to do it, many are already doing it in some ways and many have started the thought process around it. It all starts by taking a small but definite steps towards co-creating. A simple act of walking down to your customer and talking to her without telling who you are can get you started. Collaborative innovation platforms are on the rise, send me an email and I can provide you with more details about these platforms.

    The concerns over transparency are real, as Aanuradha said - making it flow from top is the best way to start, bottom up approach is bit difficult. Non transparency provides us short term benefit, people who do not realize this will loose out in medium to long term.