Customer Co-Creation from the Coalface

We hosted a number of really interesting roundtable discussions at the FT Innovate conference today on Customer Co-Creation. The title of the session was sparked by lessons we’ve been learning from a number of our recent projects with, amongst others, Orange, E.ON and Virgin Atlantic.   These in different ways seek to break down the barriers of both process and mindset between big brands and their customers. The three questions that we put to fellow conference delegates today were these:

1. What are your/your organisations most developed co-creation skills and attributes?

We start out by asking the first question because everyone has both good and bad experiences of collaboration, either professionally or personally, and it’s really worth exploring some of the mindsets behind successful partnerships. Whilst most people normally have little trouble in identifing such collaboration skills as important on a personal level, the same applies at work.  Business empathy is never knowingly taught in business schools or seldom recruited for in my experience.  The sorts of responses to this question were risk-taking, resiliance, responsiveness, flexibility but also more unusual responses such as passion and empathy.  The most perceptive perhaps was ‘give 60%’ as a way of building trust into a collaboration.

2. Who are your top 1% of customers?

Secondly, we asked about lead users  –  the top 1% of your customer community that know everything about your product and who are active innovators. For instance with Virgin Atlantic we quickly realised that some of their frequent fliers know more about their service than many of their staff, so we started a conversation with them through a programme called V-Jam which led to a 10x cost saving in creating new products such as the Taxi2 and Flight Tracker apps.

In the discussions today some of the comments were that your top 1% can either be your biggest fans or highest value customers but can also your most avid critics. And in terms of what motivates these lead users, we concluded today that whilst money definitely matters, the initiating driving force is usually either addressing an unmet need that they have or simply a love of your product or service.

3. How can you buy from as well as sell to your customers?

Finally, we asked about buying from as well as selling to customers. This stems from our observation that too many organisations treat their customers as passive consumers. And yet they are never a homogenous bunch and some will be very innovative and entrepreneurial if only you know where, and how, to look. In fact on a current project we are working with a subset of a client’s customer research panel and discovered that about 1% of their customers described themselves as entrepreneurs who had products or services that might be of interest to the brand, much to our client’s surprise and delight.

In a nutshell the answer from our tables was to host a conversation with your customers both online and offline and have a clear process for finding ideas and turning them into investable propositions.


All in all it was an interesting day, with some good conversations. One minor gripe is that, given it is an innovation conference I really do think the FT could really do with embracing a more conversation based, rather than presentation based format, not to mention embrace social media which was largely absent apart from a lively minority who were tweeting away at #fti10.

As always, we’d be really interested in your own experiences of customer co-creation and indeed any other answers to the questions above. Is customer co-creation just a fad or are customers becoming a natural extention of your innovation team?


  1. I’d go further than that. How about customers, specifically the 1% that know the business intimately becoming a natural extension of your organisation?

    The coalface is in two places at the moment, with customers, and metaphorically also it’s what’s inside the business pushing product out to them. The bigger the gap is between those two, the more at arm’s length the evangelists are, the less accurate the organisation’s understanding of the user experience.

    That’s a strategic #fail because emotional experiences, I might say ‘visceral’ reactions to the brand, are muted without them.

    Technology is ushering in a time when manufacturing skills can be largely automated and social influencing skills will and the desire to participate are becoming the most highly prized. Shouldn’t both be at the heart of every organisation and brand?

    Thanks for opening up the subject with this stimulating post.

  2. Great response Annie thanks. Yes couldn’t agree with you more though the gap between where most organisations are now and where they need to be is of course typicall vast. The only thing that can’t be commodified and out-sourced in my view is the relationship itself. Regards, Roland

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