How to Co-Create with the Customer

It wasn’t so long ago that I heard a C-suite executive say that working with staff and the customer to develop strategy was equal to communism.

Ah! The good old days of single-minded hierarchy!

Happily, as we seek to flatten the organization it’s even become desirable, among some circles, to talk about co-creation of strategy – particularly products and services – with customers, not just staff and partners. It’s a valuable tool to clarify what the customer wants and align the organization’s various functions around that.

After deciding to open up dialogue with the customer, there are some interesting opportunities to use a Solution Focus mindset, particularly if we use the roundtable / kitchen table approach. This approach works equally well with the traditional consumer, or the B2B buyer.

Having talked about 4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits, here’s a few thoughts on what to do when you engage with the customer and your staff together in the room.

So, be brave and bring a group of customers together with your staff to have a dialogue beyond the data you already know. It’s not a focus group with 10 questions that must be answered. We are co-creating around the customer’s needs; not the Marketing, Sales or Operational team’s performance measures. We are looking for both the functional and the emotional aspects of their needs relative to our products and services.

We ask questions in the context of where the customer group is, not where we want to direct them. We also encourage them to disagree among themselves.

The customer’s needs are often far more complex than their supplier (us) can know.

We want to know where the customer has both opportunities to become more satisfied/efficient in their own realm, but also where any pain points in their own process/usage cause them difficulty (so that we don’t inadvertently add to the pain).

The client’s main priority with suppliers is often to be listened to, then sold a service. We show how we can listen.    

We also co-create with the client to find out where we fit in their value chain. We are mostly interested in what works. When something doesn’t work we ask, ‘What could be better?’ ‘Suppose that’s no longer an issue, what will be happening?’ ‘How do you see that being useful to you?’

Make sure your customers also engage in a dialogue with staff.

Once the clients depart, the staff team can discuss and share insights, decide which of the client’s priorities stood out for them, consider what small actions they may be taking to move forward, plus discuss what they plan to share with their colleagues back at the office.

Solution Focused dialogue via disagreement at the ‘Kitchen Table’

How do you make sense of negative dialogue during strategic planning?

Changing the dialogue at the Kitchen Table

During a strategic planning project the client agreed to roundtable dialogue sessions. The organization was successful, but elements of its old culture made change difficult. We decided on three groups of roundtables: the customers, distributors and staff. In all three areas the client was worried that there would be disagreement and negativity. Hence, the use of ‘Kitchen table’ dialogue to overcome the negative perceptions.

My colleague Coert Visser kindly a blog that examines this interesting case where the organization had thought there was disagreement and resistance to change, and instead they created purposeful dialogue and progress.

Click here to view case

How do you handle negative dialogue in your organization?

More on ‘Kitchen table’ dialogue