Turning customers into partners

8th Apr 2016

The relationship between a company and its customers, and the idea of what constituted a good customer experience, used to be simple. You produced a product or provided a service. If people liked it, they bought more and told their friends about you. If people didn’t like it, they complained to the customer service department and also told their friends about you.

Later, companies began working with market research experts to find out beforehand what products and services people would buy. Now, a small number of cutting-edge companies have adopted a new strategy that promises to lift them to an entirely new level – and provide a good customer experience at the same time.

What is co-creation?

Co-creation is all about involving customers in the creative aspects of a company’s work, whether by seeking their input at the product creation or innovation stage, or by facilitating the exchange of ideas and advice among customers. Hasbro, Lego, Starbucks and Dell have all invited their customers to engage in the development of their products in some way.

Technology has made it possible for a company to access ideas from people who are not on its payroll, and cultural shifts have made them more willing to offer their input. Companies can gain insight more rapidly than through traditional market research, they can gain brand advocacy more widely than from traditional marketing, and they can achieve customer satisfaction more profoundly than from traditional customer service.

The potential of co-creation is significant, but it is not without pitfalls. Here are three examples of brands that have got it right:

Heineken’s Ideas Brewery

Launched in 2012, the Ideas Brewery is active in 23 countries worldwide, and is aimed at students, people interested in food and hospitality, and those with an interest in sustainability. It has run competitions on topics including producing sustainable packaging, improving the draft beer experience, and reaching the over-60s. Each generates around 150 new ideas and the finalists are invited to Amsterdam to develop their ideas further, with the three best sharing a prize of $10,000. Although these have yet to make it to market, some ideas are in advanced testing. 

Corporate citizenship at Rabobank 

Together with hundreds of 16- to 25-year-olds, Dutch bank Rabobank co-created the World Food Game. It has a Facebook page with nearly 600 followers and around 20 highly active users looking for opportunities to further develop the game and discuss possible solutions to the world’s food problem in general. 

Customer satisfaction at Giffgaff 

Giffgaff, a SIM-only, pay-as-you-go mobile network, keeps costs low by encouraging its customers to help grow and run the business through the ‘Giffgaff community’ where they can discuss everything from sales to customer service and marketing. It rewards members for their contributions through points redeemable for money or free airtime.

In years to come, as organisations set formalise co-creation processes and consumers become ever more willing to engage with companies in this way, we can expect to see the trend towards co-creation develop further.

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