It’s Valentine’s Day, so shout it as loud as you can: “I love my customers!” Now, prove it by designing products, services, and experiences that actually meet their needs. How are you going to do that? By involving actual customers (as well as employees and partners) in the design process.

This collaborative activity, called co-creation, might ring a bell — two of my recent blog posts addressed what co-creation means and what the benefits are. Co-creation is a versatile and valuable methodology. And while it might seem effortless, it usually doesn’t happen on the fly — which is why Amelia Sizemore and I wrote our latest report, tackling the logistics behind planning a stress-free and productive co-creation workshop.

Newbies often assume that the workshop itself will be the most challenging part of a co-creation initiative, but most of the heavy lifting actually occurs before participants ever show up. Advanced preparation — and lots of it — ensures a smooth and productive workshop that feels like it runs itself. For example, you need to:

  • Hook participants with the right incentives. T. Rowe Price asked a lot of its participants — in addition to a full-day co-creation workshop, participants completed a 30-day diary study and a phone interview. In exchange, the company rewarded each person with an iPad.
  • Scout a location that gets people out of the office. Choose neutral off-site locations that put customers, employees, and partners on even footing and remove workplace distractions. Hotels often have facilities with ample wall space, configurable tables, and enough room to isolate small groups from others’ conversations.
  • Raid your kids’ backpacks for workshop supplies. Grab materials like construction paper, scissors, and glue sticks to encourage low-fidelity prototyping. During co-creation workshops, Kaiser Permanente directs small groups to follow a “$10 and 10 minutes” rule while creating their first round of prototypes.

Once you’ve got your logistical ducks in a row, the workshop has the potential for success. But when it’s co-creation time, remember that you’re dealing with actual people — not just checking off a step in the design process. Facilitators need to cultivate soft skills that will help the workshop flow smoothly and encourage fruitful conversations. For example, they need to:

  • Anticipate group dynamics. Co-creation workshops often include employees from different departments and levels, many of whom have never met. Plan ways to bridge the potential gulf between employees as well as between employees and customers. Name tags with no last names and no titles are a good start.
  • Help everyone get in the mood. Co-creation is fun stuff, so ditch the formal business attire. Design firm Doberman sometimes requests that participants remove their shoes before workshops or that they don headgear (like a tiara or baseball cap) to get out of an office mentality and into the mindset of the experience they’re co-creating.

Want to know more? Bring your Valentine to our webinar TODAY at 1:00 p.m. ET (18:00 GMT), where we’ll answer customer experience professionals’ most pressing questions about co-creation and detail best practices for rolling it out within your own organization.