On February 14, Amelia Sizemore and I delivered a Webinar about customer experience co-creation. We received so many questions that we couldn’t answer them all during the call, so I’m answering them (in brief) here:

How is co-creation different from human-centered design?

Co-creation is a process of face-to-face active collaboration with your company’s employees, partners, and customers. It’s not an explicit step in a human-centered design process – it’s a methodology that can be applied to any stage in that process.

How does co-creation fit with journey mapping?

Co-creation can help you explore and address misperceptions in your current customer journey maps. For example, you might plot out the customer’s journey as you perceive it, and then bring customers into a co-creation workshop to poke holes in it, point out inaccuracies, and tell you about steps you’re missing.

Once you’ve had customers define what’s really happening today, you can involve them in co-creating the ideal customer journey for tomorrow.

During the co-creation process, is there room for negotiation? What if customers want an experience that just isn't possible from a business perspective?

The term “co-creation” might sound like this activity is focused on defining polished solutions. However, its primary purpose is actually to unearth deeper insights.

For example, you might hear your customers say, “We want a completely new website.” In the back of your head, you might be thinking, “No way!” – but you’re not going to say that to your customers. Instead, use the opportunity to figure out what content and functionality they’re looking for on the website, why they need it, how’d they use it, and why they’re not getting it somewhere else today.

How long do typical co-creation sessions last?

We often see companies bring in customers from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shorter than that, and you won’t get enough time to dig deep into customers’ issues. Longer than that, and everyone will be wiped out.

Sometimes workshops span two days. In this scenario, the first day typically centers on discussions with your customers, and the second is an internal debrief and planning session.

What is a good ratio of internal participants relative to customers?

Ideally, the employee-to-customer ratio shouldn’t exceed 1:1 – otherwise, customers tend to feel outnumbered and overwhelmed. Workshops commonly involve several small groups that include two to four customers, a facilitator, a scribe (to ensure the day’s insights are captured), and one other business content expert.

Do organizations pay or incentivize customers to participate? What about in a B2B context?

Absolutely! When customers spend an entire day to help improve your organization, they should get something to show for it. In our report Planning A Co-Creation Workshop? Sweat The Details, we talk about how it’s important to match the incentive to the participants and to the effort required – rewards ranging from gift cards all the way up to iPads are common in B2C workshops.

Incentives are important in the B2B world, as well. Bank of Montreal knew cash wouldn’t be appropriate for top executives at its corporate finance clients, so instead thanked each participant with a well-chosen bottle of wine.

Some companies are legally prohibited from providing incentives like these to customers. If you fall into this category, my bet is that you’ll still have no problem recruiting willing participants.

Do you have tips for picking a facilitator? Should they have a certain position within the organization? Do they need to be formally trained?

Small group facilitators can come from any part of the organization. Look for people who are good conversationalists, tend to ask a lot questions, and have a knack for herding cats – those will be their primary responsibilities. Also, be sure to weed out anyone who is too attached to any particular solution – you don’t want the facilitator to steer customers down a particular path or get defensive about what they hear. Once you find your facilitators, run them through training a few days before the workshop to ensure they’re familiar with activities.

In addition to small group facilitators, you need one master facilitator who’s watching out over the entire group, keeping everyone on track, and making adjustments to the schedule as needed. Pick someone who’s well organized and can energize the group.

Are the customer insights you discover during co-creation as valid/reliable as you would discover via a traditional focus group?

I’d argue that co-creation insights are actually more valid/reliable than what you’d get from a focus group.

Focus groups typically take place in an artificial environment with people watching from the other side of a one-way mirror. The main activity is talking, and questions center around what participants think they’d do or want in certain situations. The problem is that people are typically bad at imagining their behavior in novel situation – but they’ll make up some response to please you anyway.

In contrast, co-creation sessions are face-to-face conversations, so internal participants can ask follow-up questions or present ideas and solutions on the spot for immediate feedback. In addition to talking, participants in co-creation sessions typically make low-fidelity prototypes with tools like paper, markers, sticky notes, stickers, and other craft supplies. This gives participants a novel tactile language for expressing their needs when words aren’t sufficient.

For more info and alternatives to focus groups, check out our online community discussion: Do you use focus groups for CX?

Can co-creation work in the professional services industry, where each client project is unique?

Even if the projects themselves vary, pieces of each client’s journey will have some similarities. For examples, you could put controllers from multiple companies together in one group to discuss your billing process and procurement people in another group to discuss project scoping.

If your clients aren’t willing to share openly with other companies or you want to focus on the parts of the engagement that are unique to each client, your small groups could be composed of people from multiple roles within one company.

This seems very similar to holding joint application design (JAD) sessions with a business unit and IT resources. Can this concept but leveraged for those types of sessions? If so, what would you suggest to create a successful outcome?

Co-creation can be used in a variety of contexts to solve almost any open-ended business problem – and it’s also effective when only employees are involved. To integrate co-creation into your JAD sessions, I’d suggest bringing a variety of materials (not just sticky notes and markers) to encourage participants to amp up their models and diagrams. Also, follow one of the hallmarks of human-centered design by making sure you spend adequate time understanding the problem space – so often, we jump right into creating solutions without fully understanding the true nature of what’s wrong in the first place.

If you’ve still got questions, you’re in luck! We’ve recently published two reports that can help: Executive Q&A: Customer Experience Co-Creation and Planning A Co-Creation Workshop? Sweat The Details. You should also feel free to post any additional questions here.