Despite professed customer centricity, many firms don’t think to involve customers, employees, or key partners in the experience design process. That’s unfortunate, because this activity — called co-creation — can help companies understand what types of interactions will best meet people’s needs and then figure out how to implement those interactions the right way.

Co-creation might sound familiar. Some people use the term to refer to Facebook ideation contents or crowdsourcing websites like But in the experience design world, co-creation isn’t about soliciting hundreds or thousands of ideas through an online community. It’s the process of face-to-face active collaboration for the improvement and/or innovation of mutually beneficial products, services, or experiences. During co-creation workshops, teams focus on eliciting deep insights from participants — and translating those insights into tangible prototypes that can be evaluated in real time.

Co-creation is an extremely versatile tool, one that can inform the design of discrete touchpoints, complex customer journeys, emotionally resonant experiences, and just about anything else you can think of — even the employee experience. But pulling off an effective co-creation session requires extensive planning, preparation, and willingness to let a few customers behind the scenes.

So what’s the payoff? In our recent report, Amelia Sizemore and I outline several of the benefits co-creation provides, including:

  • Deep insights about people’s true needs and wants — from the source. Co-creation sessions uncover insights that won’t come from surveys, focus groups, or even in-depth interviews. When T. Rowe Price’s individual investment business used co-creation to redesign its client onboarding experience, it discovered that many new clients didn’t consider themselves new at all! They’d opened individual retirement accounts through a rollover from a T. Rowe Price retirement plan and didn’t see any distinction between business units. Co-creation exercises revealed that these clients viewed their account opening as an expansion of their relationshi, and expected recognition of their tenure in T. Rowe communications.
  • An efficient way to get to solutions that really work. Too often, firms gamble that their multiyear multimillion-dollar development projects will meet customers’ needs. Co-creation mitigates that risk — fast. That’s because it can identify which elements of a product, service, or experience provide value and generate ideas for how to fix the ones that don’t — all within the confines of a single workshop.
  • A catalyst for organizational change. As Virgin Media’s head of customer experience design Paul Morris explains, “People pay more attention to the output when you’ve taken them on the design journey and they feel involved. The solution holds more water than if I make up the design myself.”

Want to reap the benefits of co-creation, but not quite ready to venture off on your own? Enlist the help of an outside firm or service design agency that can help recruit, coordinate the logistics, and even facilitate the session. But don’t lean too heavily on outside partners — they should act as coaches who train you, not consultants who do the work for you. Your end goal is to help your company develop in-house co-creation planning and facilitation skills. And once you master them, you can leverage co-creation to improve countless aspects of your customer experience, focus business process improvements where they matter most, and answer many other open-ended business questions.

Have you used co-creation at your company? If so, I’d love to hear!

To learn more about co-creation and how to apply it within your own organization, take a break from your Valentine’s Day festivities and join our webinar on February 14th at 1:00 p.m. ET (18:00 GMT). And stay tuned for our report detailing best practices for planning a co-creation session, due out in just a few weeks.