Building foundations: co-creating with customers

An increasing number of essential services are shifting or achieving more online (or through the use of technology). Stay relevant, engaging and ahead of the curve by evolving your brand *with customers*.
6 minute read
By Liz Thomas

Consumers, and especially prosumers, have high expectations from brands to provide essential products & services that work as good if not better than in ‘real life’ as well as go the extra mile to support, inform and reassure on things that are important to them. As an example, our research shows that

“62% of prosumers anticipate that telemedicine/ online visits with doctors & other healthcare professionals will become more routine and 58% anticipate that more schools will offer online classes.” 

To meet these expectations, brands need to be agile and responsive to shifting consumer behaviours, needs and opinions and, whether it’s going through a big re-invention or day-to-day management, it pays to pay attention.

Change should be fuelled by an area of opportunity, or essentially, a need. In order to truly identify those needs, you need to engage with customers at some point of design & development; either right at the beginning or once you have something to show them. Different projects will require a different approach depending on the context, strategy and the people involved. Ideally each one will have a unique system whereby feedback can be collected, analysed and acted on regularly and efficiently. You can do so by starting and/or crafting with your users.

Starting With The User

Be brave and empower your customer base to share diverse interpretations and perspectives and let this influence decision making from the perspective of the customer, not the just the business. Customers often have great ideas and can shine a light on what is interesting to them, either within the space that the brand occupies or perhaps could occupy. Get those earlier in the process so that you can produce what users want and potentially inform & define new markets to grow into.

How can we co-create and initiate with customers?

1) Know your audience and make sure you are talking to the right people.

2) Involve them when creating the customer journey, let them tell you the experience they want from the beginning. You can refine, validate and figure out how later.


We have been working with Liberty Specialty Markets to re-imagine how their digital platforms can better serve their business and the people they work with, align with a more global and centralised approach and prepare for a strategic move where digital will be integral to their marketing and sales operations. Over a three-month discovery phase, we collected insights from over 18 user interviews with brokers, job seekers and internal stakeholders to craft four in depth customer journeys. This enabled us to understand the current pain-points and goals of their users and to move to the next phase of design and development informed, aware of what the service needed to achieve for the main audiences, adapting to any country nuances and driving customer choice across multiple product offerings - specialty insurance, commercial insurance and reinsurance.

3) Ask for ideas!


Lego famously did this and added vote up and down functionality for new product ideas from consumers in a specially designed forum, resulting in launching some of the most unique LEGO sets ever produced.

Crafting With The User

To counter this, Steve Jobs famously said “People don't know what they want until you show it to them. I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” He also said:

“And one of the things I’ve always found is that — you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”

Steve Jobs, Apple.

What he is eluding to is an approach that does rely on customer engagement and co-creation but at a later stage. It banks on getting something out there first, and then using customer feedback to refine it, rather than by starting by asking customers what they might want.

How can we, over time, respond and adapt to shifting needs or create a deeper awareness of your user?

1) Follow up directly on suggestions in internal and external forums and reviews, especially if it is attached to a complaint, this is gold dust! Let people know you have listened and taken it on board too. It’s an opportunity too great to miss. There are also many software companies that offer larger scale AI analysis on this type of data - such as sentiment, intent, satisfaction, aspect or attribute analysis, as well as brand health analysis which can be used to guide business & CX decisions.


Apple do this well; they continuously craft and improve products using customer feedback in a way that is easy to gather and easy for customers to engage with. They use a quick rating system (called a Net Promoter System) on products with questions like “How likely are you to recommend this business to a friend or colleague?”. This allows the business to quickly see which products are not performing and can highlight which areas may need further research and analysis to get to the bottom of ‘why’.

2) Create a simple platform to receive continuous or one-off ideas and feedback. It could be as simple as a temporary survey to gather information for further R&D or product development.


We used a quick two-week survey when working with Sainsburys on their recipe's platform at the beginning of our research process, to figure out where to focus, and who to talk to during our more in-depth interviews. This way insights feed into each other which ensures we made the most of the time and recourses we have to hand by focusing our research and design efforts in the most meaningful areas for the customer. Thereby highlighting change areas that will bring the most interaction value for both the customer and the business moving forward.

3) Utilise big data where possible, co-create within your teams to draw insight & direction out from numbers.


While collaborating with Maersk we used data insights as well as predictive analysis to drive the transformation of the customer experience, deliver organisational benefits as well as significant business returns. Maersk has a unique and varied customer base from small owner-operator businesses through to the world’s largest multi-national corporations, which means that their audiences needs and expectations for the brand experience are very different and at any given time there are hundreds of topics that Maersk could talk to its customers about. Determining the most relevant conversation to have ‘right now’, via the most appropriate channel, was made possible through a design & data management system called Real Time Interaction Management (RTIM). Today, each customer and contact receive unique and deeply personalised ‘journey of one’ experience which is lightyears ahead of traditional multi-channel models and dramatically improves the interaction value for both customer and business at each touch point. We are proud to be leading the way on such an ambitious and successful programme.

Using Customers To Add Value Throughout

In summary, it is more important than ever for brands to focus on their CX to create experiences that bring value to both the customer and the business. Starting with the customer will enable to you discover what people want, and potentially inform or help to define new markets to grow into. By crafting with the customer, brands can respond and adapt to shifting and diverse needs. Use bigger data to inform and manage more complex environments, but don’t forget to actually talk to people, numbers will never tell you why people behave & think in such interesting and unique ways, and how a brand experience can respond to that.

Liz Thomas
UX Researcher and Designer, ekino.
Liz is a UX Researcher and Designer at ekino London. Where she enjoys finding and turning insights into strategic design opportunities, making connections that inspire new thinking and collaborating with teammates to create innovative products, services, interactions and experiences. Discovering new ways to provide value and bring to life intuitive and unified experiences for companies and their customers.