3 Cornerstones of Leveraging Customer Collaboration

by Brenda Christensen on Nov 18, 2013

collaboration economyCollaboration is the buzzword of the decade, but most companies are still screwing it up—especially when it comes to working with customers.

Sure, they claim to collaborate with customers, but all they’re (usually) doing is instructing their social team to handle customer service issues as they arise or creating an online community forum that rivals the chaos of the wild west.

What they aren’t doing is fostering the real kind of collaboration that creates better products, builds brand champions and ultimately boosts bottom line revenue.

These organizations don’t have feedback loops, they aren’t actively listening and they certainly aren’t empowering their customers to become co-creators. They ARE missing out on gigantic opportunities to make customers happier and build better brands.

So for those organizations that haven’t quite got it figured out yet, here are the three “Makes” for making customer collaboration work better:

1. Make it open.

For decades, LEGO was a closed organization, even going so far as to be on the record as saying, “We don’t accept unsolicited ideas.”

But that all changed in 2004 when Jørgen Vig Knudstorp was appointed CEO. At a 2005 user convention, he declared to the attendees, “We think innovation will come from a dialogue with the community.” A new era of customer collaboration and innovation was ushered in.

In 1999, LEGO had 11 user groups. By 2012, that number had swelled to 150 groups dedicated to the LEGO brand.

lego user group

From 2004 to today, LEGO has seen some of the greatest innovations of their product start with these user groups. Fans of the brightly-colored building blocks even helped inspire a wholly new and popular product line for adults: the Architecture series, featuring models of famous buildings, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater Residence.

In addition to simply being open to new ideas from outside the organization, good customer collaboration should encourage real criticism and actively seek out areas of improvement. If a customer is tweeting about a bad experience, it’s already too late.

One of the most thrilling and helpful questions a brand can ever pose to their customers is:

“I love <brand>, but the one thing I would change is…”

This draws out the fatal flaws that often go unnoticed until it’s too late. And chances are, if one of your superfans offers up a piece of criticism, your casual or new customers have already noticed the problem as well—and are more likely to just leave for a competitor than tell you about it.

By acting on the responses from this simple question you not only instill a greater loyalty in your fans, you can potentially save yourself the headache customer turnover down the road

2. Make them partners.

Everyone wants to be a part of the band. One band let everyone join.

When launching their 2011 album, The Future is Medieval, the Kaiser Chiefs turned to customer collaboration and transformed their customers into partners.

First, the band provided fans the chance to create their own Kaiser Chief album. Visitors to their site could download 10 songs of their choice (out of 20 available options) and then design their own cover. And that’s when things got brilliant.

kaiser chiefs collaboration site

Collaborators could then share their personalized version of the album on a customizable website, along with banner ads and posters to promote “their” album. Even better, fans made £1 commission on every album they sold.

By involving customers in the process of creating and promoting their product, the Kaiser Chiefs had effectively turned their customers into partners of their brand. Fans had a vested interest in making the album a success.

The results speak for themselves: over 100,000 unique visits in the first 24 hours and an increase of 50,000 followers on Twitter.

Obviously not every organization can offer this level of partnership. But every brand can offer their customers two things. First, a spot at the table to share their thoughts, and second, a reward for participating and collaborating—even if it’s simply public recognition for their part in the process.

These two simple acts not only create lifetime fans, they also encourage collaboration from additional customers—and keep the fresh ideas rolling in.

3. Make a space.

Remember the customer suggestion box?

In days gone by, that 12” x 12” box was the only “space” businesses made for customer “collaboration.” The only chance you had to collect customer feedback was either at point-of-sale or by flying customers in for focus groups. And there was almost never a way to get an effective dialogue going.

People are dying to tell you what they think about your brand—good and bad. You just have to give them a space to do it in.

Unfortunately, while tweets and posts are a great way to get quick feedback, they don’t offer the capability of having rich and deeply meaningful conversations with customers.

About six years ago, Starbucks was facing a problem. Customers felt as if the coffee retail giant wasn’t responding to their feedback. Now, it’s highly likely probable that two things were happening: feedback wasn’t reaching decision makers and there was no real way for Starbucks to show they were acting on customer suggestions.

So Starbucks created a space for deeper feedback and collaboration. Now in its fifth year, MyStarbucksIdea.com is a place for customers to share and discuss ideas, vote for their favorites and interact with Starbucks employees.

my starbucks idea collaboration

To date, customers have submitted more than 150,000 ideas to MyStarbucksIdea.com and nearly 300 of them have come to life—including everyone’s favorite, cake pops. Some other notable ideas to come out of the site include free wi-fi, splash sticks (which have saved my life more times than I can count) and happy hour.


Better customer collaboration is within reach.

While your organization may not be able to build an entire site devoted to customer collaboration, there are tools designed specifically to facilitate collaboration between customers and employees.

These collaboration tools provide a workroom where you can take customer collaboration to the next level—ensuring fresh ideas, better products and happier customers.

Post Author

With over 25 years of high tech corporate communications and public relations experience, Brenda has successfully created and managed global messaging campaigns for such prestigious companies as Contatta, Nimble, Servoy, Secure Computing, Panda Software, Maximizer Software, GoldMine Software, NEC, DTK...