Customer Innovation Guide: Taking the Third Step

Nurturing Customer Communities: The Key Third Step to Outside Innovation

November 22, 2006

In our research for Outside Innovation, we identified a key insight—all the companies who were leading in customer innovation had thriving customer communities. This guide provides a self-assessment to help you determine what your next steps in nurturing your customer communities should be. This guide is a part of a series that will explore the five customer roles, five core competencies, and five steps needed to harness customer-led innovation.

Have You Taken the Third Step towards Customer-Led Innovation?

In my book, “Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-Design Your Company’s Future,” we specify the five steps to customer innovation:

  • Identify and Study Lead Customers
  • Provide Customers with Tools to Use to Reach Their Desired Outcomes
  • Nurture Customer Communities
  • Empower Customers to Strut Their Stuff
  • Open Up Your Products; Let Customers Engage in Peer Production

For each step, we provide context and a list of activities (methods/behaviors/programs) you should be implementing to reinvent your organizational culture around customer-led innovation. We also provide you with space to complete your self assessment: how well is your organization/division/department/group doing on fulfilling these requirements? We recommend that you identify those activities broken down into three categories (which mirror our Customer Scenario® Mapping methodology):

  • Things “We Can” Do--you already do this activity well.
  • Things “We Will” Do--you have already identified this activity as strategic to your organization, and you have a plan for implementation in place, complete with a budget and delivery date.
  • Things “We Should” Do--you aren’t currently committed to this activity, but you understand that you should investigate it and prioritize its value to your customers and to your organization.

Finally, we provide a place for you to make note of your next steps for each activity. We recommend that you include the name of a person who is to take responsibility for the next action, as well as a target deadline for completion of that action.

STEP 3: Nurture Customer Communities

Chances are your customers are already members of a number of communities, most of which do not revolve around your products or services. But it is important for you to become part of the customer communities that your customers are part of so that you know what they are talking about. Executives and employees at all levels of your organization should be hanging out with customers in these communities.

It’s also important to build and nurture your own communities, specifically for the purpose of “hiring” customers as consultants to help you shape your business strategy, brainstorm new solutions, co-design new products, and debug and test new offerings thoroughly. Look at the breakthrough ideas that came from the online communities of customer consultants from Hallmark (bulk birthday cards for classrooms) and Kraft (100 Calorie Snack Packs).

Remember that we’re not talking only about online communities. Punctuate a strong set of focused online communities with physical get-togethers. Use these face-to-face meetings as an opportunity to co-design customers’ ideal scenarios, and then validate your findings with the broader community online. Leverage your online customer communities to provide you with continuous feedback and to help you with ...


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