The History of Customer Scenario Design

Co-Designed and Evolved with Customers

March 20, 2020

Over 25 years ago, in a small conference room in Boston, Patty Seybold and Ronni Marshak gathered with their lead customers to co-design an interactive technology conference where participants could learn by doing and share insights. Still thriving today, our Customer Scenario Mapping methodology (our approach to Customer Journey Mapping) is the cornerstone of our Customer Co-Design consulting practice, bringing together company stakeholders and their partners and end-customers where they can work hand-in-hand to map out the ideal ways to do business together.


There seems to be an increased buzz about customer mapping throughout the business world, and we’ve been getting a lot of new projects for our Customer Scenario Mapping (CSM) methodology and our Customer Co-Design philosophy. We write quite a bit about the details of a Co-Design engagement and a CSM session, but people are hungry for information about how this all started.

And that’s a story we love to tell because it is a stellar example of how we practice what we preach. Our methodology was actually co-designed with our lead customers about 25 years ago when we invited them to our offices to “map” out a new way of improving our customer-facing processes by sharing our experiences, our expertise, and our insights while working on real-life business challenges.

Here is the history of our venerable approach to Customer Co-Design and how we got to where we are today (which is merely a step on the path to where we will be in the future).


Many clients and prospective clients ask us about the research and academic underpinnings of the customer co-design techniques we use and teach.

For almost 25 years, the Patricia Seybold Group has been using Customer Scenario Design in our consulting work with clients. For the past 15 years, we have been teaching clients how to run their own customer co-design sessions.

How did we come up with our methodology for Customer Scenario® Mapping? Our customers co-designed it with us. The forerunner of the current methodology was a learn-by-doing public seminar format that was co-designed with our lead customers. Then we took the principles of that collaboratively-designed, but time-intensive, process and refined it into a technique that could be used in a half day (with some preparation), rather than over a three- or four-day period.

The original experience our customers wanted back in the late 80s, early 90s, was an interactive business/ technology conference in which they could learn by doing and share insights; not listen to talking heads. The outcome they wanted was to gain fresh insights and experience first-hand how to apply those insights in the real world. Over the years, our clients’ needs changed. By the late 1990s, they wanted help streamlining customer-impacting processes in their own organizations. Today, they want to be able to lead customer co-design sessions— to redesign their organizations from the outside in—from their customers’ point of view.

Engaging Customers in Co-Designing Stimulating, Not-to-Be-Missed Conferences

We led our first customer co-design session almost 25 years ago. We invited our top customers to work with us on redesigning our then-annual Seybold Executive Forum event. Although these conferences had been successful, they weren’t growing, and the bloom was off the rose. Customers all claimed to enjoy the content and to get a lot out of attending, but there was little excitement, no electricity in the air.

As we started planning the next year’s event, we realized we were no longer enjoying these conferences. We were becoming bored by them. Although the speakers were insightful and the topics were timely, there’s only so much input people can take. And, as we started debating what topics might be hot and what speakers might be available for the next year, it suddenly hit us: why don’t we ask the customers what they want? “But we do,” insisted our then marketing director. “We have the feedback forms from the last event, and we’re sending out surveys.”

“No,” we explained. “Let’s not ask them what content they want, let’s have them help design a brand new format for tackling their issues.” You see, we figured, if we were bored, they must be too. And we were eager to find a way to “learn by doing, rather than by listening.” Our hunch was that this was something our customers would really enjoy. But rather than just put our ideas out there and have the customers validate them, we wanted to pull ideas from the customers to create something brand new, exciting, and for which they would take ownership.

We knew if the Forum were designed from the customers’ point of view, they couldn’t help but love it and remain loyal, and vocal, fans.

Involving Lead Customers

We invited a dozen of our lead customers—the most insightful folks who represented the target customers for this event—to a one-day co-design session in our offices. They were delighted to come. They even paid their own way!

DESIGNING THE WORKSHOP “GAME.” We wanted to make the design experience productive, but fun, which was also what we hoped the resulting workshop would be. So we marched the team of lead customers into our conference room, invited them to snack on some fun munchies, and we rolled out a conference-table-sized blank game board (designed a bit on “The Game of Life” from Milton Bradley). We had indicated a start and finish game square, but everything else was blank. We gave our team colorful markers and, together, we designed how the game would be played out during the workshop.

Everyone agreed that the session should address real business processes in real companies and that the processes must be customer-facing and vital to satisfying customers’ needs...(more)



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