Setting Expectations for Customer Co-Design and Other Customer-Facing Engagements

The New CSM Guidebook: Part 4: Setting Expectations

June 14, 2012

No matter how well prepared you are for your co-design, CAB, or other customer-facing events, you won’t be completely successful if the expectations of participants haven’t been clearly set. Here are tips for setting the expectations of customers, partners, and internal stakeholders regarding the goals, the potential benefits, the logistics, and the next steps.


In any customer customer-facing initiative, a big part of being an effective facilitator is setting the expectations of all participants: customers, partners, and internal stakeholders. Each constituency’s expectations needs to be set independently of the other groups For example, stakeholders need to be reassured that you will be making no promises to customers that your organization will act on all the ideas that emerge. For partners, you need to spell out the expectation that different, perhaps competing partners can collaborate to suggest process improvements that will better serve their mutual end-customers. And customers need to understand what they’ll gain (insights from their peers) and what is expected of them: honesty, creativity, and brainstorming!

We recommend making sure you address each audience’s expectations in the following areas:

• Communicating the goals of the initiative

• Communicating the anticipated benefits

• Describing the session

• Communicating the agenda and logistics

• Laying out the next steps


No matter how well prepared you are for your co-design, CAB, or other customer-facing event, you won’t be completely successful if the expectations of participants haven’t been clearly set. Imagine bringing all your high-value customers together, but not clearly telling them why you have gathered them together. Some customers might assume they are going to be wined and dined and treated to other executive retreat entertainment. Some might think that they are going to see a demo of your next-generation offering. Some might assume that their company is the only one invited to give feedback on future plans and therefore would not expect any competitors to be in the room.

All of these assumptions on the customers’ parts are valid. You might be running an event just for that purpose. But the customers need to know.

Similarly, your internal participants, your stakeholders, need to know what to expect. And any partners or other third parties that you invite need to know how they fit into the engagement and what they are expected to do—or not do.

Of course, not setting any expectations is very unlikely. We have never experienced a customer-facing session where the purpose and tone of the engagement were a complete surprise. But there are many levels of expectations to set, and there are subtleties in preparing participants for the event and beyond.

In any customer co-design initiative, a big part of being an effective facilitator is setting those expectations.


Communicate Your Goals to Colleagues

In a co-design and Customer Scenario® Mapping (CSM) situation, as well as in a CAB environment, where you invite your lead customers to help you design the future of your business and product strategies, a lot of stakeholders will question whether doing this type of thing with external customers is a good idea. “Won’t we be promising things to our customers that we might not be able to deliver? What if they want things that aren’t in our plans? What about all the work we’ve already done?”

You need to spend time with internal stakeholders to get them on board and to reassure them that you won’t be promising customers that they will get anything they want. Emphasize that you are looking to get guidance and prioritization of what customers really want from the company in the course of doing business. And that you will clearly set the customers’ expectations on this issue.

Clearly communicate your goals for the initiative, which could include things like:

• Gather customer requirements and/or validate customer requirements for the next-generation of products or services

• Prioritize internal development initiatives based on customer needs and priorities

• Understand customers’ key business processes related to doing business with you so that you can make it easier for customers to do business with you by streamlining customer-facing processes

• Create lasting relationships with key customers, and among key customers, to improve customer retention

Communicate Your Goals to Customers

Customers want to understand the goals of their interactions with you. Even in B2C co-design events, where the consumers are often paid for their participation, you want to invite customers that have an interest beyond the honorarium and who are intrigued by the idea of helping you create your future as it relates to them. Be sure to explain to them your goals in terms that demonstrate your organization’s commitment to help them achieve their goals! For example, explain that you are meeting with this group of customers—either B2B and B2C—in order to:

• Identify key issues that customers are facing and brainstorm mutually beneficial solutions

• Gather or validate your requirements for our offerings

• Get your reaction to our strategy direction going forward to ensure it meets your needs

• Prioritize your business needs to influence our future product design

• Understand the biggest challenges your company faces in the next five years

• Identify any frustrations you experience when working with us

Customers need to know that they are very important to the process, and that their priorities and issues will guide the company’s future roadmap. But they also need to be told that this does not mean that the company is committed to act upon all the new ideas that will be identified. Your message to customers is that the co-design session or similar session is just the first stage of a long-term plan to align priorities between customers and the company.

MAKE NO PROMISES! Above all, when communicating the session goals to customers, make no promises, and make sure that the session sponsor and participating executives make no promises! In one scenario session we ran, the president of the company, who had declined to participate in any planning activities, blithely told the customers that all of their wish list items would be realized by the next product release. It took a lot of back peddling on the part of the sponsor and facilitators to clarify that all their wish list items would be given great consideration and would help set the priorities for the product release schedule over the next few years.

We have yet to find a group of customers that didn’t understand that this was a way of gathering requirements and bonding with customers, and not a way to generate a checklist of features ...

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