How Collaborating With Customers Can Fuel Innovation

If you are a regular traveler by air, especially in and through Europe (or even if you don’t travel), it’s certain you are familiar with KLM.


If you are a regular traveler by air, especially in and through Europe (or even if you don’t travel), it’s certain you are familiar with KLM, one of the oldest airlines in the world. What many might not know is that KLM has been quite successful in driving innovation within its organization.

A few years back, KLM opened up a gate that allowed passengers to come up with new solutions around the airline’s offerings. This gate, known as ‘X-gate’, was a boarding gate for airline passengers in Schiphol Amsterdam. X-gate allowed passengers waiting for their flights to explore possible solutions aimed at improving the airline’s offerings. The goal of this initiative, which was to improve customers’ experiences, has so far garnered immense success, encouraging collaboration between the airline and its customers.

KLM’s initiative clearly shows that when companies collaborate with their customers, there is a huge opportunity for innovation to occur. Most times this provides incredibly viable solutions for the businesses, solutions that are also desired by the customers who happened to be co-creators themselves (read more about the impact here). Other examples include Unilever’s Open innovation platform, Co-create IKEA and Coca-Cola’s KOlab to name a few. With this great opportunity that exists in such a collaboration, how can your company leverage this? Here are a few ways:

1. By developing a user-friendly framework. This framework might be used internally by your company. An example of a framework could be your internal system or process for developing ideas, this could incorporate the use of popular processes like Design Thinking, Design Sprints or whichever is works best for your team. For the team at KLM they used a framework called the ‘KLM way’ having a flow from Data – Sherlock – Mickey Mouse and Lego, which are various phases which customers go through as they build on their idea.  

Image from Issuu

However, it is good to note that because customers might not be quite conversant with the framework (as used internally), it is important to simplify these processes enough to allow customers to use them easily without the need for expert assistance. To do this you could hire expert designers or get your internal team to walk on a way of breaking down the framework into bits customers can easily pick up or use as they build their ideas.

2. By setting the scope for what you’re asking customers to collaborate on. Because it is important that the customers complete the process of conceptualization, it is important that whatever they are building can easily be built on the spot, not needing to be taken through any complex process for development.

3. By setting up collaborative centres that afford you the opportunities to locate and engage the right audience to collaborate with. This encourages participation from customers and makes them more willing to help out, as they don’t have to go out of their way to share their ideas and opinions. As customers participate, ensure that all they need for co-creating alongside is available and if not, find a way to make those items (like cardboards, scissors, pens, papers, etc) available for their convenience.

4. By Incentivizing them. Considering the fact that you aren’t paying them for collaborating with your team, you can look out for little things you can do to motivate them. Could you share their stories and give them recognition on your blog or social media channels? Could you extend discounts to them? These are some suggestions to encourage customers to participate in your collaborative sessions.

5. By being open-minded, ready to learn and adapt to new things. It will be a shame if customers bring in great ideas with potential and they’re overlooked.

Having customers try to solve challenges they experience around your offerings will be a great way for your team to discover opportunities that appeal to your customers. This gives you an opportunity to improve your offering and in doing so improve customer experience and gain brand loyalty.

How Tech Companies Can Design Better Products for Market

Design Research is a user-focused method to gaining information of your customers, through human-centred design processes, to inform your product build. It seeks to discover your customers’ behaviour patterns, drivers and needs.


So, the story goes, a company releases a product, it makes a huge splash everywhere, social media, radio, Out-of-Home, communities offline as well as blogs and media sites online. People talk about how they’re interested and can’t wait to try it, there’s so much excitement in the air.

We’re all almost sure this is going to be the product that disrupts all products, I mean, after all the company that released it, is one of the top ones. Then one month goes into 6 months, and 6 months into 1 year, and you hardly almost hear about the product anymore. Rumours start spreading that the company isn’t going to renew their App Store fee when the current one expires. Then the product slowly is unheard of again, until of course someone in one meeting somewhere wants to use it as an example of what failure in the market looks like.

 I remember a similar situation happening not too long ago. I remember distinctly driving down a popular street in Victoria Island, Lagos one December period, the entire street was laden with banners promoting the new product that just launched, everyone I met talked about either how much they loved the product and their advertising and their branding and on and on.

But then less than a year later, public interest had died. The product was now being used as a ‘case study’ of what not to do, with product and digital teams everywhere nit-picking on certain features in the product, pointing out reasons why they failed.

So, what was the problem there? How do you confidently release a product into the market, knowing that customers actually need the solution? How do you launch a product knowing that worst-case scenario is you pivoting, because you’ve taken the necessary precautions to mitigate risk and truly, I mean truly understand what the market is needing?

Market Research will clearly tell you how big the size of the market is, and the locations that will adopt and spend money on your product. Market research is very helpful for any product team seeking to take the time and resources to develop and launch a product into the market. With focus groups, product test sessions and more, market research delivers enough information for teams to know what direction to take.

However, what market research doesn’t do is allow you truly understand and empathise with the people who are going to use your product. An in-depth understanding of your users is a key step in releasing a successful product to market. We’ve seen it with Airbnb, how they went door to door in New York talking to their customers in aims of understanding what was stifling their growth. Or with Duolingo, the world’s number 1 language learning app, who tests their product rigorously to be able to understand what users want and immediately adapt. The list goes on, if you see a company that excels in product design and customer engagement and experience, then you’ve seen a company that relentlessly seeks to understand customers using the methodology of Design Research.

How fit is your product for your customers? Does it hit a nerve with them? Is there something, however small, that’s stopping people from adopting your solution in the masses, and you don’t know about it? For Airbnb, at the start, it was just that the pictures of the rentals that were being posted on the site were bad, and so people were turned off or didn’t trust the platform. Just changing this seemingly ‘little’ thing made them double their profits in a one week.

A screenshot of Airbnb’s website

These are very important questions for product, design and ventures teams, knowing that if they could see what their customers see and experience what they experienced, creating solutions for them would take a whole new dimension. Someone said, ‘empathy is the bedrock of innovation’, that couldn’t be truer, I’ll add that empathy is also one of the drivers of competitiveness and product dominance in the market.

I vividly recall a design workshop we ran recently; the products team’s biggest problem was customers’ use (onboarding) of their app. With Design Research, no doubt they would get to the bottom of the issue quickly.

So, what is Design Research?

Design Research is a user-focused method of gaining information about your customers, through human-centred design processes, to inform your product build. It seeks to discover your customers’ behaviour patterns, drivers and needs. It studies users in their contexts, observing them and walking in their shoes, to get an understanding of them that informs the end solution. The one undisputed value of Design Research is to enable you uncover and discover information from customers to serve them better through delightful user experiences and products that satisfy their needs.

Design Research seeks to answer, “why would customers use this product?”, “How would they experience it?”, “What are potential obstacles they could face using it?” Answering these questions empowers product teams to build better solutions with great user experiences to boot.

How Design Research help’s tech teams deliver stellar experiences for their users

It’s no secret that one of the reasons why products fail is because they were never built for users. The entire tech world, today, is radically embracing the idea of User Research and User-centred Design, not just to provide solutions that meet users’ needs but that truly engage them and answer to a pain they experience. Design research emerges as a true means by which companies can deliver on customer expectations, innovate and positively impact the bottom line.

 Knowing this value, companies from NGOs to Banks have sought to unearth users’ latent needs, seek opportunities for growth, or solve a problem that exists to bring about a better solution to market. 

Testing Lo-fi prototypes with a potential user

Every company looking to stand out through stellar customer experiences and disruptive solutions must have an understanding of the customers so in-depth that it informs the product build and ensures product success, brand growth and positive impact to your bottom line.

Other benefits of Design Research:

  • It’s a proven method to greatly reduce the cost of releasing product failures into market
  • It’s the way to discover user needs
  • It helps you not only discover users’ latent needs; it helps you understand and deliver great experiences for them
  • Informs you with real facts about your users and their contexts, using Design Research, you even discover information such as their personality types, how they look and their reactions etc.

In this age of empowered customers, leveraging this methodology is one ammunition tech teams everywhere wouldn’t want to miss out on.

Tools You Need for More Productive Meetings

Meetings are very important for any business to exist, however, they could also be a major time killer, especially if there are no results to show for all that meeting time.


What was the longest meeting you’ve ever sat in? How productive would you say it was? No doubt, meetings are very important for any business to exist, however, they could also be a major time killer, especially if there are no results to show for all that meeting time.

As your team seeks to work more efficiently and deliver increasingly better results, there is a need to find ways to reduce time wasters and speed up productivity.

Recently our team carried out a workshop with the digital team of a Bank. We worked with them to show how they could leverage design methodologies to drive efficiency and push for more innovative solutions in their department.

 As we like our workshops to be more practical, we had them divide into 2 small groups of about 8 each, and then select in the area of products solution and processes, issues they wanted to tackle.  

 We introduced them to an effective process that helps teams tackle obstacles and move forward with feasible next steps from a meeting. 

We call the method, Mountains and Valleys or the Decision-making Tool.

The Mountains and Valleys Tool is a tool that can be used to address many of the challenges around a product or process (or anything else really) effectively, resulting in solutions that can be implemented quickly.

We’ve broken the process into simple steps so you and your team can use it to ensure your next meeting is productive.

First, decide on what you want your outcome to be… 

Seeing the team’s overall goals, we had the team focus on two areas, on their product and internal processes. Due to the large number of team members that were present, we divided the team into two groups, one group focused on product, the other on process. When that was done, we had the team decide on a specific challenge in the area they chose. For the process team, for instance, the focus area was easily onboarding new customers onto the digital platform.

Side note: Within each team, we identified the ‘deciders’ for each group. ‘Deciders’ are people designated to ultimately select what option or direction the team will move forward with. Now in a creative setting, having a superior or ‘Oga’ deciding which way a team should go is heavily frowned upon, reason being that for the best idea to win, the team has to be objective in their selection. However, in sessions like these, where the team has got to keep moving, a Decider is needed should the team reach a tie when voting on ideas or next steps. This is to ensure the team doesn’t get bogged down with arguments and are able to move on a way forward quickly.

Next find what helps the team, ‘move up the mountain’ (meaning what helps the team progress)

When the objective is agreed upon and noted, in this case it’s: easily onboarding new customers onto the digital platform, members of the team wrote down on post-its, the things that were currently working well with the status quo. Here, team members write down things they are doing that is pushing them, ‘up the mountain, or helping them achieve their ultimate goal – which, in this case, was to easily have new customers onboard and start using their app.

This step is important because it helps the team identify hidden motivators that encourages team productivity. This also helps other team members see what other members see as motivation.

With that done and all positive things written posted on the Mountainside of the tool, we moved to the next stage, the Valleys, or challenges stopping them from achieving.

Then note down the challenges

Having found things that what was pushing the team forward and up the ‘mountain’, we asked the team to write down things that were holding them back, things that were keeping them in the valley. The team wrote as many things as they could think of that were holding them back from reaching their ultimate goal. 

Next, the team voted to select the most pressing challenge they felt needed to be addressed.

And then we started Ideating…

After the team voted, the most voted challenge was then converted into a How Might We (HMW) statement.

For those who are new to the process of Design Thinking, a HMW statement helps to frame a problem into a question that helps teams to come up with a wide range of ideas.

How Might We statements are broad enough to have us imagine a wide variety of solutions, however they’re not too focused that they limit our ideas.

Essentially, they’re good for coming up with a large quantity of out-of-the-box ideas.

To put it more practically, let’s say a team is faced with the challenge of not getting enough new customers, possibly due to their service structure:

A narrow (and incorrect) HMW, would be –> “ How might we gain new customers using our digital platforms”

A broad (and incorrect) HMW, would be –> ” How might we gain new customers”

An appropriate HMW statement could be–> “How might we structure our services to attract new customers”.

Then, in answer to the How Might We (HMW) question, the team wrote down as many ideas as they could think of, within the given time, we gave them about 5 minutes.  

Now, vote on the winning ideas 

After all the ideas were gathered, we had the team vote on the winning solutions. The top 5 solutions were selected and placed against the effort-impact scale to help the team identify the solution that would have the most impact but would require a small amount of effort from the team when implemented.

After selecting the solution with the highest impact and lowest amount of effort i.e. the solution that will require the lowest amount of resources (time, money, people) yet deliver the best possible result. We then moved to the implementation stage.

At this stage, teams map out all the necessary details needed for execution using the implementation map.

This points the team to the next steps, identifying the why, what, who, and when of the solution to be implemented.

Typically, teams come out of the ideation phase, with a lot of great ideas but very few of them are ever accomplished or see the light of day.

This has left most teams with a graveyard of solutions with huge potential for growth, market disruption, profitability and more.

This is a major area that the Implementation tool and the entire decision-making exercise is built to tackle.

Download the Mountains and Valleys tool here.

 You can find some of our other tools and resources here. Also, if you’re needing assistance with improving your team’s work processes or developing more innovative solutions, contact us to find out more about our workshops.

Don’t forget to like, share and leave your comments. Thanks.

A Conversation with Robert Skrobe, Dallas Design Sprint

“If you’re going to approach a client with a solutions-first approach, you’re going to lose.”


You have had extensive experience in User-Centred Design, how would you describe a product or service that is centred around users?

They typically favour metrics like adoption rates, usage and time spent.

What do you think about incorporating User-Centred Design and analytics for business pitches?

I don’t think it’s a good idea for two reasons.  One, you’re coming into the pitch with some information about their audiences that may or may not be true.  If you’re citing existing paid or free research, chances are they have direct data on their users and customers that are fresher and more relevant.

Two, you have to understand what their problems are before pitching solutions.  If you’re going to approach a client with a solutions-first approach, you’re going to lose.

“If you’re going to approach a client with a solutions-first approach, you’re going to lose.”

How would you say companies can innovate around their services in ways that bring value to them as a business and also to their customers?

By watching the customer, seeing what they do and making products or services that bring them value.

In the area of using customer feedback, how would you say teams can balance the insights gotten from the customer in building their solution? (you know Steve Jobs once said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”)

It depends on where that team is positioned in the company and what purpose it’s serving.  If they’re in the product lifecycle, they have no shot of serving the customer, They serve the business and what their product managers and executive leaders ask of them.  If you’re on a team with direct access to users, customers and the people you serve (like sales, customer service and strategy), you can better position yourself to meet their needs.

What techniques are you currently using to drive innovative solutions within businesses and why?

Less process, faster execution. The murkier and more breakable the process, the happier my clients are these days. 

“Less process, faster execution.”

What industry can you say is yet to fully utilize the opportunities available in the design process and how can they go about leveraging on the opportunities?

Oil and gas.  I learned today that they are historically slow to adopt better and more efficient process, and their time is almost up.  I expect they’ll have to feel the pain before they move.

What #innovationmoment have you experienced in your career so far? (We define an #innovationmoment as something you’ve been a part of or have witnessed that has been incredibly life-changing and impactful to others) Can you share it?

That “User Experience”, as a term, is meaningless when the people that work in that discipline a) don’t have regular, direct access to the user and b) don’t influence their experiences at all.  UX is basically mass conceptualism at scale without any relevance to market impact in most businesses.


“That “User Experience”, as a term, is meaningless when the people that work in that discipline a) don’t have regular, direct access to the user and b) don’t influence their experiences at all. ”