Research Outline

Customer Collaboration and Product Development


To develop case studies in which companies partnered with customers to generate customer feedback and drive product development. Case studies should reflect companies whose customers were treated as valued "insiders" in the process and provide details on specific program elements around the customer feedback process. This information will be used to develop an upcoming"customer listening" program for YouTube premium members.

Early Findings

Collaborative Innovation

  • Vision Critical, a research insights firm, defines co-creation as the "process where brands and customers work together to create better ideas, products, and services." In this Forbes article, co-creation was defined by New Business Strategies president, Christine Crandall, as "purposeful action of partnering with strategic customers, partners or employees to ideate, problem solve, improve performance, or create a new product, service or business."
  • Crowdsourcing can also be used as a collaborative technique to drive product development, and shares some similarities with co-creation. However, crowdsourcing involves generating information and ideas from a large group of people, while co-creation generally involves including a smaller, targeted group of individuals in the feedback process.
  • The co-creation process offers several customer benefits, including efficient and lower-cost innovation, "unique and personalized" customer experiences, and stronger customer relationships. Co-creation helps build trust and loyalty, with customers who helped to "build" an innovation more likely to want to buy it later.
  • Specific consumer benefits of user-innovation, which "democratizes" the product development process, may include the satisfaction associated with a completed product, potential royalties or contest prizes, "status" associated with their contribution, the possibility of working with "like-minded" individuals, and the ability to work with those in the brand community.


  • Xiaomi is considered by IBM to be a "model experience in client-cocreation."
  • Xiaomi leverages customer co-creation strategies throughout the customer journey, including "learning" (to facilitate future product development), buying (launching products with an emphasis on their engaged customers), support (co-creation in technical support), and loyalty (rewards to maintain ongoing customer support).
  • The cornerstone of the co-creation process is the use of online communities, social media, and crowdsourcing.
  • The company's global online community has 328 million monthly active users. Xiaomi notes that they "welcome users to participate in our product development and advancement. Listening to feedback from users and letting them take part in Xiaomi’s future have been at the core of our company from the beginning."
  • Specific input on features ("feature requests") and voting on features are two key elements of the product development process. Xiaomi notes that their developers reserve the right to make final decisions on products and features, though they will do their best to implement the most-desired features.
  • Separate threads are developed for specific features, with more recent examples including "automatically enable battery saver when battery reaches a certain level" and "separate volume slider."
  • The company creates polls for features in development (such as a recent "Optical versus Digital Zooming: Which do you Prefer?") and recruits pilot testers from its community to evaluate new products and features.
  • In addition to involving their customer base in ideation and development efforts, they also create engagement with community-focused activities, such as encouraging their community to upload their mobile photographs and the stories behind them, and soliciting design input for their "Mi and You. Better Together" T-shirt.
  • An article from the International Journal of Business and Economic Sciences Applied Research (IJBESAR) notes that Xiaomi "customers gain a sense of identity before purchasing, and, afterwards, they are willing to continue to help update software and make recommendations."


  • "LEGO Ideas" is an online community bringing together "passionate fans and creators" to "imagine, iterate, and evaluate" ideas for new LEGO kits.
  • The company is focused on involving their customers (and potential customers) throughout the customer journey, from ideation to development.
  • The LEGO ideas process involves soliciting proposals ("models, photos, and an awesome description"), generating community support (10,000 votes qualifies a proposal for review by LEGO), and potential recognition and royalties when the product is launched.
  • The LEGO idea forum has over 900,000 members, who have submitted 20,000 project concepts, with 19 of these being brought to market. Examples include the "Beatles Yellow Submarine" and Women of NASA."
  • The company has shortened their time-to-market for their innovations and created a community of "superfans" who are looking to engage with LEGO in their product development process.
  • Kevin Sveto, the consumer who initiated the "Yellow Submarine" idea, which achieved some level of fame beyond the launch, commented that, "I’m just an ordinary guy who came up with an idea and here I am, people wanting my autograph. It was a very positive and memorable experience."


  • Ikea offers a co-creation platform (registration required), which involves gathering feedback on ideas and prototypes under being considered by the company, as well as generating feedback on new product ideas from customers.
  • Feedback is solicited through surveys and polls, with consumers also encouraged to share photos to describe how items are and are not working in their homes.
  • The co-creation process has generated thousands of consumer ideas and the company may even offer cash rewards if the idea is implemented successfully. Test labs and prototype shops may be provided for fine-tuning of ideas.
  • IKEA feels the community has led to more dedicated, involved customers and an optimized innovation process.
  • The company has gone beyond co-creation to an "open innovation" platform, in which, in addition to customers, entrepreneurs and university students have become involved in their "crowdsourcing" efforts.


  • DHL leverages in-person workshops to generate feedback and engagement from core customers in their product development process.
  • DHL Innovation Centers in Germany and Singapore (and recently expanded into the United States) were developed to provide an opportunity for customers to brainstorm creative solutions and new initiatives with DHL employees.
  • The company notes that their innovation centers allow "customers as well as business and industry partners opportunities to meet, connect and exchange ideas with experts, partners, and peers."
  • These co-creation efforts have increased customer satisfaction to over 80%, generated stronger customer retention, and helped DHL shorten delivery times.
  • An innovation originating from these efforts is the Parcelcopter, which provided support for deliveries over challenging terrains.


  • Postbank, a German banking institution, offers Postbank Ideenlabor ("idea lab"), which provides customers the opportunity to collaborate on innovation projects on their platform.
  • The process begins with discussion about needs and ideas, followed by the development of solutions, and testing of prototypes. Regular, iterative, feedback loops are an important part of the process.
  • With over 12,000 members of the community, Postbank has generated over 8,000 suggestions. Approximately 50 of these projects are initiated annually.
  • Head and Strategic Lead of Ideeenlabor says of the effort to include customers in their product development process, "If you are willing to ask your customers, you absolutely have to make sure that their answers will be heard. Something has to happen when users clearly voice their opinions...Start with an idea, work on a concept together, and eventually come up with a minimum viable product. We want to take the participants with us on the whole journey."

Other Companies Leveraging Customer Feedback In Their Development Efforts

Summary of Early Findings Relevant to the Goals

  • In early research, we were able to profile 5 companies who have implemented platforms, processes, and events that have prioritized consumer engagement in the product development process.
  • Early research indicates that a number of companies have embraced customer feedback via co-creation and crowdsourcing initiatives and platforms, gaining stronger engagement and customer satisfaction due to the involvement of the customer throughout the product development process. Some companies, such as Xioami, prioritize customer engagement before, during and after their product launches.
  • Some common themes observed among companies who have embraced co-creation include developing an online community in which consumers can share and submit product ideas, leveraging polls and surveys on an ongoing basis to identify popular ideas and generate iterative feedback on ideas, providing monetary incentives (such as royalties if an idea is implemented or a contest prize), and involving consumers in the end-to-end process (from ideation through product launch).
  • Recommended next steps are based on information uncovered in early research.