Co-creation lets your customers help you design your Product.

(and in “Product” I include not only literally hardware products, but also Software and Service too – they are all Products with a capital P!

We consciously adopted co-creation as an approach at AlertMe from the very early days, recognising that we were in an early market where no-one knew the rules, and that it wouldn’t be possible to design a complex end-to-end platform and service right-first-time.

So rather than spend years in an ivory tower, imagining what the world might want, building it and then finding that what it wasn’t what the market wanted after all, we intentionally built the most minimal end-to-end service that we could conceive and got it to market as soon as humanly possible.

From vision to reality – as quickly as possible

Our vision was a Connected Home platform and service on which would run applications. We chose Home Monitoring as the first application simply because it was an existing market segment poorly served by the likes of ADT and ripe we thought for disintermediation.

We knew we wanted to be a mass-market player, but we weren’t sure whether we could build a business direct-to-consumer (b2c) from the ground up, like Apple did in its early days, or whether we would have to use channel partners in order to give us volume. So we tried both avenues simultaneously, and in retrospect that was by luck exactly the right strategy. Our b2c customer base has grown organically and while it hasn’t reached the “one in every home” scale yet, it has been simply invaluable in proving both the technology and the proposition. To us, to our customers and also importantly to the channel partners who are now giving us scale. If we had gone only for channel partners initially, I believe we would have been stalled forever in trials, trying to prove that the technology worked in real people’s homes, and that the proposition was one that had value to people and that they would pay for.

So less than 2 years after founding the company, after an intense period of team-building and platform-building, we launched our Home Monitoring offering to market. It was rough in many ways, and lacking many features, but we then very rapidly iterated our offering to fix the bugs and add the missing features. Some of this was relatively obvious evolutionary improvement, but some of it was big leaps (such as launching Home Energy Management as our second application). And all of this was driven by our b2c customers – listening to what they wanted.

To do this, our customer service team was one obvious feedback channel, but we also pro-actively solicited feedback from our customers with regular surveys. We offered some nominal prize, but the real satisfaction of our early customers was a chance to tell us what they thought of us (positive and negative!) driven by a genuine desire to help us get better. Arguably self-motivated, but clearly beneficial to the community in any case.

A critical requirement for making a success of co-creation is fast turnaround. If you’re going to ask customers what they want, then you’d better give it to them before they get tired waiting – and while their insights are still valid in the market. This is of course easier with the smaller changes, and it is particularly well-suited to internet service delivery, since everything, even the code inside end-devices, can be updated on the fly with new features and bug-fixes, thus increasing the turnaround “beat” rate.

A customer survey

A good example of the kind of customer feedback which is an essential part of co-creation is the very first customer survey that we launched, in January 2008, simultaneously with launching the first version of our service b2c in the UK. We had 271 participants – some early customers, but mainly what we call “friends of AlertMe” – people who’d heard of us but hadn’t (yet) become customers.

We wanted to ask some pretty big questions about what concepts we should add to our proposition next. But to keep things concrete and therefore simple we boiled it down to a set of 7 physical objects, which each represented values and services that we thought consumers might value from AlertMe.

The seven concepts, represented as physical objects

Each concept was described in a short paragraph, and we then collected feedback in two similar but fundamentally different ways.

  1. We asked respondents to score the concepts. Scoring is useful because it gives you an absolute sense of the worth of the whole shebang – if people hate everything then they can give every concept a low score and you know you need to go back to the drawing-board!  But some people, out of enthusiasm, indecision or perhaps apathy have a tendency to score “great” or “average” across the board.
  2. So we also asked respondents to rank the concepts. A forced ranking is helpful in teasing out the relative merit of each idea.

Respondents scored each idea on a scale ranging from “boring” to “fantastic”. It is tempting just to look at the ideas which scored “fantastic” the most, but it’s instructive to also look at the ideas which scored “boring” the most too, because both positive and negative emotions are strong indicators. As you can see from the below, people thought Heating  fantastic, and they really hated the Greenfinger concept!

The forced rankings largely reinforced these results:

This survey, in early 2008, as well as giving us immediately feedback on various details, also planted the seed of what became our second major Connected Home application: Home Energy Management, which is really a reaction to the very positive responses to Power and Heating concepts in this survey.

We asked other things too – and I’m a big fan of the “free text” box – encouraging people to type a few words (or an essay) explaining why they have answered as they did. Although it takes more post-processing work to then codify and tabulate these freeform responses, their huge benefit is that they capture the unexpected, and what people really feel in their heart, and can be a rich seam of qualitative understanding and “left field” knowledge.

And finally, one metric that we tracked during the survey was how the process of participating in the survey itself affected attitudes. As you can see below, it had a positive effect, showing that engagement has its own rewards.

Attitudes at start of survey

Attitudes upon completion of survey


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