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Case study

Idea sessions for a corporate customer forum

We ran two high-energy ideation sessions to kick off each day of a global software company’s customer insights forum.

The brief

We worked with the customer forums team at a large software company to design and facilitate two ideation sessions at their customer forum in Rome.

They were interested in having an independent facilitator help them to source customer insights & challenges, getting an unbiased viewpoint of what products and services customers really need (see sidebar).

Coupled with this was a desire to push for more strategic insight from customers, to reveal their mid- to long-term ambitions, problems and opportunities that may inform the development of future products and services.

Gaining this insight could be achieved through collaborative, workshop-style ideation sessions that helped customers stretch their thinking and uncover useful observations.

What we did

The sessions kicked off each day’s discussions by stretching delegates’ thinking and getting them out of the “weeds” of technical product details.

We asked all the customers to gather at the front of the room, and to position themselves along an imaginary line according to different feelings, opinions and viewpoints, such as:

  • Stand at one end if you’re expecting a calm 2019, and at the other if you think next year will be turbulent.
  • Stand at one end if you can clearly see the future, at the other if the outlook is decidedly fuzzy to you.

For each question we asked the group to comment on where they were standing and why. This activity served as a useful icebreaker by getting everyone standing up and slightly out of their comfort zone. It presented a novel way of looking at the variety of situations and outlooks experienced by customers.

Following this, the next session invited participants to come together and share their key challenges and ideas, and also to network together.

Small groups discussed:

  • What are your key challenges at the moment?
  • What would your people like to be able to do, but can’t?
  • What excites or concerns you about the next few years?

Participants were then invited to come forward and pick a topic, and were invited to lead a discussion with others who were interested in the same topic. This put customers in charge of choosing the topics that mattered to them most, and also enabled them to join the groups that they found most useful. We were therefore allowing themes and discussions to emerge in a natural way, leading to more pertinent and insightful observations.

Finally we formed four groups, and asked them to make predictions for 2019, 2021, 2025 and 2030. They then shared back results of discussions to the wider group, and the facilitator wrote up key points on a central flip chart.

Many customers remarked afterwards that this was their favourite exercise, because it stretched their thinking and forced them to look up from their day-to-day responsibilities to view their business and industry from a much more strategic perspective. For our client, it was useful to observe how customers view the future in terms of threats and opportunities, and also to see how far they plan ahead.

“We really appreciate your flexibility and ability to facilitate at such late notice. Both sessions were excellent and really varied the conversation.”

The benefits of an external facilitator

Having an external facilitator brings a useful element of objectivity and fresh perspective to sessions like these. With just enough knowledge to know when a conversation is going around in circles, or off-topic, an outside facilitator is not entrenched in biased or limited thinking about your business or industry.

In addition, they can level the playing field, putting a company and customers on an equal footing. They can therefore provoke participants into new ways of thinking about established or entrenched approaches, and can stretch their thinking into new, unexplored areas.

It might be difficult to achieve this with an internal facilitator indoctrinated with company strategy and constraints.

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