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3 key principles of co-creating with customers
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Jatin Bhasin
17 November 2021

What do you think of when someone says “start-up”? Innovation, imagination, and creativity certainly. You may think about adaptability, agility, grit, too. But what about soul?

Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati believes customer connection is part of “the soul of the start-up”. An expert in entrepreneurship and organisational behavior, he asserts that connecting with customers isn’t just about meeting expectations; it’s about providing solutions through an intimate understanding of their challenges.
Ailo’s soul holds customer connection at its centre. We believe the best way to gain the required depth of understanding is candid and consistent engagement, so our customers gain confidence before our latest innovations even land in their hands.
Many of our customers are surprised (and delighted!) by our collaborative approach when they first roll out Ailo.
“Property managers say ‘I gave some feedback and next week it was there!’ They’re not used to having that kind of experience or co-creating with a technology partner,” said Cory Williams, one of our senior product designers.
“Our customers know us by name, and they see us almost on a weekly basis. That means we can really dig in and understand their challenges, and what features we can design to help address them.”
So what does co-creation mean exactly? It means inviting your customers into where the magic happens, and creating new products, services, and customer journeys together, in real-time. It’s an understanding that what the customer needs has to be central for success. But not every business co-creates. It’s a philosophy we readily embrace at Ailo. Here’s how:

1. We believe a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it,” Albert Einstein said.
We couldn’t agree more. Our discovery process with customers begins with a problem statement – setting out an issue that’s troubling our customers. We spend time exploring the nature of the problem we’re trying to solve, because the boundaries we set often define the boundaries of our solution. We keep things conversational, and we keep it “screenless”.
Unstructured discussion about the problem itself helps us understand how it manifests in our customers’ day-to-day – and helps us see it from a fresh perspective. We often realise our customers have been doing certain things in a certain way simply because they didn’t have an alternative available.
For example, we knew from our customer conversations that communication in the industry was a problem. Busy property managers receive emails, phone calls and texts from clients. Queries across so many platforms makes it difficult to stay on top of everything, particularly for a time-poor professional on the move. Over the years, software providers have tried to solve this with email forwarding – but with a deep understanding of the problem, we knew this was only a band-aid solution.
Instead, our vision is to deliver what we refer to as unified communications in the Ailo app - funnelling all queries and responses into one simplified interface to give property managers a clear overview of conversations and questions.
Unified communications will break down the barriers preventing property managers from being able to carry out their key tasks with ease. That’s a win in our books.

2. We keep the conversation going

We don’t wait for quarterly updates or annual NPS surveys. Frequency is key.
It’s important for our product managers to meet and interact with our customers, and get first time feedback more often. This means simply using a very early-stage concept (just an outline of what the feature might be) as a talking point, to open up the discussion.This helps us gain great insights early, and validate a line of thinking before we even write a single line of code.  After these initial conversations, the customer connection continues as the feature is built, and even once it’s in use. It’s a process of continual engagement and refinement.
Shannon and Mel from Hype Realty in Queensland love working with Ailo’s product team to preview upcoming features and provide their feedback on Ailo’s weekly product releases.
“We had a meeting recently with the Ailo team showing us what features are coming up next, and it just gets better and better. We are really excited,” Shannon said.
Social Property Agents in Sydney agrees, with part-owner Diance Dooley saying, "Every feature release makes Ailo even better, and it’s exciting to both be on, and influence, the journey.”

3. We seek out real, raw emotion

By consulting with customers, we are working with an open mind. We explicitly state we are here for honest feedback and bring a deep level of empathy to feed conversations.
Getting honest feedback can be tricky. We preface each feedback session clearly, saying directly, ‘I would love for your honest feedback and your perspective...and your comments won’t hurt me. We’re here together to learn’.
Some people are naturally very supportive individuals, and some people just don’t want to insult someone’s work!  We encourage our customers to tell us their real thoughts and opinions, and sometimes that means engaging more with the more honest customers who are comfortable sharing constructive criticism.
At the end of the day, nobody likes getting negative feedback. But, hearing it tells you what to dig into and solve. The best brands understand that they can actually turn their most vocal, frustrated customers into their biggest advocates simply by listening, taking care of the issues and following up.

At the end of the day...

Our commitment to co-creation also helps bring our customers closer to our brand. We’ve found that active participation, including a willingness to provide critical feedback and guidance, strengthens our relationship with our customers.
We want our customers to join us on our mission, not simply use our product, and co-creation supports this.