Basic Format

A Customer Focus Conference is a well-designed, facilitated large group meeting (usually in the range of about 40 people) that brings together a selected group of employees with a group of key customers. Depending on the objectives of the conference, it is usually a 1-2 day event. The conference usually has two parts.

Part I is attended by both customers and employees. It is custom-designed but always involves a process of open dialogue and creative thinking that leads to a better understanding of customer needs. Part II is for employees only and focuses on converting customer input into specific action plans. (Prior to the conference we usually hold a briefing for employee participants that covers basic points about customer focus and prepares them for the conference).

Custom-Tailored Design

Within this basic structure, the actual design of the conference can vary a good deal, depending on the specific objectives you want to accomplish. Examples:

It could emphasize feedback on ways to improve current products (and related services), or emphasize emerging customer needs that point to the need for new products and services, or both.
It could focus on one type of product and be attended by people from multiple customer organizations, or be attended by people from one key customer and look at a range of different needs, products, and services.
It could generate input from customers on their new product needs, or "test" new Client product ideas (or Client ideas about emerging technologies and how customers might apply these technologies), or both.
It could focus exclusively on product needs, or also focus on features of the supplier-customer relationship that could be improved, or both.

Who Attends

This ultimately depends on the specific objectives of the conference. Generally, the customers should be people who know from direct experience how Client products are working for them and their company's needs for new products. They should also be people who who can make (or influence) decisions to purchase your products. Employee participants should be in positions where they can directly utilize information on customers' current and emerging needs.

Design and facilitation: Methodologies for dialogue and creative thinking

With most clients, we take the lead in designing the conference but work with a small team of key employees. We typically facilitate the conference, with appropriate people from the client organization playing leadership roles.

In assisting in the design and facilitation of both parts of a Customer Focus Conference, we bring a variety of well-tested group dialogue techniques and creative thinking methodologies. Here are some examples of methods we've used successfully in this type of conference:

"Idea factories:" A set of creative thinking methodologies that can be used to identify and prioritize important customer needs and to generate and prioritize creative solutions to these needs (e.g., product improvements and new product ideas).
Additional creative thinking methods for groups: These include use of "re-framing" techniques, analogies, "fictitious problems," and "personal metamorphosis" techniques to diagnosing needs and generate creative ideas; guided visualization; debates using ad hoc "debate teams;" and a range of additional group discussion and problem-solving methods.eds, products, and services.
Conference documentation methods that increase learning during the conference and provide a record of proceedings that is very useful for taking action after the conference. In addition to extensive recording on flip-charts, we often provide participants with "action workbooks" that they use during 5-minute-reflection segments throughout the conference. these technologies), or both.

Conference Follow-Through

The conference can be done once or several times. The basic methodology can be used on a regular basis as a primary tool for maintaining customer focus and ensuring early-detection of customer needs. Some conferences can be devoted exclusively to prospective customers. In addition, this type of conference can be used within the company as a way to maintain focus on internal customers.