WHEN COMPANIES LISTEN
The consumer’s voice is increasingly heard by companies, but does this shift in consumer engagement inhibit innovation?
It is often believed that listening to customers can help companies develop the right products or services and be successful. The rise of social media in recent years has prompted companies to take in this message and rethink their strategies on customer engagement. Will this lead to the democratization of the product-development model? There are signs that this is happening.
Four-year-old Chinese company Xiaomi is well-known for its social media outreach through Facebook, Twitter and its MIUI forums. It also regularly holds fan meet-up sessions with users to gather feedback on improving its software platform. And Xiaomi is not alone in using this tactic.
Oppo, up and coming chinese phone brand also started off being communitydriven and continues to maintain strong interaction with its global fans via the Oppo forums. It introduced the ColorOS Advisor Program to encourage early adopters and forum assistants to promote the development of its platform and help other users. Managing Director for Oppo Singapore said that the Find 7 series is a testament to the company’s belief of listening to customers – LTE compatibility, removable batteries and expandable memory were what customers wanted and it delivered.
Computing giant Dell has an outreach project too, called IdeaStorm, which give customers an avenue to voice out and get feedback on what new products or services they want the company to develop. Since its launch in 2007, Dell has received over 21,000 ideas and implemented close to 600 to date.
It is this new rule of customer engagement that helped these companies grow a loyal base of customers that multi-million marketing budgets couldn’t. With the exception of Dell, Oppo and Xiaomi are relatively new players in the industry. They lack the vast resources that bigger companies have to compete for the minds and wallets of consumers. Moreover, these companies strongly believe that consumer involvement in the development process of products is the key to success. However, there will always be exceptions to the rule.
If you look at Apple, it certainly has taken the opposite route. In the last decade, Apple has redefined or created new product categories. Its success has largely been attributed to one man – Steve Jobs – plus a team like people who supported his vision. In his own words, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups, and a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
From what I’ve seen so far, he is not wrong. The iPhone took the smartphone industry by storm in 2007 because Jobs revolutionized the way we interacted with phones. Apple introduced a multi-touch screen, a software keyboard and developed an app ecosystem to enhance the functionality of the smartphone. Did consumers want that in 2007 when BlackBerry phones were popular thanks to their QWERTY keyboards? You and I know the answer.
The same can be said about other Apple products such as the iMac, iPod and iPad. Remember the days of portable CD players and bulky tablets? Each of these products managed to disrupt their respective industry. Still unconvinced? Here’s another nugget for you to chew: Apple did not do consumer research when developing the iMac.
To be fair, Apple’s success has been, and still is, a one-in-a-million example. Steve Jobs possessed an uncanny ability to understand the people’s wants, anticipate the future trends, and create products that well, just worked. Not many companies can get away with doing little or no consumer research.
Which school of thought will prevail? If companies rely heavily on crowdsourcing, it is likely that they will fall into the “sameness trap” as consumers will tell them to do the same things as what other companies are doing. To avoid falling into this trap, companies have to strike the fine balance of listening yet at the same time figure out what technologies are actually useful through actual R&D.
"These companies strongly believe that consumer involvement in the development process of products is the key to success.”