The con­sumer’s voice is in­creas­ingly heard by com­pa­nies, but does this shift in con­sumer en­gage­ment in­hibit in­no­va­tion?

HWM (Singapore) - - Think - by Sid­ney Wong

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.”



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