Shahzad Qureshi (October 30, 2015)
One of the most important determinants of successful product design is customers’ perception about what the company has to offer. There are two ways to go about product design: Product-oriented approach and market-oriented approach. The former involves designing a product that is innovative that generates the need and appeal. For example, when tablet computers were first introduced by Apple, there was no actual demand from customers, since it was a new concept, but as the company penetrated the market, a need was generated and now tablets have become an integral part of our everyday lives. The latter approach focuses on doing extensive market research, and finding the needs and requirements of the market. This approach dictates that customers should be made part of the design and development process. Over the years, companies have found this approach to be more risk averse, since many innovative products have failed due to the absence of any actual need. Some of the ways through which companies can involve customers in the process of product design and development are as follow:
Tech startups have popularized this approach to test the waters before the actual product is launched. Many startup companies introduce the product with limited release based on geography or early adopters. The beta testing is also done within this period, which helps the company ascertain that there are no technical flaws or loopholes in the product design and functionality. The company can gauge the interest among customers based on the number of early adopters of the product. Products and services get widely reviewed by these users, since they are highly enthusiastic about the brand or product.
Many companies actively collaborate with customers for design, interface and determination of features. There are several avenues where companies can engage with customers and get their input during the design process.
Focus group is one of the popular techniques to acquire information regarding customers’ perception in a highly professional and structured manner. The participants can be selected from a wide array of customer segments the company hopes to target. Additionally, participants can also be selected based on various demographics and psychographics including age, gender, income, profession, preference, geographical location etc.
Another way for companies to collaborate involves inviting a selected group of customers and inducing them into design teams, which will ensure that customers’ preferences are also part of the input during the design meetings. It provides a platform for customers to voice their concerns, pain points and preferences.
This concept has taken off in the fashion industry, where leading clothing brands allow customers to co-design various clothing items and accessories. Customers can log-on to the brands’ website and customize the clothing items to suit their tastes and needs. Some brands have gone as far as to allow mass customization, which entails customers sending a digital file to a computer-controlled Stoll knitting machine, which knits as the need dictates. Knyttan, a startup based in London now allows customers to select the pattern and color combination they want, and use an online tool to tweak how it looks. Additionally, customers can change the placement and the colors as they please.
Co-designing can also work for highly technical products and services. For example many insurance companies have made it possible for customers to design their own insurance policy, based on their coverage needs. Rates are calculated through a computer-model. This approach ensures that customers get exactly what they desire; hence, it reduces wastage and redundancy.
Constructive customer feedback is another effective method to shape and optimize products and services. Many companies find themselves in the continuous struggle to upgrade and re-launch various products and services, which means that at every stage of up gradation, companies have an opportunity to take into account the feedback from customers regarding the previous version of the products. Customer feedback can also be utilized to enhance the customer experience.
Companies need to take feedback from customers seriously which might be more complicated than it sounds. The first step includes developing an effective feedback mechanism, which allows access to customers to express their opinions in an unbiased and honest manner. Secondly, companies must ensure that the feedback reaches the design team in an organized, meaningful format, which will allow them to derive meaning and take actions appropriately. It is important that the message doesn’t get distorted or mired in the communication process – the feedback needs to be mirrored exactly as the customers intended.
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