Customer Involvement in Product Development: An Industrial Network Perspective
Journal article, 2014
Purpose: In business markets, working with customers and users has become increasingly important to get knowledge about customer needs and to develop new products. The purpose of this article is twofold: (1) to develop a framework for analyzing customer involvement in product development in a business market context, and (2) to apply this framework to a particular company to describe and analyze how it practices customer involvement.
Methodology/approach: The article takes its main theoretical starting point in the industrial network approach, but also uses other literature from the innovation and product development field. The empirical study applies a qualitative case study approach and focuses on one company in the truck business.
Findings: The suggested framework deals with four key aspects of customer involvement: Why, when, how, and who. The observed pattern of the truck manufacturer shows how dealers, hauliers, and truck drivers are all part of the overall understanding of the customer. These actors are involved for different, typically very clear, purposes at different points in time through surveys, product clinics, and field testing. The pattern, referred to as mixed facilitative, is not one of close collaboration with individual customers, but one of broad involvement of several customers through business intelligence and direct involvement.
Research implications: First, the article provides researchers with a framework and method for studying customer involvement in product development. Second, the case study provides an illustrative example of the customer involvement pattern pursued by a leading company in a major industry. This enhances the understanding of the focal phenomenon, leads to managerial implications, and gives ideas for future research.
Practical implications: There are several managerial implications related to the why, when, how, and who questions. For example, it is pointed out that managers should consider involving customers more extensively than what seems to be common today-for example, by using customers as codevelopers, working with them throughout the entire development process (i.e., not only early and late), and including different types of users (with different requirements and wishes).
Originality/value/contribution of the article: The contribution lies in the development of a framework centered on the four key questions of customer involvement in product development and using this framework for observing a pattern, and finding explanations and relating this pattern to how other firms are doing.