Customer Oriented Product Development? An exploratory study of four Swedish SME's
The purpose of this study was to investigate the degree of customer orientation in a
small sample of Swedish SME's. In-depth interviews were carried out with product
developers in four companies from three different product areas. The questions posed
concerned the company's overall strategy, ways of managing the external dialogue (i.e.
the dialogue between the company and the customer), and ways of managing the
internal dialogue (i.e. the dialogue between the product development team members, and
between the product development team and the company). The study indicates some
ambiguities regarding key issues in customer orientation. All companies claimed to be
customer-oriented, however, the meanings of the concept varied slightly between
offering the customer what the customer wants' to understanding and solving
customer problems'. The study also showed that the companies had difficulties
defining their customer. While customer-orientation in general seems to imply a
consumer-orientation, the customer can also be the middleman or the distributor. The
latter was the case in three of the four companies and had clear implications on overall
strategy. Also, the direct dialogue between the manufacturer and the end customers, i.e.
consumers was rather limited, even though such a dialogue was considered and needed.