What Is Customer Opinion Good For?

James Heskett is a Baker Foundation Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School. He asks in his newest article → What Is Customer Opinion Good For? and explains his question as follows:

„I have no particular brief for traditional marketing research. But is there a pattern here? Is it possible that „asking the customer“ about anything of strategic importance is on the wane? If so, what are the implications for customers as well as those selling to them? What is customer opinion good for? What do you think?“

With this provocative question he starts an interesting discussion among his readers about the topics innovation, and customer intimacy. In addition can you find in these answers a large amount of supplemental information.

My view

In general, I think that it is very important to know your customers, and to learn about their problems and issues. So yes, you are supposed to ask customers. However, in  terms of the importance of customer intimacy, I think that it very much depends on the development, which you plan, how helpful customer intimacy actually is.

If you intend to improve an existing product, you probably need much, and very accurate information about customer preferences. On the other hand your customers are used to the products, and they own the data, which you are looking for.

However, if you intend to offer a disruptive product, you might find that customers do not know the answer either. In this case they are the wrong source of information. Here your own developers and your own knowledge about market demand and technological capabilities are.

I think, the following reply to Heskett’s article puts it best:

„The why, when and how of listening to the customer is worthy of on-going analysis and discussion. There are critical questions to be asked about whether the product is evolutionary or disruptive. More appropriately the question may really be, „Will this product be marketed as a disruptive product or fit with customer’s paradigms?“. Customer feedback is always important, but the weighting of that voice should vary greatly.

If a product is being positioned as evolutionary (possibly much larger value add, but same paradigm for customer) then the customers‘ voice should probably be weighted heavily. If it’s to be a disruptive product, I’d suggest the customers‘ feedback should also be abstracted to a slightly higher level.“ – reply 17 Jonathan Hinkle in → What Is Customer Opinion Good For?

Further Information

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