Involving the customer? Steve Jobs hated it.


“Well, Apple is the most innovative company in the world and they don’t do market research and keep everything on lock down, so is involving customers really a good thing?” A lot of customers, including myself, could easily think this regarding customer involvement and customer research.

It is indeed a popular view among organisations. However it is not right. I read an article about this issue and I would like to share some views about this.

First of all, surveys and focus groups is outdated. This tools gives indeed not a quite reliable view of your customers. But nowadays, there are many tools, that more focus on how customers think, what their needs and their irritating points are. So not a survey, but leverage your customers as a rich source for insights. These insights can give you a true understanding of their needs. Not asking the customer what they want, but working intensive with them to understand what they do and don’t want in order to focus the innovation efforts effectively.

Another nuance lies in the fact that customers are quite heterogeneous (this reminds me to the first class of this seminar). It is quite naive to assume that every customer has the same intelligence, skills, emotions etc. Every company has a diverse customer base. Some are late adopters, but others could be quite influential innovators. For example, a lot of Apple-users are creative artist, brilliant designers and entrepreneurs. Another related point to this, is that companies cannot use the same tools and look for customers in the same survey databases to ask what they want. Instead of that, companies have to look to their influential and innovative customers that can be an incredible rich source of ideas, feedback and insights.

So true innovation starts when a company observe, interpret and ‘synthesize’ what customers say they want into products/services that solve for needs they observe.

Napkin Laks wrote this some months ago, but is was a real eye oponer to me. I also believe that simple surveys are not the tool to come up with innovative products which inspire the customer. However, an intense collaboration with the best customers of your company can surely give the innovation a boost!

Individual Post II, Arie-Jan Baan

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