Why do customers participate voluntary?

Nowadays, firms are willing to involve other people in their product development and product support activities instead of their own employees. It is obvious that companies will have benefit from this work. But why would customers help those businesses? In this article, we will first focus on the virtual customer environment research. Because of upcoming technologies is it possible that customers can help firms by giving their opinion. Customers are interfering with product ideas, product design, product testing and product support activities.

Research shows that when the quantity of product-related content will be high, the customer beliefs that the participation to this virtual customer environment will result in higher learning benefits, social integrative benefits, personal integrative benefits and hedonic benefits. The learning benefit has to do with the understanding and with the knowledge of products. The social integrative benefits are related to the participating customers and potential members. There will be created a relationship between those customers. The personal integrative benefits are defined by the status or reputation. The last element, hedonic benefits, is related to the interaction of the customer. The research also shows that the customer is more willing to participate when he/she finds that there is a stable member identity and that those members are highly active on this community.

Thus, the company must give the impression that the product-related content in this virtual community is very high. Therefore the customer is more willing to participate, because he or she thinks it will be rewarded with intangible benefits. There also must be visible that there are a lot of members and that those members are active users.

This research is applicable on online support forums. But a lot of companies can have advantage of this information. They can apply this on their own business idea, in combination with there website, already existing or make a new website. But also in stores can this be applied. When customers are more willing to participate when there are many more participants, you can easily give them access to the other opinions. Stores can have a real life competition or co-creation development. But they can also do this by filling in their recommendations in the store, for example on a survey. Companies can also ask the opinions of the customers in stores themselves. Imagine a clothing store, when the salesmen can directly ask what the customers likes and dislikes in store, he can send those feedback to the headquarter. But there can also be, for example a display in store, where the votes on several outfits or clothes are visible. This will lead to further co-creation of the customer and the company will have benefit as well as the customer!

Baron, R., Nambisan, S. (2009).Virtual Customer Environments: Testing a Model of Voluntary Participation in Value Co-creation Activities. The Journal of Product Innovation Management

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