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Special Columns
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
K.K.Srivastava Special Feature
Sutanu Guru
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How Customers Influence the Evolution of New Products
Innovation is happening all around. But companies that are careful in understanding how consumers use a particular product are the ones which succeed in the long run.
Incorporating “Learning by Using”

Customers go through a learning process that co-evolves with the technological development of the products. Variation and dominance in customer use at different periods of a product’s evolution affect what companies can learn about their products. Often, there is high uncertainty about how new products will perform. Variance in use can actually impede resolving this uncertainty because it is difficult for companies to understand if any issues raised were user or technology related. The setting of the dominant use, in contrast, entails replication in use, which helps overcome this issue.

Recognising how customers use products helps companies market their innovations appropriately and make better technological decisions, which ultimately increases the probability of success. Having an understanding of the application of the technology and leveraging this knowledge into future innovations is certainly important. However, because this type of learning occurs under the local conditions of the user, getting access to this information can be difficult. Sometimes customers do not want to share this information. For instance, Microsoft users may hesitate to send information about a programme crashing even though the system prompts them to do so. Even if customers wanted to share this information, its tacit nature makes it difficult to transmit and express.

Consequently, it is important for companies to develop strategies that enable them to capture what is learned by customers using a technology. Here, support services play an important role as they allow the company to see the technology in use and feed that information back into product development. However, in many companies, services and development are only loosely linked. Moreover, companies can try to influence how customers use the technology through design choices. Consider the difference in design between Research in Motion’s Blackberry and Apple’s iPhone – Blackberry’s design promotes using the phone for e-mail while the iPhone’s design does not.

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