Virtual Customer Environments (VCE)

 “Web labs” go beyond customer advisory groups

Customer engagement methods has been the topic that has generated the most discussion on this blog to date. Traditional market research methods — such as multiple-choice surveys, focus groups, employee suggestions, etc. — seem to generate obvious, incremental ideas. One-on-one active engagement such as ethnography, experiments,  and “probe and learn,” seems to help get at important contextual customer knowledge and more innovative ideas.

Popular past posting have described:

  1. why “crummy trials beat deep thinking”,
  2. why P&G is moving from focus groups to ethnography, and
  3. that the “cost of trying [on the Internet] is lower than the cost of analyzing.”

The May issue of Sloan Management Review has an article on how companies are making use of VCE’s or virtual customer environments. These are not your grandfather’s customer advisory groups: customers become actively involved in design and prototyping. Like the advisory groups, a side benefit is strengthening a client relationship, but VCE’s seek a much more active involvement.

 “Customers can, in fact, play various roles in VCEs… Or customers can design their own ideal products using virtual prototyping tools… Customers can also help test out products using these technologies… Most often, customers use these virtual environments to offer to other customers their knowledge and expertise about products. They act as product support specialists, supporting their peers…

Customers who enjoy these virtual environments are likely to remain involved and continue to contribute their ideas. And, crucially, customers equate their experiences in these forums with the companies themselves. ” (from the excerpt in “Innovation Tools” below)

Previous postings here about Nokia and Beta Culture have discussed the success of a particular VCE.

See a summary of the Sloan article or the full article at the links below:

http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2008/spring/13/

http://www.innovationtools.com/Articles/EnterpriseDetails.asp?a=317

This entry was posted in Co-creation or User collaboration, Customer Research Methods, experiential innovation, Experiment, Ideation and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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