The secret to developing a successful product is not in managing resources better, navigating schedules more accurately or even forecasting customer needs. Product development is not manufacturing or fabrication. In fact, thanks to computer simulation and the use of software, a physical end product is not even entirely necessary when developing a product.
In the end, product development is not about adding the most features, but about defining the customer's problem and creating an answer to that issue. Take Walt Disney for example. When he designed his parks, he didn't try to add more rides. Disney sought to create an experience that his park's visitors would find magical. It took time and one very special key ingredient: customer support.
Voice of the Customer and Product Development
Integrating customer support into new product development can be as simpleas noting that good product design tends to reduce the need for customer service. However, customer support can also help satisfy some of the pillars of a Voice of the Customer (VOC) program, which illustrates customer needs as well as customer perceptions of performance. In fact, there is evidence to support the notion that customer service can inform product development.
In 2001, Keith Goffin and Colin New published a study called, "Customer Support and New Product Development - an Exploratory Study" in the International Journal of Operations & Production Management. They found that customer service is an "essential aspect" of any new product development, and identified a few best practices that rely on product development and customer support, such as the need to incorporate the customer service department in new product development. Goffin and New also found that using customer support in this way provides a competitive advantage as well as a marked increase in sales and earnings.
Using Customer Support to Build a Better Product
Customer support is at the forefront of the company-customer interaction. They hear the complaints and the rare compliment. Customer service professionals also typically have to create solutions to delight a company's customers after whatever happened to make them unhappy, be it a product feature, delivery schedule or personnel issue. Understanding the customer experience creates a wealth of information that can be used to build a better product. For example, when Intel started aligning their marketing, sales and service to fit with the needs its customer service representatives identified in a peer-to-peer study, the company reduced service call volumes by 20 percent and saw an increase in sales. Moreover, product development can work both ways.
Building a Mutually Beneficial Relationship
It is possible for a product development team to create a mutually beneficial relationship with the customer service department. A good example of this is Lenovo. The company made interdepartmental collaboration the standard for the way the company operates, and asked for input from all departments on how to make things better, be it the customer experience or something as different as an inventory management system. Lenovo found that this caused representatives to ask customers what they needed and then really listen to responses. This feedback was later relayed throughout the company, and customers could see it in action. Customer perception and satisfaction improved, and so did Lenovo's profits.
Does your customer service program help your company build better products or improve the customer experience? If you are not building intradepartmental collaboration between your customer service departments and your product development team, you are missing out on a significant opportunity to give your customers exactly what they want.