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How Do You Find Out What Users Want?
Guest Post by Bettina Hofmann (Fraunhofer SCS)

Deutsche Version

Process Netnography and the Lead User Approach. © Fraunhofer SCS

Process Netnography and the Lead User Approach. © Fraunhofer SCS

Engineering Firms and Overengineering
When developing a new product, mechanical engineers tend to overshoot the mark when it comes to their own particular area of interest. The new machine should essentially be perfect and, of course, capable of anything and everything.

We call it overengineering. Smartphones are a good example of this – these great little gadgets can perform tasks we don’t really understand and which no one really needs. I get the impression that designers have cheerfully developed beyond the needs of their consumers. Maybe you know the feeling?

But how can developers know what customers really want? Bettina Hofmann from the Fraunhofer Working Group for Supply Chain Services (SCS) has written a fascinating article on this topic and has kindly allowed us to post it here on the Schleifblog.

Netnography and the Lead User Approach
Bettina Hofmann, Fraunhofer SCS

How can developers know what customers really want? By asking them. A big trend in research departments at the moment is to include users early on in the development process of new technologies. That way, researchers can better tailor their work to the needs of the consumers.

Researchers Are Asking Themselves:
– What challenges arise when the customer uses the technologies?
– How do customers solve the problems they encounter?
– How can customer feedback be incorporated into the technologies?

The Answers Lie in New Media
Netnography and the lead user approach are two innovative methods that have been developed in the area of new media and make it possible to gather direct customer feedback. Netnography is a branch of ethnography that observes and analyzes the behavior of groups in Internet communities. Using the lead user approach, particularly motivated users within these communities are identified and asked to provide feedback.

Until now these techniques were predominantly used for studying consumers (note: end users in the consumer sector) and weren’t often deployed by businesses even though they could also be useful in terms of B2B. Which is why, for example, RFID applications have so far been mainly the preserve of the business world. The combination of monitoring comments from virtual communities in the business sector and evaluating information provided by lead users represents a whole new way to gather information.

Analyze Communities, Survey Lead Users
To start with, researchers determine the relevant online forums and communities and analyze the comments published there according to the most frequently discussed topics and terms. Particularly active users in these forums and communities are then identified as lead users and surveyed to find out more about the users’ needs. In order to generate worthwhile feedback, the lead users must be presented with concrete questions. As such, it is incredibly important that researchers first establish all the possible areas of application for their new technologies, for example by carrying out technology assessments and target market analyses. Lead users are then asked to provide feedback about any challenges they face when using the product or service.

From the perspective of the user, this means that problems are detected at an early stage, the technology’s potential is established, and central findings for the (further) development of the technology are made. Developers can subsequently integrate this information directly into the development process and offer customer-friendly solutions.

The Methods
Netnography refers to the use of ethnographic research techniques to analyze Internet communities. The aim is to gather information about specific topics by observing group behavior (Kozinets, 1999). Well-known products that were developed using this approach include Nivea Black and White, as well as The Coffee Shop Project.
Lead users are both highly motivated and qualified and provide important information for the development of new products and services (Lüthje/Herstatt, 2004; Henkel, 2006; Oreg/Nov, 2008). Well-known instances of these kinds of users developing their own new products include Tipp-Ex®, Gatorade and, in the IT sector, Linux and Apache (Lüthje/Herstatt, 2004).

Author: Bettina Hofmann, Service Development group, Fraunhofer Working Group for Supply Chain Services SCS, Nuremberg.

The original article appeared in the Fraunhofer ISS newsletter and you can download it here (German).

If you would like to discuss this topic with Ms. Hofmann or myself, please feel free to post comments on the Schleifblog. Tell us what you expect from a 21st century grinding machine and what aspects you think are totally irrelevant. After all, we here at Haas want to develop grinding machines and grinding software that precisely meet your requirements.

You can also share your thoughts with us via e-mail. Just click on one of these names and your e-mail program will open automatically: Bettina Hofmann, Dirk Wember

Until next time, keep grinding with attitude!

Dirk Wember

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