Customers are being encouraged more and more to get involved as co-producers in the creation of products and services. But it seems there are some tasks they don’t really want to engage in.
Making use of the customer in the production process can prove to be a useful marketing approach, whether the company’s aim is to lower production costs, increase creativity levels or simply as part of a communication strategy. But in order to make it succeed a company needs to know in advance what motivates, or de-motivates, the customers, and what tasks they’re keen to do for themselves in that particular production sector. This in fact is the subject of a study published by a team of researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School. Some companies think that the customer is always “willing and able to contribute” to all the stages of the production process, comments Tor W. Andreassen, Professor of Marketing at the Business School. In fact the study shows that customers will engage in most of the steps, but “certainly don’t want to engage in fixing problems that might arise," he reveals.
‘Fair-weather friends’ and ‘Self-service’ approach
The study highlights the appearance of the ‘Fair Weather Syndrome’. "The customer is a ‘fair-weather friend’. S/he is only happy to co-create when the service functions as expected." explains Tor Andreassen. Customers believe that when things go wrong, the company should get the blame and “the company then has to fix the problem”. We can therefore ask what tasks customers most enjoy doing. Among the various tasks they were offered, the panel quizzed by the researchers most valued self-service technology and customised solutions. Prof. Andreassen advises companies who want to use Open Innovation to focus on self-service technologies. "These give customers the impression that they’ve received a benefit – in terms of time or convenience – while customised solutions provide more of a sense of satisfaction." And that’s what customers seem to be looking for.
The authors of the study explain that aside from simple altruism or the intellectual challenge, what customers most want is to feel that participation in a company project gains them added value, and doesn’t simply add value to the company. The researchers seem to have managed to prove that the customer is more interested in getting involved when co-creation is in his own interest. "We see, however, that this trend slows when you give him the choice of whether or not to participate,” warns Tor Andreassen. This is why the study suggests that companies that are ready to use a self-service approach shouldn’t make that the only tool the public can use. He concludes: "If the technology is to be effective, companies should offer an alternative to their customers, such as, for example, a customer counter where they can have direct contact with a brand spokesman".