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Commentary & Analysis

Listening to the Customer


By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 21, 2007

--- The Broadhurst Report Listening to the Customer by Guy Broadhurst May 21, 2007 -- I've been thinking lately about how companies develop products. Too often it seems, products are developed because they seem like a good idea at the time. But they arrive in the marketplace without a clear idea of how they will be used or if they fill an actual need. Somehow, those products usually don't do so well. Other times they are developed to meet the real-world needs of customers--and those tend to do much better. Consider the cupholder Auto manufacturers are a great example because they look for very specific input from their target audience. Look at how minivans have gone from being fairly basic boxes of seats on four wheels to being paragons of packaging and storage efficiency. Customers wanted lighter seats for easy removal, additional storage, automatic doors, and safety. So that's what the best of the current crop of vans deliver. Or consider the lowly cupholder. While cupholders may be as essential as steering wheels to American drivers, drinking a beverage in a moving car is verboten to European automakers, especially the German firms that make most of the European models sold in the States. But as they listened to what American customers wanted, they began adding them to their vehicles, lest they lose more sales to Japan, Inc. In fact, BMW has actually used cupholders as a focal point in TV ads for one of its SUVs. Some of the book manufacturing systems, for instance, incorporated machinery from as many as six different firms in addition to the print engines. I've been thinking about this in the weeks since Océ's Open House, the annual trade fair held at the Océ factory outside of Munich, Germany. Now, you'd think an event at the factory would be all about Océ. But while the print engines all wear Océ badges, this event has actually become a showcase of how the company and its partners together deliver a huge range of document production solutions based on real world customer needs. For example, there were over 100 finishing systems relying on technology from many different vendors. Each was configured to work with specific Océ print engines, ranging from walk-up copier/printers for the office to high-end newspaper and book production systems. My responsibilities are for the production-class equipment, yet I'm always surprised by the range of choices being shown for all types of print engines. With so many finishing options coming from vendors Océ has partnered with, it is clear that all involved are singing from the same hymnal and working closely to bring the various systems to market. Some of the book manufacturing systems, for instance, incorporated machinery from as many as six different firms in addition to the print engines. It's all about delivering the solutions that will address the customers' varying needs. Listening to customers Doing so has meant a concerted effort to listen to customers and develop systems that meet their needs. In many cases, customers who had provided their input could see their "wish list" come to life with intuitive operator interfaces, automatic paper loading, ease of toner replenishment, and improved maintenance schedules. All these are customer centric, driven by customers' ideas and suggestions to all the companies involved. Customers who had provided their input could see their "wish list" come to life Open House not only shows customers that Océ has listened to their ideas, but provides insights into how the company thinks. For example, the event provides access to technicians, engineers, senior management, and there are opportunities to learn about the company's strategic plans. This is a key part of how these companies show their commitment to customers. Individually and as a group, we want to know what we can do better, where to make needed changes, and strive to understand customer needs and develop products that reflect those requirements. Listening takes place in other venues as well. Learning from our customers is an ongoing process that includes the input we get through our field organization, and also in first-hand detail when customers bring their applications and operations people to our U.S. headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida. There we learn more about what we can do to make our equipment and software a better fit in their businesses and look for ways to integrate their input into our technology. Listening provides a deeper understanding of customer requirements and helps ensure our offerings are not rolled out merely to fill a perceived niche in a given market, but to fill real-world needs across many vertical lines of products from books to statements to direct mail--and back. Give your feedback to Guy. He can be reached at guy.broadhurst@oce.com.



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