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Co-creation lesson #2 : customization

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A long time ago Henry Ford said that customers could order from him any Ford T as long as it was black. The automotive business has since then changed a lot and has recognized that customers want to be treated individually. This shift was supported by the new possibilities offered by automation and IT. Today the customer can co-create its car among thousands of combinations.

In automated hotlines too the customer has to participate and navigate among a pre-defined menu to eventually find (or not) the solution he was looking for.

The common point of the two above examples is however that the search of a custom-made solution is limited by the firm itself which decides on the options made available to its customers. This process is therefore firm-centric and the customers are forced to choose within a pre-defined framework, not allowing them to unleash their full creativity.
Kalaignanam & Varadarajan’s (2006) example of the GE platform represents certainly a step forward in the mass-customization willingness of the firms. Although the customer must choose from GE products in this process, the possibilities seem to be less limited in that the customer is allowed to design his own experiment. Whereas in the automotive example the customer was intervening at the end of the R&D process (all components of the car had been designed, all manufacturing processes were set), in the example of GE the customer is empowered at a prior step in the process.

My take:

Don’t decide for the customers. Let them decide what best suits their needs within the limits that your business allow. Standardization and customization are not incompatible. It’s just the most extreme part of customization that ruins your standardization efforts and will prove unprofitable.

Have you actually every thought about what you can do to allow your customers to customize your products?

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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