An inexpensive source of valuable knowledge for product and/or service improvement is customer complaints and customer dissatisfactions. Of course, solving customer complaints or dissatisfactions prevents or reduces loss of customers.
Some customer dissatisfactions are so mild that the customer herself may not be aware of them. Ask a customer for feedback during the initial stages of use; long afterwards, she would have adjusted to the product and forgotten her mild dissatisfaction. Ask “What feature(s) of the product do you like least? Why?” Different features of a product produces different value added for the average customer; least value-adding features offer the best opportunities for product improvement. Non-value adding features could be removed. Two different product features appealing to different customer segments suggest creating two versions of the product that are customized (i.e. more value adding for both) to their respective segments.
Observe if the customer makes improvisations (which can be unconscious) in the product or how she uses it. These little customer improvisations are cues that she perceives a gap in the product’s usefulness.
A bakery company in Japan involves customers (housewives) during all stages of their R&D, from the evolution of the product idea to exploring and testing various options and on to product launching. Of course, if you are one of these housewives it would be natural and expected that you personally promote the product to other customers after product launching!
An indication that a company sees and captures the value of customers’ feedbacks for its R&D is when the R&D unit and the sales or after-sales services (or other frontline or customer-facing unit) is under the same company executive. Otherwise, the flow of feedback information from frontline units to the R&D unit is either absent or inefficient. These two seemingly unrelated departments are actually crucial for value creation by the company. Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Marketing and innovation produce results. All the rest are costs.”