‘The customer is king’, ‘the customer is always right’, ‘customer first’ are just a few of the many slogans that have been conjured over the years to demonstrate the critical role customers play in the success of any business. Whereas this has had the welcome effect of compelling businesses to focus on what matters, it has also had the unintended consequence of raising customer expectations.
Today’s consumer expects to have things their way and for companies to bend over backward to cater for their needs. This coupled with the growing view among consumers that any product they buy presents an opportunity for them to express their uniqueness, is fueling a steady move toward mass product customization. We look at the reasons for mass customization in more detail below.
1. Every Customer is Unique
When any enterprise is thinking about developing a new product, the first step usually involves conducting market research to identify market gaps and consumer preferences. The final research report will provide a summary of what people want but cannot find at the right quality and price point.
In reality, this research summary is an aggregation of numerous unique opinions but where these views are pigeonholed into an either-or questionnaire. The one-size-fits-all approach has been at the heart of the mass manufacturing industry but evolving market demands have forced a number of businesses to take a step back and explore a better way.
The heterogeneity of consumers is the principal driver for the mass customization movement taking root today. Custom design is incorporated in every stage of the product development lifecycle to create goods that respond to each consumer’s unique preferences.
2. Consumers are More Assertive and Expressive
Long gone are the days when customers just picked the most appealing product they found on the shelf and went home satisfied with their purchase. Some call it narcissism while others see it as self-expression but however it is defined, modern consumers want their purchases to reflect their personality, convictions and tastes.
Of course, this is not really new. People have always sought to express themselves by the car they drive or the clothes they wear. It is simply becoming more mainstream and prevalent with consumers now more assertive than ever. Much of this is being driven by social media where people share pictures of their everyday life with friends, family, work colleagues, neighbors, and sometimes complete strangers.
Whereas customization is only now gaining significant traction in the manufacturing industry, it’s possible to see where it’s going by looking at what’s happened to newspaper publishers. In the middle of the 20th century, there were just a couple dozen major newspapers in the US. Today, it is estimated that more than 30 million Americans have a blog online. This consumer-driven disruption is already evident in manufacturing with the onset of 3D printing and rapid prototyping (see an example here https://www.3erp.com/).
3. Builds Loyalty
Every business craves customer loyalty. Ergo, loyalty programs have sprouted across different industries as brands seek to grow consumer spending, increase retention and extend lifetime customer value. Most loyalty problems, however, have a major Achilles’ Heel: they force customers to make purchase decisions that aren’t utility maximizing at least as far as the customer is concerned.
For instance, a customer will toward the end of the year choose to fly across the country for the sole reason of racking enough loyalty points or miles to get to the next level of their airline’s loyalty program. Customers will buy products that end up in their basement or pantry simply because the intention was to earn more points.
Product customization could be a more viable path to building brand loyalty since it is less likely to leave a bitter aftertaste. Think about a restaurant meal cooked just as you prefer, or a pair of personalized jeans that are a perfect fit for your body type. Customers that benefit from customization are more likely to be enthusiastic brand advocates and do your marketing legwork at no cost to you. They are also more likely to be repeat buyers.
Mass customization is the future. Businesses that start to align their process around this new reality are more likely to weather this steadily growing disruption.
– Guest Blog by Ashley Lipman