Customer Oriented Product Development? An exploratory study of four Swedish SME’s
Karin M. Ekström () and
MariAnne Karlsson ()
Additional contact information Karin M. Ekström: Department of Business Administration, School of Economics and Commercial Law, Göteborg University, Postal: Box 640, SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
MariAnne Karlsson: Chalmers tekniska högskola, Postal: 412 96 Göteborg,
The purpose of this study was to investigate the degree of customer orientation in a small sample of Swedish SME's. In-depth interviews were carried out with product developers in four companies from three different product areas. The questions posed concerned the company's overall strategy, ways of managing the external dialogue (i.e. the dialogue between the company and the customer), and ways of managing the internal dialogue (i.e. the dialogue between the product development team members, and between the product development team and the company). The study indicates some ambiguities regarding key issues in customer orientation. All companies claimed to be customer-oriented, however, the meanings of the concept varied slightly – between ‘offering the customer what the customer wants’ to ‘understanding and solving customer problems’. The study also showed that the companies had difficulties defining their customer. While customer-orientation in general seems to imply a consumer-orientation, the customer can also be the middleman or the distributor. The latter was the case in three of the four companies and had clear implications on overall strategy. Also, the direct dialogue between the manufacturer and the end customers, i.e. consumers was rather limited, even though such a dialogue was considered and needed.