Customer Service Design

When customers get clever

Creative consumers (defined as customers who adapt, modify, or transform a proprietary offering) represent an intriguing paradox for business. On one hand, they can signify ablack hole for future revenue, with breach of copyright and intellectual property. On the other hand, they represent a gold mine of ideas and business opportunities. Central to business is the need to create and capture value, and creative consumers demand a shift in the mindsets and business models of how firms accomplish both. Based upon their attitude and action toward customer innovation, we develop a typology of firms’ stances toward creative consumers. We
then consider the implications of the stances model for corporate strategy and examine a three-step approach to dealing with creative consumers: awareness, analysis, and response.

Creative Consumers: What’s your stance? (post from McCarthy february 2011)

Creative consumers are defined as:

 “customers who adapt, modify, or transform

a proprietary offering” (Berthon et al. 2007: 39)

A few years back I wrote a paper with colleagues (Pierre Berthon, Leyland Pitt and Stephen Kates) on the phenomenon of creative consumers. These are individuals, or communities of individuals, who adapt or modify a proprietary product offering. They tinker and experiment with almost any product, ranging from automobiles to cell phones.

Traditionally, companies have disliked consumers messing with their products. They have got annoyed when the product is modified and used in a way in which it was not necessarily designed e.g., networking several Sony PlayStation 3 consoles to make a super computer. They can also get irritated when consumers alter their products and use them in regions of the world where they are not yet available, e.g., when iPhones were first released in the US they were hacked to work in Canada where they were not yet released. And firms get really angry when consumers modify products, such as the Xbox, to use pirated content. Consequently, many companies have tended to view creative consumers as threats to their business revenues and damaging to the reputation of their product brands.

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In our paper, however, we argue that even though some creative consumers might initially signify a black hole for future revenue because they breach copyright and intellectual property, they also represent a gold mine of ideas and business opportunities. To explain this we developed a framework to articulate and illustrate four strategic responses that firms might have towards creative consumers – see Figure 1 (Berthon et al. 2007). For a more detailed description of each stance, see the full article.

We argue that responding to the threats and opportunities of creative consumers will require firms to manage a three-way fit between:

  1. A specific stance toward creative consumers;
  2. The relative ability and desire of consumers to adapt, modify, and transform their products; and,
  3. The firm’s ability to scan, track, and control consumer-produced innovations.

What stance does your organization have?

If it has more than one stance, how does it manage any potential conflict between the stances?


Author information:

Professor in Technology and Operations Management at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Prior to joining Simon Fraser University he was a faculty member at the Universities of Warwick and Sheffield. His  research focuses on the design and management of organizations. In particular interested in operations management, change management, customization of products and services; organizational and social networks, creative consumers, and new product development. Specialties: Operations management, innovation management, change management, user innovation, outsourcing, personalization, customization, creative consumers, strategy, cladistics, taxonomy, and manag…


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