In recent years, many well-known companies, including Microsoft, Cisco, Nokia, Volvo and Nike, have forged closer links with customers in the areas of innovation and value creation by establishing technology-based customer forums. These forums, known as virtual customer environments, range from simple online discussion groups to more sophisticated product prototyping centers. In many cases, companies incorporate organizational mechanisms to integrate customer innovation roles with internal product development systems and processes. The benefits of engaging customers in product design and development, product support and other related activities are increasingly visible. Research indicates that VCE initiatives can offer important (and often hidden) benefits beyond the innovation outcomes. Specifically, customer interactions in VCEs can shape their relationships with the company as well as with the product or brand.
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