It seems that the major difference between product management practices in the software business and the consumer electronics business lies in the perception of how, or even whether, a life cycle of a product can be managed after its release.
In software, alpha and beta testing by actual users are a common practice, that results in multiple releases based on actual user experiences learned or observed during these processes. In other words the product is actively managed throughout its life-cycle.
In contrast CE product management practices do not appear to be very pro-active after product launch, and are limited primarily to promotional functions. If a product is expected to have an 18-24 month life, focus groups are organized 12-14 months after product launch, to learn how to design and market its next generation. These exercises are very expensive in that they require a lot of effort to organize, and a lot of special skills to produce truly valuable results, hence they are often contracted to specialists.
Most intelligence a company can gain about its customers’ experiences is by listening to its customers, literally. While customer satisfaction surveys are valuable, they are typically post-dated from the original experience and only solicit feedback based on topics the company deems important.
There are multiple channels available for finding this data, and multiple technology offerings to process it into a meaningful source of business intelligence, however I am not aware of many processes that use this intelligence to pro-actively manage launched CE products profitability.
At Samsung, using reviews as a source of feedback “has changed some aspects of the way we work, primarily because of the speed with which information comes in”, says Kris Narayanan, Samsung’s director of marketing. “It helps us look at issues as they arise. If there is a malfunction or a problem, then we identify it very early.”
The company has used reviews in this way for less than a year, but Narayanan says Samsung has already changed products in response to the new kind of feedback. For instance, large flat-panel televisions were initially produced with speakers on the side. When customers pointed out in their reviews that the units were too wide to fit into conventional cabinets, Samsung put the speakers below the screen.
The example above is a very positive one, but keep in mind it only addresses the issue of the “next” product design – not how to improve profitability of the “current” product. However I suggest that it can be done and I would love to learn about people and companies who are already do, before starting to speculate how I would approach doing it myself.
As usual, your comments, opinions and experiences are greatly appreciated.