(4.3) Solution Space Development
Last, but actually first, a company seeking to adopt mass customization has to be able to understand what the idiosyncratic needs of its customers are. This is in stark contrast to the approach of a mass producer, where the company focuses on identifying “central tendencies” among its customers’ needs, and targets them with a limited number of standard products.
Conversely, a mass customizer has to identify the product attributes along which customer needs diverge the most. Once this is understood, the firm knows what is needed to properly cover the needs of its customers. It can draw up the “boundaries of its playground”, clearly defining what it is going to offer and what it is not – the firm’s solution space is defined. Mass customization implies by necessity the development of vast solution spaces, thus escalating the cost and complexity of understanding customer needs, in terms of spotting differentiating attributes, validating product concepts, and collecting customer feedback.
Developing the solution space is also about learning from the experiences of past customers, and even from people who were not customers. Consider, for example, the combination of options evaluated but not ordered. This information is no longer in short supply thanks, for example, to the log-file data of browsing behavior of users of online configurators (e.g., the ones of miAdidas’ or Dell’s), and should be systematically analyzed. With that kind of customer experience intelligence, data from past customer interactions can be turned into information on customer preferences and, ultimately, into better choices for the customer.