Thursday, April 26, 2007

Xerox Refocuses On Its Customers

Getting users to design new products ...

"Three years ago, a team of Xerox researchers dreamed up a commercial printer with two engines instead of one. Rather than following the company's standard development process—build the prototype, get customer feedback—they decided to hold focus groups with customers and potential customers to find out what they thought of the idea.

In a video clip of a session in Boston, one of eight Xerox held in the U.S. and Europe, seven men sit around a conference table. They look a bit dazed. Heads rest on hands. Panelists lean far back in their chairs. Until a question comes that snaps them to attention. What would they think, they are asked, of a high-speed machine that wouldn't have to shut down if a problem arose, but could operate at half-speed?

"This thing would go down, but down means it's still functioning while service is on the way?" asks a young man with unruly hair and a boldly flowered tie. Yes, he is told. "Sweet!" he sings, rocking back in his chair. As the video fades, another customer's voice explains the group's bullish reaction. "You're dead if you're down," he says. "You're over." Bingo!

A New Sway for Customers
But back at research headquarters in Webster, N.Y. where 30 Xerox engineers and scientists were watching via live Webcast, there was surprise. While they'd suspected that customers would like the second engine, they had the reasons all wrong. They'd imagined the second engine would be used for fancy inks or special colors. Not to help a broken machine limp along until help arrived.

"The team had had a certain idea of what customers wanted," says Stephen Hoover, vice-president of Xerox's research and development hub. "Going out and actually talking to them&that really changed that." The new focus became building a machine that would both run fast—pumping out 288 pages per minute with both engines working—and keep on running if one engine conked out."    (Continued via Business Week)    [Usability Resources]

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