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Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 60th InstallmentHidden Risk in Manufacturing: Maker Perspective versus Consumer Perspective

by Satoshi Yoshida,
Professor, Master Program of Innovation for design and Engineering

I have recently had many opportunities to visit corporate showrooms. Each company has developed their own showroom as a sophisticated open space with an alluring atmosphere. Attractive lighting and informative displays are designed to give visitors a glimpse of the future and a sense of the extraordinary, while providing them with a greater understanding of the products and services of the company.

When looking at these displays, I noticed that many of them clearly describe the new products' technological superiority and increased functionality compared to the superseded product. Most of these descriptions seem to focus on the innovative technological developments of the products and their performance, including product quality, using phrases such as, "this much smaller and lighter" or "now works faster with more stability."

Many of the showrooms located on factory sites seem to exhibit a full product lineup for easy comprehension through the display of items like gears and smaller parts that illustrate the products' sophistication.

The most frequently used phrase of showroom attendants seems to be "customer perspective." However, this trend is not limited to the showroom, the phrase is also commonly used in the product planning and design departments, not to mention sales and marketing.

The other day I saw a TV program where a number of people with little experience or knowledge worked at a leading convenience store company for a couple of days. During the show, a staff member from product planning asked the participants to pay close attention to the body language and behavior of customers; however, I personally wasn't fully convinced by what he said. When considering what convenience stores sell, they are not simply selling products, perhaps they are offering a whole process, allowing customers to easily obtain and then consume what they need. In order to understand their clients better, a way of thinking that takes this process into consideration is required. A large amount of work has gone into the development of product varieties, display methods, and slogans—but merely considering how well these things are received by their clients is simply thinking from a supplier's perspective.

When I visited an on-site factory showroom of a domestic vehicle manufacturer with substantial international business, I developed the same sense of doubt that I did with the TV show. In the showroom, they repeatedly explained the importance of improving product quality using different ways of saying the same thing. And without fail, they always mentioned that it was their customers who were the motivation behind this pursuit.

These explanations and choices of words or phrases all revolve around what products and services the manufacturer offers, but most of them are from the manufacturer's perspective and speak of things such as what has been achieved after much difficulty or the innovations they have come up with, all of which is a little different from the consumer's point of view.

It is not too much to say that this way of thinking exists with varying degrees in most leading companies throughout Japan.

It is undeniable that within the social base of Japan there is a tendency to encourage diligence or service for the customer. Perhaps there is also an unspoken understanding that a maker who pursues profit alone is not a desirable thing. These kinds of social values need to be taken into consideration. Additionally, perhaps many makers desire to focus on actually making products. It is understandable that they would like to devote themselves to making products rather than developing a business model. Considering this, perhaps it is difficult to fully maintain a consumer perspective.

However, I would like to point out that there is a large blind spot that needs to be considered before deciding whether a manufacturer comes from a consumer perspective. This blind spot is when the maker's perspective has been replaced by the consumer's perspective. If this confuses the way a maker thinks, what kind of influence does it bring to the whole business model. If this kind of misunderstanding cannot be expunged from companies within Japan, don't you think that this poses a great risk to our future?

Today, in an era when the sole challenge of a manufacturer is less and less about winning the quality improvement competition as it was during the period of high economic growth, and when manufacturers are required to make products in which consumers and society will find value, I expect it is going to be a very tough battle for manufacturers going forward.

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  • The 61st Installment

    Do you live smartly in a smart society?

    by Sanggyu Shin,
    Assistant Professor, Master Program of Information Systems Architecture
  • The 60th Installment

    Hidden Risk in Manufacturing: Maker Perspective versus Consumer Perspective

    by Satoshi Yoshida,
    Professor, Master Program of Innovation for design and Engineering
  • The 59th Installment

    Indian mathematics –A driving force behind the IT superpower?

    by Satoko Moriguchi,
    Assistant Professor, Master Program of Information Systems Architecture