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Eric von Hippel of the MIT Sloan School has long argued that users play a larger role in product development than is commonly believed. Now, in a new working paper, Pedro Oliveira and von Hippel take a look at customers’ role in innovation in a service industry: banking.
Oliveira and von Hippel studied the history of 47 commercial and retail banking services that were introduced between 1975 and 2008. Their conclusion: In 85% of the cases, the service was something some customers had previously been doing on their own, before the bank provided the function as a commercial service. For example, before commercial “sweep” accounts existed to transfer money not immediately needed to accounts that earn more, many customers transferred money from one account to another on their own to achieve that effect.
For managers, Oliveira and von Hippel suggest, the study’s findings indicate that one good way for a service provider to innovate is to look at what customers do on their own before and after using the provider’s existing commercial services. Studying customers’ activities in areas adjacent to current commercial service offerings, they observe, may reveal new business opportunities for service providers.