Klaus Moser is a project leader at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and a research affiliate of the TUM Research Center for Mass Customization & Customer Integration, Munich. Klaus is a long-time research partner and was an Executive Ph.D. student in the Munich center. Based on exploratory research in the field of mass customization, he focused his dissertation on the topics of mass customization strategies and competencies. His striking finding: Many firms do not have a dedicated mass customization strategy, but just use this approach to support other purposes – even if they think that their mass customization offering is profitable of its own.
The results of his research have been published recently in a book titled "Mass Customization Strategies". According to the topic, Klaus published his book with Lulu - a print-on-demand publisher. Print on demand means that the book is listed at online retailers and only printed whenever an order is placed. This business model enables the offering of books at a low price (no matter how many books will ever be sold). His projects at Boston Consulting Group focus on strategic, sales and organizational questions, and he has worked for firms within the industrial goods and financial services sectors since the year 2000.
In an interview, we recently talked about his research and what is a good mass customization strategy.
Klaus, in your research you find that many companies have no dedicated mass customization strategy. Why is this?
For many managers mass customization still is a new practice – and a common understanding of the possible benefits of mass customization does not exist. Moreover, most companies focus on operational questions and miss to define a strategy first. But there is an interesting observation I have made – a growing number companies have launched mass customization businesses which are supporting a core business based on either mass or craft manufacturing. In my book "Mass Customization Strategies" I identify seven mass customization strategies – only a few of these strategies are based on the understanding that mass customization has to be profitable on its own.
What is a good mass customization strategy anyway?
There is not one good mass customization strategy – more important is that the mass customization strategy is aligned with the overall business strategy. If the core business of a company is mass production based, than a mass customization offering could for example accelerate the objective of better understanding customer demand and needs. A good example provide Adidas sports shoes. Their mi adidas program is helping the company to gather important information to improve forecasting and design of standard products. Also, mass customization could help a company to demonstrate innovation leadership within one industry. Consider as an example Loewe, a German producer of TV sets. To build their brand and differentiate their company from Asian competitors, they very successfully launches a custom TV business.
So, what is the appeal of mass customization for a growing number of companies? Looking in my e-mail inbox, I get more and more requests of companies experimenting with mass customization? Why is this?
From my research I have learned that companies today better understand the competencies and technologies needed to successfully implement a mass customization concept. For several years, companies have gone through a phase of learning and development. But my striking hypothesis is that companies have now realized that not offering mass customized products and services might imply a competitive disadvantage. A good example is the sports shoes industry – today all major players have implemented a mass customization program: Nike, Adidas, Puma, etc. So managers fear to be left behind, and invest in mass customization. If doing so always is the best option, I however doubt.
How did you come to your findings, what is the background of your research?
My research and findings build on the results of two separate, but coordinated empirical research projects. Both projects were initiated at the Institute for Information, Organization and Management (IOM) – TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. The first project examined mass customization cases in a broader business context. This research project, titled international mass customization casebook project, offers a deeper understanding of the different types of mass customization, and also presents results concerning applied competencies. The second project, the industry research group on mass customization, presents empirical case data confirming the results from the first project. Both projects build on case study research and the results are documented in "Mass Customization Strategies".
What is an example of a company “that got it”, i.e. that has a sustainable mass customization strategy that is both scalable and build-to-last?
Two examples I personally like are Build-a-Bear and 121TIME. Both businesses being quite different from a sales channel strategy have successfully grown their businesses during the last couple of years and both companies have managed to very professionally understand market and customer needs, which I take as a measure of build-to-last.
What are the main challenges in mass customization still ahead?
Companies still struggle with understanding customer needs, since I see that most companies do not tailor their mass customization offering to earlier identify market needs. On the operations side, many companies struggle with missing standards for IT systems and configuration systems – I have made the observation that manufacturing capabilities, for example in the shoe or apparel industry, are often stronger than required IT capabilities. Another observation from my research is that the types of companies changing their focus from a mass manufacturing to a mass customization business model often struggle with proper change management around organization, processes and people.
What would be your main advice for a manager that wants to start a mass customization initiative?
My advice: study and understand best practices of the today's many existing mass customization examples. From the industry research group on mass customization which I have coordinated at the TUM business school I learned that best practice sharing is a successful instrument also when done across industries.
To conclude: What is the greatest mass customization offering ever – either one that is already existing or that you would like to get in the future?
My expectation is that the future of mass customization lays in the bundling of customized product and service offerings in order to fulfill people's overall and not only single needs – I have not seen such an offering so far.
Contact Klaus Moser at email@example.com, www.moser-mc.com