In the current-day market, customers’ demands have shifted from general products and services to very specific products. Every other firm in the world is capitalizing in the manufacture of very specific and customer-tailored products. Manufacturers and providers capitalize on practical and very visionary practices. The premise in mass customization is meeting the individual needs of customers.
Mass customization is a development from traditional means of production such as social-technical systems and job enrichment of the 1970s. Job enrichment resulted in autonomy in work teams, which later became total quality management (TQM). Companies like Westinghouse, Proctor & Gamble, and Xerox adopted this plan.
The continuous development in total quality management resulted in mass customization (MC). Mass customization has brought various benefits such as increased customer satisfaction, customer information, reduced cost of manufacturing, and hence more profits. This paper discusses the subject of customization, its development, benefits, pros and cons, and its future.
Definition of Mass customization
Mass customization is the process of producing goods and services in a method that makes them meet the specific needs of customers. It involves being practical and visionary in providing customers with customized goods and services. The process of mass customization aims at fulfilling the individual needs of customers in an already crowded market.
Examples of mass customization comprise synchronized production, rescheduling, and time-based production. Concurrent engineering involves having a link between design and process. Time-based manufacturing ensures that the time link of product design and manufacture is reduced to fit the customers’ needs. Postponement involves a well-organized distribution of mass customization procedures that involve customers in the processing.
How it came about
Mass customization has its roots in the ancient mass production methods that were adopted by manufacturing firms. The strategy can be seen in the roots of closed supervision and repetitive mass production methods that were used in the 1990s. Mass production of goods, which was the order of business in the 1970s, laid a good foundation for MC. For example, vehicles were produced in large numbers. This rate of manufacturing resulted in a low price of making goods such as the making of commodities of a certain standard.
From mass production, the improvement was done on the production methods in a bid to achieve better production. Kumar (2004, p.287) asserts that continuous improvement of mass production resulted in the empowering of customers, more participative means of production, teamwork, and total quality production. Employees were more involved in making decisions concerning products, with supervisors being seen as motivators and coaches.
According to Kumar (2004, p.287), total quality management resulted in better standards, low costs, and high quality of goods and services. By the end of the 1970s, total quality management developed through job enrichment and socio-technical methods. Through job enhancement, various jobs with related functions were brought together.
This strategy improved the quality of work done by employees who were performing related jobs. Growth in socio-technical systems resulted in the organization of autonomous teams of employees. These teams had larger responsibilities. However, the larger aim was to develop continuous changes in the line of production. It is out of the continuous improvement method that lastly paved a way to mass customization.
Mass Customization Strategy
Various customization strategies ensure that customers’ needs are well met. The premise of mass customization strategy is to involve the customer in the process of production either in full time or in particular points of the fabrication process. In these strategies, the firm must be customer-sensitive. In the customization process, the client should be eager to forfeit funds and time to get the best products from manufacturers.
Chen and Tseng (2007, p.4) argue that, in the continuous involvement strategy, the customer is consulted in each step of processing. Such a sacrifice will enable the manufacturer or the provider to finance the customization of particular details that the customer demands. Customer sensitivity will also depend on the firm itself. According to Chen and Tseng (2007, p.4), the manufacturing firm should have the ability to produce the specific products that the customer demanded at the beginning and within time and cost.
The manufacturer should, therefore, be well equipped to meet the highly specialized needs and demands from customers. The process amenability is important in implanting customization strategies. There must be various enablers in the process of customization. The product itself must have room for customization to fit in the customization strategy.
The design of the product must also indicate that it can be customized. Amenability of the process is therefore dependent on whether the manufacturing firm is well equipped to facilitate the design process, which is important in customization. A more equipped company is an indicator of a higher likelihood of designing products that stand out in the crowded market.
Enablers of the customization process will include well-trained, specialized, and experienced personnel, high-definition machines for particular functions, and a great understanding of both the designer and management on customers’ need. Provision of a competitive environment is also important in strategy implementation. The key implementers of the mass customization strategy should study the market for indicators of conditions that facilitate a competitive environment.
This step enables the manufacturer to time his or her production to fit the market. The turbulence level of the market will also enable the particular mass customization implementer to understand the market potential. The other strategy involves the organization, designing, and customizing the product by its own and then unveiling it to customers. Organizational readiness for mass customization determines whether this strategy works or not.
The attitude of the organization should also be facilitative of the sharing of knowledge and open-mindedness. Organizational resources should also enable employees and the firm to acquire new technology and product lines.
The firm should be ready to spend money, time, intellectual property, and other resources to shine amidst its competitors. Mass customization is highly dependent on the current trends and culture of people. Organizations that want to develop mass-customized products for the society must, therefore, research and keep a vigil on the changes in trends.
Benefits of Mass Customization
Various benefits come with the strategy of mass customization to be enjoyed by both customers and manufacturers. One of the benefits is the evident increased customer satisfaction. Mass customization has narrowed the previous mass production of goods and services in the light of customer tastes and preferences. The strategies adopted in the processing of goods and services for mass customization take into account the individual needs of customers.
The customer is prioritized in the whole process. For instance, he or she may be involved in some steps. Besides, he or she may be consulted at the beginning of processing or be involved from the beginning to the end of the process. In the mass customization plan, the customer is the king. In fact, according to Rachel, Naylor, and Towill (2000, p.23), manufacturers and service providers highly depend on the specific information given by customers in developing the products.
The provider, therefore, must ensure that the company delivers goods and services that reflect the client’s wishes. Customer satisfaction is achieved through the step-to-step involvement and consultation. It is by getting the customized product or services that customer satisfaction level is hyped. Mass customization also increases the market share of a particular company or service provider. The major target of the customization process is the customer.
According to Rachel, Naylor, and Towill (2000, p. 28), mass customization can reduce crowding in the mass production-driven markets. Therefore, when a company or service provider narrows his or her field of customer target, there is a likelihood of drawing attention in the market. The market share of customized goods and services is likely to go up as such goods distinguish themselves from the rest. Customers will also spread the message of the availability of special products in a particular industry.
Consequently, whenever customers move to the market in search of the product, they will have prior knowledge of where to find it. Therefore, new customers are likely to come to the business, thus heightening the retention rate of previous customers. Customer knowledge improvement is another benefit. Through customization, the customer is made a part of the production process. This means that the customer is directly involved in the processing of his or her products.
Consequently, the customer learns about the product and even gains more information or knowledge about the products. Maintenance and use of the product are hyped due to customer’s knowledge about it. Customization also increases the profit margins for the company.
Disadvantages of Mass Customization
However, despite the pros above of mass customization, it is crucial also to highlight its cons. One of the disadvantages is the increased material cost. As customers move from generalized products to specific ones, the company is forced to acquire extra materials at an extra cost. According to Alptekinoglu (2004, p.98), an increase in material cost may result in a corresponding increase in the cost of production, which may, in turn, scare away customers.
Another disadvantage is the increased cost of production. With MC in place, companies are required to go an extra mile in acquiring, processing and configuring products to meet very specialized customers’ needs. Some of the items and machines demanded by customers are not locally available. As a result, companies have to invest in getting them from far markets. Low on-time delivery is also a disadvantage of mass customization.
MC requires specialized attention to customers’ needs. In some instances, it requires the company to hire or outsource certain specialized skills to meet customers’ demand. Delay in getting some raw materials that are not readily available in the firm may result in a corresponding delay of deliveries, which may work against the expectations of the business. This situation also results in an increase in the response time for orders that are pressed by customers.
Finally, according to Alptekinoglu (2004, p.100), the quality of the product may be reduced in the process of customization. In the customization plan, one customer may demand the removal of some components of the product while another may demand the inclusion of more components. Such modifications may make it hard to dispose of or resell the item in the future. Consequently, customized products may have lower market value in the future.
Conclusion: The Future of Mass Customization
The future of mass customization is likely to be pegged on technological advancement. MC will evolve to specialized forms where customers will be involved directly in the process of designing their products. Copyright is also likely to be infringed in the process of embracing MC.
Customers and firms’ will tend to use the internet to acquire new designs and styles of manufacturing goods and services. With the current information age, customized designs will no longer remain a preserve for the designer and the customer. Rather, they will quickly be copied, reproduced, and sold. Mass customization resulted from consequential development in the methods of production ranging from traditional to the mass production era.
The need for specific items and satisfaction of individual needs of customers resulted in mass customization. Various strategies such as continuous involvement, partial involvement, and involvement at the end of processing are used in MC. There are both benefits and disadvantages of mass customization.
The major benefits include increased profits, customer satisfaction, and customer involvement. In the future, producers are expected to focus more on the benefits while at the time developing mechanisms of reducing the witnessed drawbacks that range from increased cost of production and delayed deliveries, to lower market value for the products during resale in an effort to retain the existing clientele base while at the same time attracting new others.
Alptekinoglu, A. (2004). Mass customization vs. mass production: variety and price competition. Manuf Serv Oper Manage, 6(1), 98–103.
Chen, S., & Tseng, M. (2007). Aligning demand and supply flexibilities in custom Product co-design. Int JFlexible Manuf Syst, 19(4), 4.
Kumar. A. (2004). Mass Customization: Metrics and Modularity. Int J Flexible Manuf Syst, 16(4), 287–312.
Rachel, J., Naylor, B., & Towill, D. (2000). Lean, Agile or Leagile? Matching your supply chain to the marketplace. Int. J. Prod. Research, 38(17), 23.