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David Moser

Health Care

Putting the Customer First in Prosthetic Device Development

A story of customer-centric design

Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2019 - 12:03

Technology companies are frequently driven by their engineering processes. Of course product quality is regarded as most important, and that quality can be tested and measured with numbers and data. Such companies also frequently align their core identity with the engineering that belies their innovation. Their top executives often started out as engineers and keep looking primarily through their engineering lens as they become company leaders. Although it makes perfect sense, this approach is misguided.

Putting the customer first has been a business staple of the service industry for a long time. This idea can sometimes get lost in tech companies because the engineering phase of the product takes place too far away, both in time and in location, from the end-user. The potential disparity between an inward, technology-looking R&D strategy and the customer’s actual experiences, needs, and desires leads to a large difference between a company’s business plans and the market expectations for its growth, as reflected in its share price: a “growth gap.”

Bridging this gap through customer-centricity requires time and effort. But a customer-driven, user-centered approach to product design reaps all the benefits. Having the customer front and center increases the loyalty of the customer base and generates knowledge that is unavailable or invisible to competitors. In fact, it stimulates innovation. How can other firms compete when you know your customer inside out?

Netflix, for example, sees its customers’ every click: what they watch, for how long, and when they watch it. These data allow them to act like a friend with good taste, recommending shows and movies you’ll want to see. Optimizing customer experience has contributed to the company’s 93-percent customer-retention rate.

Though it initially requires significant focus on an already established customer base, the strategy for customer-centric companies does aim at expansion. Establishing a deep relationship with core customers will lead to the broadening of this base by word of mouth. It will also inform innovation: what aspects of your product need improvement and how. This innovation then allows companies to stretch into new realms, often identifying unmet needs and then new solutions.

In the medical sector, these same principles apply, and they are even more important. When it comes to their well-being, showing customers that you understand them on a unique and individual level is vital to providing help and keeping them around. This is one of the reasons personalized medicine (sometimes called precision medicine), which recognizes the uniqueness of every patient’s response to treatment, is promising to be the future of medicine.

A medical engineering company, although vulnerable to the same product-focus pitfalls any other engineering company faces, should embrace this same level of personalization. At Blatchford, our customers are at the heart of everything we do. What they tell us about their experience is constantly fed into the engineering strategy behind any new product, or modifications to existing products.

For instance, difficulties performing everyday mobility tasks, due in part to a lack of coordination between a microprocessor-controlled prosthetic foot and knee, has helped inform the development of Linx, the first integrated prosthetic leg system. With this approach the ankle and knee communicate by sharing sensory and control information, like the human nervous system. The improved control allows the user to walk more easily with less effort and difficulty.

Blatchford Prosthetic Leg

Robert Oliver, a Blatchford user, was an avid weightlifter and footballer until he broke his leg during a match in 2008. Nine months and 17 operations later, he had his leg amputated. After getting the EchelonVT prosthesis, he took up kayaking and started training. Oliver’s prosthetist, Mark Ledger, commented: “It’s a pleasure to work with Rob; he demands much more from his prosthesis than most and is really putting his prosthesis through its paces.” After years of preparation, he won a medal for Great Britain at the kayaking World Championships in 2015.

Blatchford Prosthetics

The rehabilitation of our customers comes from conversations that begin well before the product is designed and is a continuous process throughout. We help them to be active, and mobile, as they in turn continuously challenge our engineers by testing the limits of their prostheses. This conversation is so important to us: Making mobility possible for our customers requires constant listening and then innovation. This is the key to innovation in prosthetics, and it cannot be overstated. It builds strong relationships and makes customers proud to wear a Blatchford prosthesis, while keeping us ahead of our competitors.

Rather than an all-out engineering-focus or product-focus, a customer-focus and user-centric design are the only ways to direct innovation toward valuable returns for both the customer and the company. Building relationships, both with core customers and new customer groups, will stimulate innovation, showing customers that you’re listening and that you care.

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About The Author

David Moser’s picture

David Moser

Dr. David Moser is Blatchford’s Director of Research and Technology and is a world leading designer and recognized expert in the field of prosthetics. Over the last 10 years he has led the development of several break though innovations, including the commercialization of a completely new type of ankle-foot prosthesis, the development of the first microprocessor controlled hydraulic prosthetic foot, and the world’s first integrated limb prosthesis which was winner of the 2016 RAEng MacRobert award and the Medical Design Excellence awards in 2017. His work has helped transform the industry in the last decade and transformed the lives of many thousands of lower limb amputees. In 2016 He was awarded the prestigious ISPO UK NMS George Murdoch Medal for “outstanding contribution to amputee rehabilitation.”