A Manager's Perspective on Virtual Customer Integration for New Product Development


  • Michael Bartl,

  • Johann Füller,

  • Hans Mühlbacher,

  • Holger Ernst

Address correspondence to: Hans Mühlbacher, Department of Strategic Management, Marketing and Tourism, University of Innsbruck School of Management, Universitaetsstrasse 15, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria. E-mail: hans.muehlbacher@uibk.ac.at. Tel: 43-512-507-7200.


Despite the high potential of virtual customer integration (VCI) methods for new product development (NPD) mentioned in the literature, practical use is still limited. This paper aims to provide a deeper understanding of managers’ perspectives on VCI and their intentions to use these methods for NPD. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) served as basis for developing a research model, which considers managers’ cognition, attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control as important factors affecting their intention to apply VCI. Because more recent literature has expressed doubts about the explanatory potential of the rather simple TPB model, a more complex alternative model was proposed for comparison. The alternative model included the market orientation of the company, the hierarchical position of the innovation manager as well as the manager's level of innovativeness as additional explanatory variables. An empirical online study was conducted in the field of consumer goods and services. Based on a sample of 216 German-speaking innovation managers, the results show that the model derived from the TPB explains 68% of the variance in the managers’ intention to apply VCI compared with 69% of variance explained by the model containing additional explanatory variables. An extension of the model does not significantly improve its explanatory power. Managers show high interest in virtually integrating customers in NPD processes. Managers consider identification of future customer needs, a broader decision basis, increased efficiency in gathering and use of customer information, and increased customer retention as major advantages of VCI. Disadvantages considered by managers in making their overall judgment are the lack of secrecy and only incremental innovations. The perceived potential contribution of VCI to NPD, the assessment of its general acceptance within the company, and the perceived ability of innovation managers to successfully implement VCI mainly influence the adoption decision. Managers’ attitudes toward VCI have no significant influence on their intention to use VCI. The results suggest that strong promotion of VCI through senior management would enforce the positive effect of subjective norms on applying VCI. Measures such as including VCI on innovation managers’ personal scorecard, trainings offered, and cross-functional meetings could help speed up VCI in NPD processes by increasing innovation managers’ perceived behavioral control toward VCI.