Research Reflections: AMS Chairman and Co-Founder Bob Klein

In honor of Applied Marketing Science's 30th anniversary, AMS President and Managing Principal John C. Mitchell interviews several long-term AMSians about the company's history, significant memories, and what they wish for the firm in the future. In this first installation, John speaks to AMS Chairman and Co-Founder, Bob Klein.

Tell us about what prompted you to start AMS and the opportunity that you saw in the market?  

Back in ‘86 John Hauser and I were part of Information Resources, which was a company that acquired Management Decision Systems in 1985. When the company was bought, John became a consultant and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. We ended up starting a custom project consulting firm.  

One of our first projects was with General Motors and focused on different models cars from the U.S. and foreign manufacturers. GM had questions about what the cars’ measurements really meant, and how the interior dimensions related to what people perceive. We interviewed the owners of these cars and asked them to rate their car on a number of attributes like large trunk, roomy front seat, etc. We then created a correlation matrix of how customers’ perceptions lined up with the measurements that were made in these cars in the market, so the engineers could know what to focus on to improve the perception of the car.  

While presenting our results at GM in Detroit, someone in the audience asked if we had heard of QFD. He pulled out an article about Quality Function Deployment, we looked at it, and the clouds parted and angels were singing. We became more involved in QFD, and John wrote the now famous House of Quality article. We began building upon that concept and decided Applied Marketing Science was to be a QFD company.

What are some of the early successes that AMS experienced? 

I remember one of our earlier customers wanted to prioritize the development projects that they had in their IT department. We said to prioritize them based on what customers want and came up with a list of customer needs. Unsatisfied with this list, they asked us to talk with their salesmen to find out what customers like. We interviewed some salesmen, and we came back with that list of needs, and they looked at us and said, that looks more like “the voice of the sales force”, not “the voice of the customer”. 

We said, okay, now can we go out and talk to some customers? We went out and interviewed some customers, came back with another list of things and they said, okay, now we've got the Voice of the Customer. Then, they linked up the development projects with the things customers said were important. That really switched their thinking in terms of what they should be focused on, but it also told us that we really need to talk to customers in order to have something that is going to be acceptable to prioritize product development issues. It was here that we started to think about switching gears to be a market research firm focused on product development and innovation. 

What were some of the things that you were hoping for or wanting to build as you thought about building AMS as a firm? 

I think what I always wanted was a place where people could try out ideas safely and have fun. A place where people found the work interesting. I've always believed that you've got to find something that you really like to do. If you don't really like doing it, you're not going to do it well enough to be successful. 

About halfway through the past 30 years or so of AMS, the firm took a different direction and started providing market research for litigation, which doesn't sound a lot like product development. How did that happen? 

John Hauser had, in the past, been asked to be an expert witness in several cases. The first was a case that had to do with a company copying the style of some Hallmark greeting cards We wound up doing a conjoint analysis to look at the importance of different elements of a greeting card like the edges and thickness of the paper. The company we were working with created all different sorts of cards that we could use, and we had people sort them according to which ones they liked and which ones they didn't.  
Then, I was asked if I would like to be an expert witness. In 2001 I got my first deposition under my belt. By 2005, trademark area and false advertising surveys were becoming more routine, and we started focusing in those areas 

As you look back, at the past 30 years or so of AMS, how do you feel about the legacy you've created, and what do you hope for AMS in the next 30 years?  

I hope AMS continues to be a place where people can put down roots and do the things that they really enjoy doing.  The way I see it, there's always another challenge available if you just go out and look for it.  

 Stay tuned for the upcoming installations of our AMS interview series! Be sure to subscribe to our blog for more.



Tags: News , Quality Function Deployment (QFD) , Voice of the Customer

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