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How customer research drove the Fluke insulation multimeter

A marketing urban legend tells how a hot sauce maker once combined a really hot sauce and a mild sauce in an attempt to please everyone. Of course the resulting combination pleased no one.

When companies "hybridize" products they must perform customer research as diligently as they would with a completely new product concept.

The Fluke 15x7 Insulation Multimeter combines the features of a digital multimeter and insulation testers, two discrete, dedicated tools. Advances in technology made this feasible, but how did Fluke know the combination would be successful in the marketplace?

It was the customer's idea
The concept was conceived during customer focus groups held three years before the launch and long before engineers started designing circuitry. Fluke was testing concepts for insulation testers, and as often happens in open-ended research, an entirely new concept began to take shape.

When Fluke designers explained they were working on a new insulation tester, many users said, "You know what you guys oughtta do? Combine an insulation tester with a multimeter in one unit. And make it small!" They didn't want a smaller insulation tester - they wanted a new hybrid.

A professional product planner distilled the discussion from those first focus groups and took the ideas on the road. The product planner, marketers and engineers talked to hundreds of industrial troubleshooters in plants around the world. They interviewed field service electricians and contractors, plant maintenance electricians, commercial HVAC/R technicians and process electricians.

Then, the Fluke team used the data from these interviews to set priorities for size, functions, complexity and cost, and tested the new concept with a whole new set of focus groups. "It's about time!!" they said. "I was asking for this ten years ago." "I wish I would have had this when…" "This would have saved us so much money / time!"

Bob Greenberg, the product planner recalls, "This was when we really knew we were on the right track."

This second round of focus groups helped finalize functions and specifications, but it also underscored the users' reluctance to venture out of their "comfort zone". This new category of tester had to look familiar to users. It had to fit into their established work patterns, not make them change. And, the size and operation had to be about the same as the trusted Fluke multimeter.

As customers finally started using production models of the insulation multimeter they reported a high comfort level, a short learning curve, and high perceived value based on good performance.

Michael Stuart, marketing manager for the insulation multimeter, cites two key reasons for the success: "We were careful not to compromise on key features, and we made it look and drive like tools they've been using for years."

Beta user comments

Joe Buchanan, project lead Kyle Electric, JATC instructor and safety chairman.
"Overall, the price and feature combination on 1587 is very reasonable. The diode test, capacitor test, low-pass filter and temperature probe feature on the 1587 aren't things you use every day, but when you need them they're important, and they're becoming necessary more often, as we see more solid state controls and variable frequency drives."

"I don't have any questions about how to use it. It's very self explanatory. This is the thing I will pull out of my pocket. It has a digital read out, goes up to CAT IV- 600 volts, it's an everyday tool, and it's safer than the older tools."

Bill Weindorf, electric general foreman for the San Francisco Chronicle
"I expect testing to become both more efficient and more thorough. Before using the 1587, the insulation tester was usually 100 yards away in a locker and not used all the time. Going back for it cost any troubleshooting an extra five or ten minutes. I use the DMM portion of the tool on a regular basis for maintenance measurements, as well as troubleshooting. Whoever thought this up --- this was a very innovative idea. It has tons of functionality all wrapped up in one package."

Mac Perkins, head of technical services, founder Pacific Northwest Theater Association
"We didn't usually carry an insulation tester. Having the insulation multimeter with me is cool. It could be habit forming. We run into mysterious problems that often prove to be insulation related."

Motor winding shop Buzzell Electric Works, owner Matt Buzzell and foreman, Mark Toland
"We use it for everything, now. All types of tests for motors and controls, any troubleshooting. Our tool box weighs 80 pounds. Anyway you can lighten the load becomes a convenience. We do a lot of outside troubleshooting and now we're not going to have to pack both tools."

Steve Uhrich, service supervisor for Valley Electric and JATC instructor.
"My own electricians may soon be carrying the 1587, instead of relying on a shared insulation tester. When they don't have the proper tools, they have to call for backup, costing the customer money and time. Or, they may make the wrong diagnosis based on inadequate information."