There's been a lot of talk recently about community being the new focus group. See here and here. The argument is: don't create an artificial focus group to represent your users (they probably won't tell you the truth anyway), but instead find out who your community is and listen to them. Actively.
In all the discussions an interesting and common thread seems to be the live essence of the customer relationship. About servicing that customer at that moment in time. This is only successful in companies that give their staff the confidence/ability/flexibility to adapt within procedures to make it happen. It's what IDEO talked about at the Service Design conference in Amsterdam - that customers work well with metascript - a continuum of branded touchpoints that help them do what they need to do. When the metascrip fails - and a company stops holding the customer's hand - they resort to the helpline... or increasingly they just twitter all 300 of their friends instantly. The damage of not knowing your community, listening to them and adapting your service to make it engaging and fun, is likely to be very costly indeed.