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Facts Or Understanding?

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Interview of Rudy Wimmer, managing partner in CBi China Bridge

Many companies gather large amounts of data about their market, but unless they actually go visit the customers and see the context in which the company’s product is used, they risk missing the why and how of what drives customers demand.

One tool to systematically consider how customers experience the product is the ”Customer journey map”.

For many companies, market research is about getting some hard facts. Particular among “western” companies there’s a lasting trend towards relying on quantitative data – statistics on sales and segments, economic trends, demographics etc. to make decisions.

In contrast, some research agencies believe that companies get a deeper understanding of how to develop new products by using more efforts on collecting qualitative data, focusing on the customers experience and emotions, and using an ethnographic approach to observe users.

One company that specializes in this kind of analysis is CBi China Bridge, a consumer research & innovation firm in Shanghai, which for ten years has worked using an ethnographic approach to understand Chinese consumers – mainly for western and leading Chinese companies that are trying to adjust their products to fit a quickly changing China.

Rudy Wimmer, managing partner in CBi China Bridge argues, that data alone doesn’t always really help companies to improve their products: ”Without a qualitative approach mixed in, managers and product developers can’t always understand what the implications are. Although the data can indicate a problem or an opportunity, you don’t have the cultural and emotional context to understand why they exist and how you could create an answer to it”.

Customer journey mapping

One of the methods that CBi China Bridge often uses in order to structure the observations and insights they collect about customers is called ”Customer journey mapping”.

As an example, Rudy Wimmer describes a project for a large medical device company that needed to make a long-term strategy for delivering drugs to patients. To innovate in this space required a detailed understanding of the patient and care givers’ experiences.

To understand both patients’ needs and nurses circumstances, CBi China Bridge followed both patients and nurses through the entire outpatient hospital experience to observed the interactions during and after treatment. CBi China Bridge also conducted interviews with nurses to understand the procedures at the hospital and the emotions felt by the nurses.

These observations where collected in a comprehensive ”patient journey map”, which described the various events that patients goes through when they go to a hospital to receive treatment.

The journey map offers a systematic way of identifying situations where customers meet a company’s product or services, and the map allows the company to pinpoint events along the way, where customers experience gaps, pain or enjoyment. Seeing these issues in the context of the entire ”journey” should then make it easier for the company to come up with actions to improve their offering.

Obviously, ”customer journey mapping” can be used to describe many other types of users than patients – for instance in the hotel business or in retail.

One of the advantages of having a customer journey map is that it can be extended and more detailed over time, as the company gradually collects further observations, or as circumstances change.

An article in Harvard Business Review gives a more detailed description of Customer journey mapping, and how it can be used to identify ways to improve products and services. Read the article here.

Immersion

It is all too common, that companies will spend considerable amounts of money on external market researchers and reports, but they will not use the resources needed internally to then actually learn from the research and use the knowledge to change.

China Bridge tries to engage their company clients at several points during a research project.

”If the company want to make an informed decision about developing a new product or where to go next, it makes sense that they experience the situation of their customers”, says Rudy Wimmer:

We ask our clients to invest some of their own time to get involved in co-creating the mapping and we recommend our clients to take part in observing and immersing themselves in the context we are studying”, he says.

”We try to involve our clients in seeing for themselves what their customers are going through. A survey in itself is pretty emotionless; it doesn’t draw a strong response for belief. For action to be taken out of research you need to have empathy and understanding of the situation. It doesn’t require at lot, but you have to be willing to go out and be in a real situation and a real environment”.

Co-creation

Also, companies should not simply commission a study and then wait to have the final report delivered. Rudy Wimmer tells, that CBi China Bridge insist that their client commits one to three days to take part in a workshop, that involves a few key stakeholders from their team. In these workshops they meet users and opinion leaders in the industry.

The first step for the company team in the process of understanding the market, says Rudy Wimmer, is to be open, a little transparent and straight forward about what assumptions they have about the marketplace and end–users.

Being Chinese does not mean you understand the Chinese market

One way that a Western company tries to ensure that it understands what’s going on in China is to have mainly Chinese employees in the subsidiary management. However Rudy Wimmer warns about thinking, that just because employees are Chinese, they understand all of the marketplace and all of the facts there. ”That’s just not realistic, and it’s a misconception that we see over and over again. It’s a very dangerous assumption for leadership to say that if we have a local person working for us, they must understand everything about the market. Like everywhere, it is about the individual person, and this person’s ability to listen to the market and see what’s happening”.

Fast forward

In Rudy Wimmer’s observation, Chinese companies generally don’t do a lot of traditional market research in the sense that a western company would. A western company will tend to collect lots and lots of data up front and then try to launch the exact right product. The Chinese approach to learning about the market is quite different. A Chinese company will often launch variations of a product and quickly measure their success among customers. Then they will make modifications.

The Chinese approach is much faster, less planned and efficient at getting feedback from the market – and there are positives and negatives to this, says Rudy Wimmer. The Chinese have a lot of manpower and access to “in market” production to quickly take an existing product, create a slightly different version of it, and test it in the market.

”Chinese leaders are fast to decide on instinct, they are informed through past experience and they understand the cultural nuances, they are better grounded, and importantly, they don’t have fear of failure, that westerners often have. For the Chinese, it’s all about moving forward as fast as possible – sometimes in an almost innocent and seemingly naive way, yet its not”.

 

Contacts: Eileen Wang

Email: Eileen.wang@shcbi.com

Tel.: 021 5059 6066 ext. 801

 

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