China is a developing consumerist market. Compared to more developed Asian markets, brand literacy is lower and consumers’ expectation of experiences is more functional. In this environment, companies need to execute the basics superbly well. This adds value for consumers and only once this initial hurdle is passed can you then credibly roll out over time escalating levels of experience. I’ve been working from our Shanghai office for a while now and have developed seven easy golden rules to help deliver relevant customer experiences in China.
1. Consumer expectations are lower than in the US and Europe. Chinese consumers have relatively low expectations for an experience’s level of sophistication, quality or relevance to them. This is true in most but not all categories (for example, the server to customer ratio is usually higher in China).
2. Brand heritage is short but important in China. Chinese consumers use brands to signpost them around categories in a familiar way. Even a short brand heritage can be used in creating a powerful customer experience.
3. Propositions are necessary but insufficient – execution is key. In China execution is where great propositions consistently fall down. Element Fresh is an example of how to do this well – motivating staff through helping them progress from hourly waiters to professional staff in a hotel.
4. It is easier to deliver consistent experiences through structured design not staff training. It can be hard to train, motivate and return Chinese staff in delivering a consistent experience. The more that the experience can be designed into what they do rather than relying on their discretion, the less scope there is for the experience to be poorly delivered.
5. Premiumness is learned and so often needs to be educated. Correctly interpreting premium cues is not intuitive – status and playfulness mean very different things to Chinese consumers than to non-Chinese ones, for example. In Europe, a coffee shop has big windows so people can look out. In China, the big windows are so customers can gain face by people walking outside noticing that they have sufficient status to drink in a premium coffee shop.
6. Category education as well as brand education is often necessary. Often you are educating people on how to navigate a category as well as why to prefer your brands in navigating that category. This offers an experiential opportunity even for secondary and challenger brands.
7. At different times you need to dial shopper choice up or down. Chinese shoppers talk lots about wanting choice. However, after the initial appearance of choice in fact they usually appreciate editorialisation of choices. They like to feel that their individual choices are informed by other people’s opinions and be sure that whatever choice they make is one lots of people they respect have already made.