Cultural issues with international B2B customer satisfaction interviewing

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Having spent many years of conducting research across the world, in myriad product categories, target audiences and types of research I’ve learnt a lot about how cultural issues impact customer satisfaction interviewing.

Cultural issues:

  • The short answer is yes, there are cultural issues that affect the way in which respondents across countries use scales. These differences are more pronounced when conducting research among the general population. In addition, they are especially noticeable in questions that require a “call to action” or commitment (for example, purchase interest). Sometimes, depending on the category, you will also see patterns in product ratings. With respect to attributes, the translations are key, since it is sometimes difficult to translate ideas or concepts properly. Some people forget this and think that a more literal translation is best, when in fact, it is usually detrimental. The best translation is one that conveys the idea the same way across languages.
  • I find the best scales to use are those that are bi-polar, and 10 or 11 points. Purchase interest is the exception, as are some simple scales that could be easily translated.
  • Sometimes a question could be added that helps to put the overstatement or understatement concept in perspective. I have also used a comparison (within country) to a ‘gold standard’ product and then compared the differences between this and the client’s brand. This is not easy to do, naturally and is somewhat difficult to convey. Sometimes it’s impossible to select a gold standard.
  • Essentially, in the analysis, one should avoid drawing hard, literal conclusions when looking at country differences. Combining countries to “represent” a region is not recommended and is dangerous, as is using averages across countries to draw conclusions. It’s best to look at hard percentages and indicate upwards or downwards trends. It’s not easy and is often a bit subjective. But, in absence of a true normative database for categories or products, it’s impossible to know by how much one should adjust data according to scale usage.
  • Despite this, there are very “general” trends in terms of how respondents answer; for example, Northern Europeans tend to be a bit more conservative in evaluations, as compared to Southern Europeans. This phenomenon is naturally a reflection of their culture.
  • As is always the case, it depends on the product category, audience, questions, etc….
  • The best advice is to evaluate data carefully when looking across countries. If a higher level of precision is desired, sometimes clients could provide market share information etc.

Business to Business:

  • Naturally, culture will have an effect on how respondents evaluate a company.
  • Nevertheless, if the same audience across countries is being studied, the differences in scale usage become much less pronounced and responses are generally more objective.
  • With respect to B2B studies, it is also important to understand the broad market structure of the category you are investigating. For example, if all in a sector are unreliable, and XYZ is the best company then they will get very high scores.
  • It also helps to understand how long an organization has been present in each country. It’s usually a good idea, if possible, to evaluate competitors (even among consumers).

Sample:

  • Believe it or not, this is where you will see a lot of differences . Depending on the business manager’s level, cooperation, cancellations and re-scheduling, for example, could be more difficult in more laid back countries.
  • If client are sensitive to not irritating their customers, I would suggest different strategies in approaching them, depending on the respondent and country. Usually, a nice letter from someone perceived as important introducing the research, etc. is a good idea. They will need to be careful in some countries in who they choose. For example, if the person is too senior in Japan, the respondent will most likely respond positively to most things (here is a perfect example of the “opposite” occurring vs. what we would expect). However, this issue should be discussed on a country-by-country basis.

Incentives:

  • Generally no incentives are required for interviews shorter than 20 minutes (ideally 15 minutes, in-language. This is about 10 minutes in English).
  • This depends also on the level of respondent a client is seeking to interview and the method.
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