Research key to development of SMEs

29 Apr, 2016 - 00:04 0 Views

The Herald

Patson Gasura Corespondent
Much has been documented and continues to be documented about the challenges our beloved country faces from all angles. In his book, “The Richest Man in Babylon”, George Clason argues that national wealth creation efforts start at individual level. Zimbabwe is a highly literate country.

However, it would appear like not all people are able to use this literacy to start and sustain wealth creation projects, even at family level.

As a people we seem to have problems of inaction.

We seem to be fast losing our problem solving skills and it has also been observed that Zimbabweans’ lack of drive to take corrective action is a particular challenge.

The Government has done its part and continues with efforts for the country to realise its potential.

This is why national GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has quadrupled between 2008 and 2015.

Currently the media is also awash with ZIM-ASSET (Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation) news encouraging members of the public to participate.

However, an asset becomes an asset only if it generates income. So the national blueprint, in essence, encourages the ordinary Zimbabweans to have a business mindset and literally build own assets or businesses from wherever they are.

Business is customers and to be sustainable, a business must retain customers.

To retain customers businesses must, among other business imperatives, offer good customer service.

According to Maya Agelou “ . . . people will forget what you did . . . but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Customer service touches on emotions.

To offer good customer service, businesses need a mechanism in place to help them know who their customers are (demographics) as well as know their opinions and needs at any point in time.

This is where market research comes in. Crudely defined, market research is the process of collecting market ( e.g. consumer) data, analysing data and interpreting it for decision making purposes.

Research thus starts with a research problem (business problem) and ends with a findings report which helps management solve the business problem at the end.

So in principle when research is done on a sustained basis all business problems gradually disappear. However, research needs financial resources, hence government and businesses need to join hands regarding research funding because of the common benefits.

As a marketing research practitioner since 1993, I have observed that organisations that are totally customer-centric and conduct periodic market research are not among the first ones to be negatively affected by macro-economic challenges as consumer feedback guides them on what to prioritize and how to innovate in terms of, for example, product development, communication etc.

I further find that in certain key sectors in Zimbabwe like insurance, banking, ICT, FMCG, retail and media, some companies are on the verge of closure when others are actually posting growth in the same industries.

It just shows that some have insights on however to successfully manoeuvre in the market whilst others don’t.

So business failure is not always attributable to prevailing socio-political challenges.

It is about how much you know about your market and your customers to remain relevant.

Therefore investing in-consumer market research for local critical economic sectors is as important (if not more) as investing in trips to China to lure investors. Information is power. Local potential investors need confidence from well-grounded research.

There is a plethora of secondary and primary research methodologies that can be utilised to suit different budgets and situations. Apart from surveys conducted by ZIMSTATS, Zimbabwe is privileged to have the Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey (ZAMPS) which is the biggest survey conducted annually in the country. The project is awarded on a tender basis.

The current research supplier is Topline Research Solutions (TRS) (www.topliners.co.za) and it is commissioned by the Zimbabwe Advertising Research Foundation (ZARF: www.zarf.co.zw). As the name implies, the survey is designed to be everything to everybody. It answers questions about media platforms that Zimbabweans read, watch and listen to for news and information as well as products and services they consume.

The insights from the project guide businesses on best ways to communicate with their customers as well as products and services they purchase.

In cases where organisation need own customised and fresh market insights (primary research data), there are qualitative and quantitative research methodologies that may be involved.

Qualitative research is the type of research done when an organisation wishes to understand reasons (why?) Behind observed market trends or customer behaviour.

For instance, why do professional Zimbabweans prefer to have lunch at traditional restaurants in the open and not at modern hotels within town.

Qualitative research is commonly done through consumer immersions (being part of the consumer world) and through Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with consumers of a particular product or service.

Relevant government ministries could also conduct qualitative research to understand why ordinary Zimbabweans do not seem to be embracing the ZIM-ASSET programmes.

Responses from the research would help authorities unblock identified barriers.

On the other hand quantitative research is the type of research done if interest is in understanding the extent (breadth) to which an observed market trend or consumer behaviour applies.

Whilst qualitative research focuses more on depth of responses, quantitative research is about statistical measurements. It is about numbers. It answers questions like, “What proportion of Zimbabweans prefer to have lunch at traditional restaurants?”

For the government, quantitative research can answer the question; “What proportion of the Zimbabwean population has done something since the launch of the ZIM-ASSET programme. Quantitative research is commonly conducted through personal interviews.

Through practising research, I have learnt that in order to be relevant, the following are common and simple customer service habits that customers wish product and service providers could prioritise.

1.Listen to customers: have customer-feedback mechanisms;

2.Keep your promise: customer do not need you to be perfect but need to know they can rely on you;

3.Customers expect you to be available and accessible;

4.Sometimes lose the battle to win the war – be ready to change policy to retain customer;

5.Hire staff on attitude and skill: employees to treat customers the way they are treated by the boss;

6.Have a complaints handling system – assure customers that their issues are being attended to;

7.Documentation is key: You cannot control what you don’t measure;

8.Appreciation: it means a lot to thank clients for business;

9.Friendly staff – means so much being known by name and more; and,

10.Customers don’t mind spending, as long as they feel they will get real value.

In Zimbabwe the above expectations are more compelling for SMEs, because the structure of the business sector has changed in favour of SMEs and there are lots of supportive policies and mechanisms for SMES to grow.

If they wish to survive and thrive Zimbabwean organisations have no choice but to be totally customer-centric in their strategies.

*Patson Gasura is the founding managing director of a Zimbabwean but regional research consultancy called Topline Research Solutions (TRS) and can be contacted on [email protected]

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