JD Power: China gets in driver’s seat

In­stead of re­ly­ing on word of mouth, pre­sent­ing all the facts

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By MICHAEL BARRIS in New York michael­bar­ris@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

In China, word-of-mouth ad­ver­tis­ing tends to drive car­buy­ing de­ci­sions. JD Power and As­so­ci­ates did it sim­ply by lis­ten­ing.

“Lis­ten­ing to the cus­tomer is fun­da­men­tal to do­ing busi­ness to­day in this world,” Jamey Power, a mem­ber of the fam­ily that built the leg­endary mar­ket-re­search firm, told China Daily in an in­ter­view. “If you don’t lis­ten to your cus­tomer, you’re doomed to fail­ure at some point.”

The Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany rev­o­lu­tion­ized the global au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try 45 years ago with its cus­tomer-sat­is­fac­tion re­search on au­to­mo­bile qual­ity and depend­abil­ity. Power’s fa­ther, James David Power III who founded JDPA in 1968, pi­o­neered the use of in­de­pen­dent, syn­di­cated mar­ket re­search strate­gies that asked ve­hi­cle own­ers how sat­is­fied they were with the cars they were driv­ing. JDPA — which was sold to McGraw Hill Fi­nan­cial in 2005 — has since ex­panded its mar­ket re­search into in­dus­tries such as travel and hos­pi­tal­ity, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and insurance.

JDPA’s role in help­ing the global auto in­dus­try un­der­stand the value of lis­ten­ing di­rectly to the voice of the con­sumer is chron­i­cled in the new book, Power: How JD Power III Be­came the Auto In­dus­try’s Ad­viser, Con­fes­sor, and Eye­wit­ness to His­tory. In the book, re­leased by Fen­wick Pub­lish­ing, the se­nior Power looks back on his years in the auto in­dus­try.

Power, 50, the el­dest of four Power chil­dren, calls the book “a rel­a­tively easy to read story about an iconic Amer­i­can brand.” The book will help raise aware­ness of the Power fam­ily name, the mar­ried fa­ther of three said.

“When peo­ple meet us for the first time, they are like, ‘I didn’t even know there was a fam­ily or a per­son be­hind those JD Power awards.’”

Jamey Power per­son­ally played an im­por­tant role in China’s 60-year au­to­mo­tive story that has taken it to the top as the world’s largest au­to­mo­tive mar­ket by sales. From 2000 to 2009, as the na­tional econ­omy boomed, he launched JDPA’s in­ter­na­tional di­vi­sion and opened its Shang­hai and Bei­jing of­fices. Those moves fol­lowed the com­pany’s de­ci­sion in 1999 to open a Sin­ga­pore of­fice to ex­pand its pres­ence in the Asian au­to­mo­tive mar­ket.

De­spite the in­flu­ence that the opin­ions of fam­ily and friends ex­ert on car buy­ers in China, JD Power’s rig­or­ously ex­e­cuted stud­ies of con­sumer opin­ion on new-car qual­ity and long-term depend­abil­ity pro­vided “more re­li­able con­ver­sa­tion” to help buy­ers choose the best ve­hi­cles, Power said.

“In­stead of Chi­nese peo­ple be­ing too sub­jec­tive or too re­liant on what you might call un­re­li­able word of mouth, what we were able to do was pro­vide more facts,” he said.

Its re­search also guided man­u­fac­tur­ers in mod­i­fy­ing ve­hi­cles to fit a lo­cal mar­ket’s needs.

“We pre­sented a sub­stan­tive way that the in­dus­try could com­pete against each other,” Power said. “So in­stead of re­ly­ing on hunches or the best guess, we were able to tie it back to fact-based con­sumer re­ac­tion.”

Power said JDPA’s big­gest ac­com­plish­ment was mak­ing sure “that the man­u­fac­tur­ers and the deal­ers were fo­cused on the right is­sues that are based on the cus­tomer.”

Be­fore the com­pany con­ducted its first re­search study in China, ve­hi­cles sold by global au­tomak­ers in China tended to ig­nore lo­cal mar­ket needs. They were “pro­duc­ing ve­hi­cles that were man­u­fac­turer driven, rather than con­sumer driven,” Power said.

JD Power had “a pro­found ef­fect”, he said, “in that we kept the man­u­fac­tur­ers from try­ing to say, well this is the way a Volk­swa­gen is made in Ger­many and you lo­cal Chi­nese will ac­cept it the way it is. What Volk­swa­gen needs to do to lo­cal­ize their Chi­nese prod­uct is dif­fer­ent than what Hyundai needs to do,” he said. “It’s up to the com­pa­nies to take the in­for­ma­tion that JD Power pro­vides and use it in the best way for their par­tic­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The na­tion’s strides to the top of the au­to­mo­tive mar­ket con­trast sharply with the naivety many of its car buy­ers ex­hib­ited years ago, he said.

“When we started do­ing the sur­vey (in China) in the early 2000s, a lot of peo­ple were buy­ing their first ve­hi­cle and they’d never driven be­fore,” Power re­called. “There was a huge amount of good in­for­ma­tion we were pro­vid­ing back to the man­u­fac­tur­ers and the deal­ers to help them fig­ure out how to ed­u­cate their cus­tomer as to what was nor­mal and what was ab­nor­mal.

“It’s nor­mal to have to put oil in the car. Amer­i­cans take that for granted. In China, they didn’t know.”

“It is a mir­a­cle what’s oc­curred in China,” Power said. “They’ve taken all the lessons from what other mar­kets have pro­vided them and they’ve just ar­rived at a level that is just re­mark­able.”


James David Power III, the founder of mar­ket­ing re­search firm JD Power and As­so­ci­ates, with son Jamey. Jamey, one of the sub­jects of his fa­ther’s mem­oir, launched the com­pany’s China op­er­a­tions in 2000, in­flu­enc­ing car buy­ing in the coun­try.

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