Friday, February 3, 2012

Want to win a Korean client? Where is your expert?

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We face an altogether a different problem with Korean customers. The moment they had a requirement about any topic, they would ask us - "who is your expert on this topic?" Well, in many cases, the expert would be busy or in a different timezone or simply we may not have expertise in that area. I was quite puzzled with this requirement. I was not quite sure whether to follow this request or challenge it. "What happens if we fail to showcase our expert?" I asked my Korean colleague. "They may not engage us?" was his sudden reply.

We wont have expertise, if we don't get the project and we wont get the project because we are not experts. This was a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Deep in my thoughts, we had reached a Korean restaurant and I ordered my favorite chicken dish. "They don't serve chicken here. They specialize in pork and some dishes of fish", informed my korean colleague. So far I had not bothered to look at all Korean menu card, which appeared quite slim. I realized that in many restaurants the entire menu was written on a single board and the dishes were quite few. This was quite intriguing. A similar sized restaurant in India would serve south indian, north indian, chaat, indian-chinese, variety of ice creams.. And whatever else you could think of. Then why is this korean restaurant was serving so few dishes?

We went ahead with the order. I find korean food really hot. So I requested my colleague to ask them to prepare a slight milder version of the same dish. I have tried such request in Indian and Thai restaurants and they readily oblidged but in this case my colleague ignored me and continued to order. Once the waiter vanished from the scene, he turned to me in astonishment and said, "Vivek, you can't ask them to modify their dish. It is their recipe, their restaurant we can't come here and change it. They are experts in this dish. They will get upset".

Things were a lot clearer to me now. Each restaurant was an expert in their own type of meat and a few dishes they were known for. Customers came there because of their expertise.

I promptly started to work on showcasing an expert for our next order. Now we find out availability of expert before we go to the customer to solicit the business.

(Photos: Courtesy Youngmin Kim. Thanks Youngmin!)


1 comment:

Youngmin said...

Hi Vivek,

What a great obsevation!

This was the one of the things I felt strange when I lived outside of Korea first time (actually in Canada) where people always ask to change their food based on their own taste, even at a McDonald.

I think 'Expertise' is related to the culture of Koreans who always try to find who is in lower and higher level in terms of age, position, knowledge and even expertise. Therefore, it is very critical to show Korean clients that 'I clearly know more than you and I have better understanding in this field.' Once they admit it, things will be very easy since they accepted you are the one they need to listen to.

Restaurant case could be little more complicating since it has both cases. As a food server, they are supposed to show great respect to the customers (as you know we can enjoy free side dishes as much as we want.)

However, when it comes to the core menus, it is not negotiable and people never challenge it because I'm not the one who can ask more. If I ask them to change the taste, it can offend them and may sound like 'Your food sucks, so listen to my suggestion.'

Well, now I can't stop thinking that there is real connection between food culture and business.

Thanks Vivek!