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In China, which is experiencing remarkable economic growth, construction of skyscrapers in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou is accelerating. The focus of the economic development model is shifting its importance away from speed and instead focusing on overall quality. China’s cities are facing new issues and various measures are being implemented to make life more comfortable for those living in older buildings constructed in the ’80s and ’90s.
In China, low-rise residential buildings constructed 20 – 30 years ago without elevators total eight billion square meters and house roughly one-third of the urban population amounting to approximately 200 million people. These buildings are often found in central locations in cities and the residents who have lived there many years have a strong attachment to the area. Almost no-one wants to leave their neighborhoods. However, now after many long years, a very serious problem has emerged. Most of these buildings do not have elevators. The elderly suffering from bad backs and aching muscles as they age struggle with the issue of going outside on a daily basis, increasing the need to improve the people’s living environment with each passing day.
Hitachi Elevator China has a long history of achievements in the elevator industry, and in 2005 they had already begun installing elevators within existing buildings. Then in 2017, when the Chinese government began its preferential treatment policy for the installation of elevators in old residential buildings, Hitachi Elevator China ramped up its retrofit elevator business even further, making efforts to improve the lives of residents. The city of Guangzhou, with the greatest domestic demand for elevators, was selected as the model area, and the “Leave Retrofitting Elevators to Hitachi” Integrated Marketing Communication Project was launched.
“This work requires taking the concerns of each and every resident seriously and a good grasp on the market situation or you will not succeed.” Hitachi Elevator China Brand Management Department Manager and Project Leader Deng Shaowei knew this intuitively. “What inconveniences are forced upon the residents who don’t have an elevator on a daily basis? I felt we had to clarify this first.” Based on the policy set out by Deng, the team members came together to conduct market research.
“Unlike the B2B projects we had been engaged in until now, installing elevators is a B2C project, so to make the purchase we had to coordinate the opinions of the entire resident population. This was extremely challenging,” says Ye Jingyu who was in charge of PR and advertising for the project.
Market research gave the team an idea of the various issues the people living in old buildings were faced with. For example, a woman living on the top floor of a building broke her foot but still had to get up and down the stairs every day, and her foot never healed. When a man and his wife who is confined to a wheelchair want to go out, he has to carry his wife and the wheelchair down the stairs separately meaning he must make several trips up and down.
In addition, though the people living on higher floors could not wait for an elevator to be installed, the people living on lower floors were worried about sunlight being blocked, low rates of utilization, and high costs. There were also the issues of small installation spaces, complicated piping causing construction delays, expensive costs, and aftercare costs incurred once the elevator was installed. Witnessing the very different problems and concerns faced by the residents with their own eyes, the team members were determined to deal head on with each and every one of them.
“This project is not just business; it should be something that solves social issues. From the bottom of my heart, I want it to resolve the various issues related to retrofitted elevators and to help the residents,” voiced Deng passionately.
Retrofitting old buildings with elevators is a large-scale project that affects people’s lives with a wide range of issues. To resolve those issues, we had to focus on the user’s perspective and gather wisdom from many different fields. We also had to conduct thorough market research and take the opinions of the residents seriously. In doing this, we were able to obtain hints on product design, service model, and promotion.
First, market research helped us understand that communication with the residents was not taking place sufficiently. Almost all of the residents felt dissatisfaction at being unable to speak with the elevator manufacturing and sales company directly. Hitachi Elevator China therefore worked with the government to establish the retrofit elevator support center. They also made efforts to promote the residents’ understanding of retrofit elevators by using channels that residents could access easily, such as radio broadcasts and TV, and worked closely with the government, related parties, and volunteers. Hitachi also created a manga that explained the merits of retrofit elevators, government incentives, and the application process in easy to understand terms and used it in conversations with the residents. It included real-life incidents that occurred in old buildings without an elevator; the fact that because there is no elevator in the building, pizza delivery services add on additional costs, the hardship of newlywed customs like the groom carrying the bride up the stairs of their new residence. These easily relatable topics had a major impact.
“We established a rule for ourselves that we would not talk about the superiority of Hitachi’s products off the bat. What the residents were looking for was reference information to help make their decision about whether or not an elevator should even be installed,” says Deng.
In addition to providing information, they gathered the residents and held workshops. Through bilateral communication, they were able to answer each of the questions that came up, which helped bridge the distance between the residents and Deng’s team and deepen the residents’ understanding of the function and installation method of retrofit elevators. Of course, there were many people who could not approve of installing elevators for a variety of reasons and finding a middle ground with them was not easy. However, Ye put it simply, “We can all decide together about how to install elevators so that they provide residents with the most benefit.”
While they gained the residents’ trust, the team members each brought their expert knowledge to the table and held many discussions about how to move forward with the project and product design and aftercare. The power of the team’s “Harmony”, eventually presented a solution that met the residents’ various needs. For example, providing a customized service called “One-Stop Service” that meets the residents’ needs and also accounts for the old building’s actual condition, building-block type elevators that can be adapted to the old building’s structure and shorten the construction period, glass frames to prevent obstructing sunlight, implementing a 24-hour real-time monitoring system for safety, and other various ideas. “Whatever difficult issues we are faced with, the only way to resolve them is by taking them on one at a time with sincerity. Through this process of resolving issues, we built up a relationship of trust with the residents.” Deng recalls that it was the team’s attitude, a true embodiment of the concept of sincerity that put the project on the right track.
Hitachi’s retrofitting elevator project helped make life more convenient for the residents of old buildings, and the elderly in particular.
“In the past, I would spend all day without ever leaving my home, but now I often go outside and spend time in the sun.”
“I never thought it could be this easy to go out and do the grocery shopping every day.”
“I look forward to taking my grandchild for a walk every day.”
“I can go play Chinese chess now, and I’ve begun interacting in the neighborhood again.”
Joyous voices could be heard from the residents of the various old buildings where elevators had been installed. One elderly resident expressed their happiness by saying, “We got an elevator of joy installed.” That one phrase was the best possible reward for our team members who had worked so hard for the benefit of the residents.
“The market for retrofit elevators in China is huge. In pioneering this enormous market, the path will open itself to you if you feel strongly about wanting to help people in need. This experience has become an extremely valuable asset to us,” says Deng smiling.
Going out to speak directly with end users, listening to each of their opinions, discovering new issues, and then working proactively to resolve them. This process will never change no matter how much the retrofit elevator business grows. Deng speaks about his feelings about the project. “It is not easy, but there is no other job that would allow me to demonstrate such pioneering spirit. There is no doubt in my mind that our elevators, created from listening to the voices of the residents, will bring happiness to those who live there.”
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