Upitrek – customer participation in products and product development
How can the customer be involved in the activities of the company? How can the company gain information about the customer experience? Upitrek poses a strong identity. The company wants to contribute to the creation of “a different kind of” tourism, where muscular strength, respect for nature and sustainability are key pillars and not simply added values. The biggest challenge faced by this company from Kainuu is to understand their customers, to include them more in their activities and recognise the role of sustainable values within the tourism market
The well-establish practice of asking customers to fill out a questionnaire after the product experience did not provide multifaceted information and enough insights for assessing the suitability and efficiency of the programme, understanding customers and evaluating the role of sustainability as a product’s added value. Upitrek wanted to improve its expertise just on these areas.
During the ITPD project the entrepreneur was interviewed in two different situations. In addition, the ITPD researcher, who was responsible for this case, became familiar with Upitrek’s material such as brochures and website. More detailed data was collected from the field as the researcher joined a one-week snowshoeing tour. The tour was formed by a multinational group of individual tourists (also couples). The researcher experienced the tour together with the customers, taking pictures, videotaping and writing notes about his observations and discussions with the different participants. By using participative observation, the researcher was able to follow from a close range the interaction and encounters between customers and employees (including his own experiences) and to gain insight into the tourists’ interests, world view, values, travel practices and habits. He succeeded not only in coming close to the business and customer customs but also in assessing the role given to sustainable development in the meaningful experiences co-created by the different actors of the tour.
The approach taken in the ITPD project suited the situation described above very well since it offered Upitrek information about the meanings of the product within the context of sustainable development, sustainability values shared by its customers and the strengths and weaknesses (suitability and efficiency) of its products. By creating trust, the researcher was able to established fruitful discussions with the customers about their consumption culture such as travelling habits, impressions of the destination and meaningful experiences during this particular tour.
The co-operation with the ITPD project provided the company with useful information for improving its product development. By helping to understand customers practices, product meanings and service encounters, the field work put in evidence the challenges and possibilities for involving customers in the co-creation of nature-based tourism products. In addition, the ITPD project offered the company access to comprehensive customer information from sustainability perceptions, marketing communication and product implementation to customer experience. With the help of new information and practices, Upitrek was able to strengthen its market position and improve its profitability. The co-operation contributed to shedding some light on the possibilities for future collaboration with Upitrek and other companies in the Kainuu region.