What happens when companies find themselves with more projects they would like to explore than they currently have the time for? It is a question teams often ask themselves, and Lisa Fitch, a manager of qualitative customer insights at Bose, found an opportunity to explore some of these topics by engaging with a Customer Insights class at Indiana University taught by Professor Shanker Krishnan. At the end of the seven week course, Lisa walked away not only armed with a better understanding of the questions she set out to answer, but also an opportunity to teach and mentor the next generation of business leaders.

Bridging Theory and Action Understanding customers is fundamental to any business, and students in Professor Krishnan’s Customer Insights class set out to understand just that in their MBA course at Indiana University. But in addition to the frameworks that Professor Krishnan laid out in the class that focused on uncovering customer motivations, students were able to apply these to marketing questions directly faced by Bose, an audio and home entertainment company, in the final two weeks of the course. Lisa Fitch, a qualitative customer insights manager at Bose, gave the students five potential projects to explore that looked at the changing home entertainment industry from different angles.

Students formed teams based on interest, and actively engaged with Lisa as both a client and mentor throughout the process. “I became an active stakeholder in the project, where two thirds of each conversation was typically about Bose and about one third was focused on qualitative interview tips. Each engagement had a component where I was both client and mentor,” said Lisa. Differentiating between these two roles was also a critical part of the project process, and Lisa always made sure to clarify which role she was assuming when providing feedback. “For example, the teams didn’t know how many people to interview to get the most credible data in a short time frame, and I shared how the general rule of thumb was that after you interview the eighth participant, you start to see some sort of pattern emerge. Eight is the minimum to give you a good amount of variety,” explained Lisa, who enjoyed having the opportunity to teach and mentor the students as well.

This type of direct interaction between students and brand leaders like Lisa is a process that Professor Shanker has seen tremendous value in for his students as well. “In the past, I’ve given them different tools they could use like laddering or consumer chain mapping that they could apply to a hypothetical question in a category they were interested in. Lisa was able to give us tangible problems to solve along with highly relevant input and ideas. It’s a lot more realistic because when you work on a brand, you work on very specific problems and not just hypothetical questions,” explained Professor Shanker. In the end, each team presented their findings in a final presentation. “Every team presented at least one insight that I thought was helpful,” said Lisa. Even after the class ended, teams found opportunities to engage with Lisa and her team, and a couple of the recommendations went beyond finding direct insights to identify potential areas to research in the future.

Q&A Lisa Fitch (LF), Shanker Krishnan (SK)

Q: What prompted you to consider brand/university collaborations like this?

LF: I thought it was really inspiring that there were so many classes and projects that universities were working on – Spring Theory came back with three universities, and the caliber of each was really impressive and all the classes shared as potential candidates were very interesting. One of them was a class at IndianaU called customer insight, which was my team’s name and the tools they were learning and objectives fit in perfectly with my work.

Q: What helped set the project up for success?

SK: Getting a solid brief was important – Lisa and I went back and forth a couple times to develop a tight brief that challenged students. I also made sure to meet with each team so that teams had a better understanding of what they were trying to accomplish.

LF: Giving proper context was key for me. If students have a little bit of context as to the ‘why’, they’ll deliver more relevant and higher quality work.