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Brand Loyalty

Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

When it comes to competitor research, you have a few options. You could send different staff members into your competitors’ businesses — stores, restaurants, multi-family dwellings — or you could lurk on their social media accounts and see what they’re doing.

Or you could hire mystery shoppers to do some secret competitor research on your behalf.

Normally, mystery shopping is done by a company on that particular company. For example, a wireless store will have mystery shoppers go into their own stores and figure out how things are going. They’ll get a question answered, upgrade their phone or buy a new one, and make sure the month’s promotional signage is in place. Then they’ll report all that back to the mystery shopping agency who shares it with the wireless store client.

You can do this for competitor research as well.

Black Friday shopping at Macy's. Department stores often use competitor research to keep track of each other.Mystery shopping agencies are equipped to send people out on shops, only they will share the data with the client. The difference is, the mystery shopper only knows they have to do a shop on a particular store, they don’t know the client is actually a competitor.

Some of the reasons to do competitor research with mystery shoppers include

  • Seeing how your competitors manage their customer experience strategy.
  • Getting an idea of traffic patterns for similar businesses.
  • Seeing what products and services your competitors are selling, and seeing if they perform better or worse than yours.
  • Learning what kinds of promotions and specials the competition is running.

Is Mystery Shopping for Competitor Research Legal?

Yes, it is. It’s not illegal. There may be some gray areas, if you’re a black and white thinker, but it’s no worse than a pizza executive from one chain ordering pizza from another chain to see how it tastes.

Social media makes it easy to keep track of what other people are doing too. Thanks to Twitter’s List feature, it’s possible to create a private list of all your competitors (that way, they don’t know you’ve added them; they get notified if you add them to a public list). Then you can watch everything they’re promoting and talking about with customers. It’s hardly spying since you’re watching public communications that they’re willing to share with everyone..

Since these kinds of things go on all the time anyway, competitor research is a light, light gray area.

In general, doing competitor research is a sound marketing strategy. Sure, you need to focus on your own core competencies and doing the things you do the best. Train your people so they’re doing their best, make sure your processes and policies are creating top-notch products, and provide excellent customer service. Then work with a mystery shopping agency to check up on everyone so you know you’re all doing your best.

If you can do that, your company will thrive and grow, and your competition will the ones chasing you. But it won’t hurt to do competitor research on them in the meantime, so you can see if they’re copying you and the great work you’re doing.

If you’d like to learn more about doing competitor research, or just mystery shopping your own brand, please contact us and speak to one of our competitor research experts.

Photo credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Brand Loyalty

Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how likely are you to promote us to a friend or colleague?

Have you seen this before? Has this question ever popped up when you’ve placed an online order, received a mobile survey from a store, or even had it appear on an app or piece of software you use?

That’s the Net Promoter Score many retail and B2C businesses use to see what kind of word-of-mouth promotion they can hypothetically earn from their customers. Restaurants, retail stores, car rental companies, insurance companies, and even online merchants all ask that one simple question, which people are likely to answer since it’s “just one.”

Mobile survey in Persian. Every good retailer is worried about their customer experience, no matter where in the world they are.Occasionally there will be one more question, either just a simple “Why?” in the case of a perfect 10, or “What would it take to raise our score by just one point?” if the answer is less than 10.

Mind you, a high score doesn’t actually mean the company will get that kind of promotion and attention, but it at least lets the businesses know if they’re on the right track in making their customers happy.

The Net Promoter Score was originally created by Fred Riechheld and Bain & Company when it was published in a 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “One Number You Need to Grow.” Reichheld said that the Net Promoter Score measures the loyalty between a provider and a consumer.

The scores are divided up into three groups:

  • If a customer gives you a 9 or 10, they’re considered Promoters. They love you and they’ll shout your name from the rooftops, or at least tell their friends about you.
  • If they give you a 7 or 8, they’re considered Passive. They’re just sort of “meh” about you and your product.
  • If they give you a 1 through 6, they’re Detractors. They may not hate you, but they’re emotionally invested in seeing you take a fall.
  • The Net Promoter Score is more than just a mean average of all the scores though, giving you a final number between 1 and 10. It’s a little more complicated. It would be oh-so-easy to just add up all the scores, divide by the number of responses, and come up with a figure.

    But this score was created by an academic, which means it has to be more complicated than that. (Actually, there are very good statistical reasons why it is more complicated than that, but I didn’t want to get into that now.)

    To arrive at your actual Net Promoter Score, should take the percentage of Promoters and subtract the percentage of Detractors (hopefully you have more Promoters than Detractors!), and multiply that remaining number by 100. That’s your official Net Promoter Score.

    (% Promoters – % Detractors) x 100 = Your NPS

    In other words, if you launched your survey and 68% of respondents were Promoters, and 13% were Detractors, your score would be (68% – 13%) x 100 = 55. That’s a very good score, because more than half of your customers are Promoters.

    Generally, if you can get a Net Promoter Score over 30, that’s good. Anything over 50 is great, and anything over 70 is a world-class organization. Not surprisingly, anything negative is bad. In that case, you don’t have a bad survey or a bad marketing department, you have serious problems coursing through your organization like poison.

    Do you need help coming up with your Net Promoter Score? Measure CP can help you find it. We can use mobile surveys and text-based feedback to help you reach your customers and find out how well you’re doing. And if you want to expand beyond your traditional NPS, we can help you with that too. Just visit the Measure CP website and ask to speak with one of our mobile survey experts.

    Photo credit: Merhad77 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Some business owners think customer loyalty is only earned through offering repeat business programs like loyalty cards, and offering regular specials and coupons.

    Customer loyalty can actually be earned through providing excellent customer service, and making sure customers are pleased with the service they are getting.

    That is why mystery shopping can play a much bigger role in establishing customer loyalty for restaurants and stores: because mystery shopping can help management learn where they have shortcomings and problems, and provide staff feedback and training to help them overcome those problems.

    customer loyalty

    English: Different customer loyality cards (airlines, car rental companies, hotels etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    With mystery shopping, management can get unbiased, objective feedback on those areas that concern them the most. Whether it is the amount of time customers have to wait before they receive help and attention, the taste of the food, the cleanliness of the facilities, or the favorability of the programs and specials, all of these areas can affect customer loyalty and satisfaction.

    Mystery shopping helps with customer loyalty, because it shows management just what people are thinking when they visit that establishment. What typically happens is when managers watch the staff to make sure they are doing everything right, the staff does everything perfectly. But their standards may slip when they know no one is watching them. Mystery shopping lets managers watch the staff without being onsite.

    It also helps them better train the staff to avoid problems that might drive away customers and hurt customer loyalty. If the staff can fix problems, and avoid screw ups, customers will have a better experience, and will be more likely to return.

    Finally, if staff know they are being mystery shopped, but do not know when it will happen, they are more likely to provide better service at all times. Better service means more customers will be happy. Happy customers will tell their friends, and become evangelists for the business. As they tell more people, they will also have more affinity for it, and will be more likely to return, becoming regulars to the business.

    And as more people visit the business, because of those recommendations, they too will enjoy the benefits of improved service, and can also become raving fans and returning regulars. That is the essence of good customer loyalty.

    Ultimately, mystery shopping becomes more than just a report card for businesses. It is a tool for customer loyalty and customer experience management. Managers who want to improve their customer loyalty programs should consider working with a mystery shopping agency to see how they can improve.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    A brand audit can help give you a peace of mind. How is this so? Well, if you are a member of a large company and franchise, be it a clothing store, department store or restaurant chain is it not of critical importance to maintain brand consistency across all stores in each state, even country?

    A mystery shopping agency with brand audit services, like Measure CP, can help you make certain your brand is being portrayed and perceived how you want it to be.

    Measure CP will send in one of its professionals to perform the brand audit.  He or she will evaluate many aspects of your business, in particular, the way in which your brand is positioned and how your clients perceive it.  It is entirely necessary to discover whether or not your brand is being positioned properly so your store can stay on the same page or level as the rest in your franchise.

    Brand AuditWhat makes companies such as Nike, Nordstrom’s, Chipotle or Porsche so successful? In large part, it is their brand.

    People recognize the Nike Swoosh and the Porsche sigil; they trust Nordstrom’s and Chipotle’s customer service and quality.  Their brand is a combination of marketing collateral, a consistent logo and customer service and quality.

    Customers will return to franchises and companies such as these because they trust the brand. They have no doubts as to what they will get when they walk into the doors of one of these companies’ stores.

    A brand audit will help get you that kind of trust and loyalty. Measure CP’s auditors will come to your locations and assess the personality, position, and perception of your brand inside and outside of your store, giving you the needed information to make changes, and bring your business to a position where each customer will learn to trust your brand.

    Keeping a brand consistent will take advertising and marketing a long way, and with a Measure CP brand audit, you’ll be able to identify any problems quickly and easily.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Corporations should make brand protection an integral part of their sports sponsorship packages, not only as a way to make sure their brand integrity is maintained, but to ensure the teams and events being sponsored are meeting their obligations of the sponsorship contract.

    Large corporations will often be involved in several sports sponsorships, as well as many high dollar sponsorship packages. Consider what goes into sponsoring an NFL team, a motor sports team, or even an entire sporting event. Often hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent per year on a single team or event.

    A London Underground train decorated to promot...

    A London Underground train decorated to promote London’s Olympic bid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    For example, anyone who watches the Indianapolis 500 this weekend will notice several things related to sponsorships:

    • Everything has a name — the Izod IndyCar series, for example.
    • There are sponsor names on a driver’s car and his or her firesuit. Some spots on the car and suit have more value than others — side pods on the car, and larger sponsor patches up near the driver’s face, as well as the driver’s hat.
    • The drivers will use the name of the sponsors and their cars, like James Hinchcliffe referring to “the number 27 GoDaddy car” in interviews.

    While teams will do everything they can to honor their sponsorship agreement, the companies still need brand protection to make sure that the agreement is followed exactly. An agency that specializes in brand protection can monitor whether a team has placed their logos in the correct places, is using them properly, and not overusing them or misusing them.

    A brand protection agency can also police a sporting event to make sure that sponsor messages aren’t being overused or misused. In fact, the 2012 London Olympics actually hand “brand police” provide sponsor and brand protection, by making sure someone wasn’t misusing the Olympics name, or sneaking in sponsorship messages when they weren’t allowed.

    The brand protection agency can even provide auditing documents when the event is over, or on regular intervals of the contract, to help ensure all aspects of the contract are being properly followed.

    Corporate sports sponsorship is an important marketing investment. To be sure companies are getting their return on investment, they need to work with an agency to make sure everything is being done properly. A brand protection agency can provide the necessary documentation and support to help corporations know their obligations are being met.

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    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    English: Samsung S5600 mobile phone.

    English: Samsung S5600 mobile phone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Using mobile feedback as a marketing and customer experience management tool gives business owners an edge on those owners that are still relying on satisfaction cards handed out at the end of a meal or visit to a store, or worse, not measuring customer satisfaction at all.

    Mobile feedback gives business owners immediate feedback, because customers receive surveys on their mobile phones as soon as they request them (they can be requested by texting a short code to a specific number). These surveys are typically four questions long, and recipients usually answer them as soon as they receive them.

    This does three things for the business owner: First, it gives them immediate feedback on each question — no waiting for survey cards to be dropped off. Second, the results are instantly tabulated. Since each survey is calculated by computer, trends can be spotted before they become a serious problem. Third, mobile feedback surveys have a higher response rate than survey cards, because people are continually using their phones, so they will think nothing of answering a short survey.

    So what can businesses do with this mobile feedback?

    For one thing, they can identify problem areas. For example, a restaurant’s mobile feedback survey can include data about their server. The manager notices that one server continues to get very high marks, so she puts her on the busiest shifts, knowing she will provide better satisfaction. Meanwhile, she also notices that a veteran server continues to get lower marks, which lowers the customer’s overall satisfaction. She can move him to a less busy shift, provide additional training, or just let him go, since his poor attitude could be a liability to the restaurant.

    Businesses can also focus on a specific area for a short amount of time. A gas station is running a seasonal special, such as a 30% discount on a car wash for every fill-up. A mobile feedback survey can let the gas station manager know about the quality of the car wash, how well received the offer was, and whether people will continue to come back to the gas station as a result.

    Mobile feedback surveys can even help businesses promote themselves. A common question on most mobile feedback surveys is to ask whether a customer would recommend the business to friends, but most businesses fail to take the next step.

    So why not include a question asking them to do that, with a place to give their friend’s mobile number? Text a quick mobile coupon to the friend and a message saying they have been invited by the customer to visit. Businesses can increase their traffic without any additional costs, with the help of their customers.

    Mobile feedback is more than just a customer satisfaction tool. They are used for specific problem areas, like staff friendliness and quality of special offers, as well as additional marketing at a lower cost and better response rate than card surveys.

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    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Hiring a mystery shopper to visit a supermarket can give managers valuable insight into their customers’ experience and views, without conducting expensive (and sometimes ineffective) focus groups.

    Supermarket

    Supermarket (Photo credit: david.alliet)

    Working with a mystery shopper agency means sending several shoppers to the store so they can measure different factors that management wants to focus on, and provide objective, anonymous feedback about the store and their customer experience.

    While focus groups can give in-depth feedback about their experience, they are not always as effective as a mystery shopper because:

    • The group is a small sample size. Only a few shoppers are speaking for an entire customer base. Several shoppers can visit a store several times over a longer period of time.
    • It is hard for people to provide objective feedback face-to-face, such as in a focus group, so they soften serious complaints, sometimes rendering them unimportant.
    • They do not want to bite the hand that feeds them. They know they are speaking about “their” store, and may hold back.
    • They overthink things. In an effort to provide the best feedback, they focus in on very small details that actually are not that important, which can cause managers to lose focus as they chase those unimportant details.

    Using a mystery shopper avoids these problems. For one thing, a mystery shopper is usually limited in the areas they can cover. If a supermarket wants to focus on the selection and stocking of the shelves, they will not be subjected to a 30 minute discussion about shopping carts for kids.

    A mystery shopper can look at employee behavior. Employees behave differently when management is watching. But what about during the overnight shift, or when the manager is in another part of the store? Are employees providing good information and service, or making pleasant conversation with customers? The mystery shopper can provide that kind of information.

    Focus groups are usually only qualitative. That is, they only provide descriptive information. But for ideal marketing research, a mystery shopper can provide quantitative data used to measure trends, determine performance issues, and even find the need for additional training.

    Mystery shopping in a grocery store will usually consist of a mystery shopper making their usual rounds through the store, selecting the products they need or products that store management wants them to purchase, visiting a particular section, and then making their purchases. The shopper will go home, file a report with the mystery shopping agency. From there, the report and data will be sent off to the supermarket’s corporate office for further action.

    Mystery shopping a supermarket is an effective way for the large chains to monitor how their individual stores are doing on certain key performance indicators, and to measure whether they are meeting corporate expectations. By working with a mystery shopping agency, stores can easily and effectively find the information to help them improve their customer experience, win loyal shoppers, and increase total sales.

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    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Is measuring the customer perspective of hundreds of thousands of people possible? You bet.

    Understanding customer perspective — how your business is seen through customers’ eyes — helps business owners and executives know where they need to make changes to improve customer loyalty.

    It’s one thing if you have a few hundred customers. With those numbers, you can usually just ask their opinions. Restaurant managers do table touches, coffee shop owners talk to their regulars, and retailers always hear from happy and unhappy customers. That’s easy measurement.

    How Do You Even Quantify How Big of a Problem You Have?

    Man holds an iPhone toward the camera

    You can measure the customer perspective of tens of thousands of people with these.

    Measuring the customer perspective for tens of thousands of people can be problematic, however, especially if you have hundreds of stores throughout the country. But, it can be done.

    Many large companies use mystery shopping to set a baseline for performance. Measure Consumer Perspectives can be employed to assess each store’s performance by sending mystery shoppers to every location to find strengths and weaknesses.

    Large companies often launch a mobile feedback campaign to get data quickly. Measure Consumer Perspectives routinely collects data through mobile surveys, which typically have a 20 percent or more completion rate (compared to survey cards, which barely hit one percent). These are very short surveys — usually four questions — sent to a customer’s mobile phone. The questionnaires work on any kind of phone, not just smart phones.

    Results should be compiled and used to measure improvements at each store. With this information, owners and executives can determine whether problem stores are improving, and if stronger stores are holding steady.

    Mobile feedback provides one of the most reliable sources of customer feedback. It can outperform every other form of customer perspective measurement. Survey cards, coupon redemption, and even focus groups only show a slice of the customer satisfaction pie.

    Social media conversations pertaining to a company should be monitored, but this is not a complete picture of customer perspective. For a complete understanding, companies should look to mystery shoppers and mobile feedback to obtain measurable information to enact changes and bring improvement.

    Photo credit: Kengo (Flickr, Creative Commons

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Brand audits can benefit gas stations of any size and ownership. A brand audit shows if customer expectations are being met and helps in earning brand loyal regulars who will repeatedly visit your store.

    If you own a gas station, it’s safe to assume that your store is a franchise of one of the major gas station brands, like Thornton’s, BP, or Shell. This means that not only are you responsible for your gas station’s brand, but you are also responsible for upholding the corporate branding guidelines of the parent company. For this reason, brand audits have become commonplace, and are crucial for gas stations.

    When a corporate owner wants to ensure that every location is adhering to proper branding, signage, pricing and promotional guidelines, they will conduct brand audits. Traditionally, during brand audits an un-announced, anonymous mystery shopper will visit your store to check a pre-determined set of guidelines administered by the parent company and the mystery shopping agency.

    For example, Thornton’s might hire brand auditors to visit their franchise locations. During these anonymous visits, the brand auditors will have a checklist of criteria such as cleanliness of bathroom, visibility of corporate signage, and any monthly promotions and specials. This criteria will vary each month, but will be carried out to every store in the region.

    For example, the brand auditor may visit your gas station to ensure that all of your store’s promotional signage reflects the most current pricing, sales, promotions or featured product offerings. They may also check to ensure marketing materials are in place, such as loyalty rewards program brochures, credit card applications, and so on.

    Consistency in branding is important to the success of any franchise, both for the franchisee and corporation. For this reason, gas stations will often be proactive and conduct brand audits to make sure their customers are getting the same experience from store to store across the country.

    Photo credit: PuyoDead (Flickr, Creative Commons)

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Mystery shopping can be a beneficial way for airlines to gain objective feedback. Typically, airlines only hear from angry customers when a problem arises. When it comes to air travel, emotions run high. Whether people are flying for business or pleasure, many travelers find air travel to be a stressful experience. Airlines have to go above and beyond to please travelers in order to encourage brand loyalty.

    Mystery shopping helps airlines understand their customers' perspective.Many people are familiar with the bad publicity that can occur when an angry traveler takes to social media to complain about their poor experience with an airline. In fact, a simple search on any social network of any major airline carrier’s name will produce a wide variety of consumer complaints being broadcast via the internet. These can be everything from written complaints to traveler’s actual pictures and videos of the problem. While these reviews shouldn’t be discredited, this may not be an accurate picture of what most passengers experience.

    While airlines may be very well aware of their most frequent customer complaints — small seats, baggage fees — getting into the mind of the consumer is not as easy. One of the best ways for airlines to gain insight into their customers’ experience is through mystery shopping audits.

    Airline mystery shopping is designed to give airline carriers insight into their customers’ experience through an unbiased, objective pair of eyes. Not only is mystery shopping a great way for airline carriers to find out exactly what their passengers experience, and what sort of customer service is being offered, but it allows them to identify strengths and weaknesses, which can help them avoid a future public relations problem.

    Furthermore, mystery shopping is a great way to reward exceptional employees, which in itself provides an incentive for other airline employees to treat every customer as a potential mystery shopper. When conducting an airline shop, mystery shopping professionals will evaluate the level of customer service offered by all airline employees they interact with during their flight, including those at the airport as well as in-flight.

    Additionally, they will evaluate the look and appearance of the aircraft’s interior, its cleanliness, the restroom facilities, and accessibility for disabled passengers. They can even evaluate the airline’s meal options and service.

    The wealth of data received from an airline mystery shopping audit can help airlines determine areas of weakness and strength in their operations; identify how their agents react, and should react, in specific situations such as flight changes or unruly flyers; develop, refine or evaluate a training program; create an incentive program for employees; and, even develop new criteria for management performance and bonuses.

    Mystery shopping is a better, more accurate indicator of how airlines are performing, as compared to focus groups, customer surveys, and social media complaints. For an airline looking for key performance indicators, consider working with a mystery shopping agency that can provide national or even international coverage.

    Photo credit: Matt Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Is customer perspective of your company the same as yours? Do you see your business through your eyes, or your customer’s eyes? How can you ascertain what your customers are thinking?

    Your customers are talking about you – and these days, they’re using social media to do so. The question is, are you listening? Social media is one of the best ways for businesses and organizations in all industries to gain customer perspective and insight into their business and operations. The customer perspective gained through social media is invaluable to companies when creating customer experience management plans.

    The following are a great starting point for those looking to use social media to research customer perspectives:

    1. Google

    Not only should you be Googling your business, you should do it often. As a business owner, you should be aware of everything that is being said about your business – press, reviews and customer complaints. Set up a Google Alert for your business name. This will automatically deliver new search results directly to your email as they occur, making it easy to follow trends in customer perspectives. Google Alert for Measure CP

    2. Online review sites

    Whether or not you’ve created a profile on review sites such as Yelp.com, there’s a good chance someone else has – therefore it’s important that you check your reviews often. In addition, you should also be checking out your competitors’ reviews. By checking out the competition, you’ll be able to gain invaluable insight into the customer perspective of your competition, which can help you figure out what your target market wants.

    3. Twitter

    Even if your business is not on Twitter, you should still be running frequent searches for your business within the site. This will pull up any conversation about your business – in fact, you may be surprised to find that more people are talking about your business than you would expect!

    4. Competitor’s pages

    Next time you’re online, scope out your competitors’ social media profiles? Look at what’s working and what’s not. Their customers will have great insight that will often align with your business. Look at what their customers are saying and get some great insight into your company’s customer perspective.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    The consumer experience at gas stations from decades past are long gone — no more weekend drives or uniformed full-service gas station attendants. Gas stations compete based on prices and other paid service offerings, like a retail convenience store, lottery tickets, soft drinks, and doughnuts.

    Many win customers based on proximity to a highway or other major roadway. In fact, many mid to large sized American towns feature intersections with two or more gas stations across the street from each other, each with the same gas price. So what motivates customers to select one gas station over another?

    The answer is consumer experience. When given the choice between two gas stations with gasoline of similar quality and price, the customer will always head to the gas station they feel most comfortable at. This means quality customer service, clean, functioning gas pumps, a clean store area, and even product selection inside the store.

    In this competitive environment, a good consumer experience management system can help gas stations to stay competitive and ahead of the curve by aiding them in evaluating and improving every aspect of their business. For gas stations, not only does this include customer service, it also includes store layout, product availability, marketing, staff management, and so on.

    In addition, a consumer experience plan can help gas stations think of new ways to cater to their customer’s wants and needs – for example, establishing a customer loyalty program or a gourmet coffee offering. In addition, it can help gas station owners to identify their businesses’ unique selling points and discover new ways to help set their gas station apart from the competition. It also helps them identify what their competitors are doing successfully and what they are failing at. They can copy and adapt the good points, and discard the failure points and create their own hybrid of the best consumer experience points from each competitor. This can make the gas station the best of all the competition, which will help attract more customers.

    Finally, the consumer experience management can also help gas station owners to evaluate all customer touch points and improve customer satisfaction. A solid consumer experience management plan can also help gas station owners improve their staff management and staff training programs, which in turn positively affects the level of customer service in their store. As staff knows how to deal with different customer situations, they are able to keep customers happy visit after visit.

    Many gas station owners hire agencies that specialize in consumer experience management planning and mystery shopping and assessment. These agencies help them to identify areas of improvement and work with their clients to improve all customer touch points, identify new ways to innovate their business, and streamline their operations. With a strong consumer experience management plan, gas stations can gain that important edge over their competition.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Customer Experience Management has changed, thanks to the digital age. Social media has changed the way businesses interact with their customers. No matter the industry, organizations are investing more time and resources than ever before in identifying the best channels of communication for their audience. It is important for organizations identify the proper channels for communication because it is not logical or economical for organizations to interact with customers through every available channel.

    Customer “touch points” refer to more than just the point of purchase. In fact, most companies, no matter how big or small, likely have a small handful of channels through which customers engage with the organization. A strong plan for customer touch points is the cornerstone of any effective customer experience management plan.

    Customer touch points or channels of communication can range from customer service help lines to a company’s website, social media channels, print and commercial advertising efforts, mailers and brick and mortar stores. A recent blog post points out the importance of segmenting and differentiating customers and optimizing touch point strategies in a customer experience management program.

    By optimizing their customer experience management plan, companies can work to convert existing profitable customers into more profitable customers, focus on making potentially profitable customers more profitable, and identify and deflect absolutely unprofitable customers.

    One of the first steps in optimizing an organization’s touch points for a customer experience management plan is to assess the point of attraction, or pre purchase touch points. In short, the point of attraction is the channel through which a customer becomes aware of a brand. These points of attraction can be static, interactive or dynamic and can include almost anything from print or television ads to mailers, websites, blogs, customer service help lines or live events.

    There are several distinct ways that brands can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these points of attraction when creating a customer experience management plan: 1. Use market research to define their target audience and segmenting them. 2. Concentrate on reaching those target market segments 3. Customize their products to reach their market segments. 4. Customize messaging to appeal directly to their target audience. Reach the audience directly through their chosen channels. 5. Analyze and measure the strategies’ effectiveness.

    When optimizing touch points of attraction for a customer experience management plan, it is important to also remember the assessment of the plan’s goals can also aid in identifying the most effective customer touch points. By defining clear objectives prior to creating a plan, the entire customer experience management program will be executed more effectively. A well thought out customer experience management program featuring dynamic usage of customer points of attraction can continually aid in the building of a brand as well as customer acquisition.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Customer service should be at the top of any CMO’s priority list, making sure the customers are satisfied with their experience, and be willing to listen to them for future feedback. And the post on today’s Marketing Tech Blog from Douglas Karr illustrates this point perfectly. (Disclosure: I appeared on Doug’s Marketing Tech Radio show last year.) He discusses this year’s IBM Global CMO Study (released after “face-to-face interviews with 1,734 CMOs spanning 19 industries and 64 countries”), which studied what the CMOs thought were their most important priorities for the year.

    Based on the results, IBM made these observations:

    These conversations and our in-depth analysis of study findings underscore the need to respond to three new realities:

    • The empowered customer is now in control of the business relationship
    • Delivering customer value is paramount — and an organization’s behavior is as important as the products and services it provides
    • The pressure to be accountable to the business is not just a symptom of hard times, but a permanent shift that requires new approaches, tools and skills.

    Table of CMO Priorites for 2012

    This is interesting, exciting stuff for anyone who is in the customer service or customer experience management business.

    • It means that CMOs are recognizing that they no longer control their brand or their customer relationships, the people do. This means they have to listen to the customer.
    • The customer experience is just as important as the products or services the company offers. This means they have to interact with the customer.
    • Over 2/3 of the CMOs recognize that customer loyalty is the top priority. This means they recognize the changing landscape of customer service.
    • Priorities #3 and #5 demonstrate the importance of using social media to both engage with their customers, as well as monitor their customer experience management efforts. That is, if people are happy (or upset), they’ll share it via social media. And if companies are on the ball, they’ll respond and engage on social media as well.

    For anyone in customer experience management, these are some important shifts in the thinking of CMOs. They recognize that a) social media is not a passing fad, and b) the voice of the customer has gotten louder than ever.

    This even demonstrates the blurring of the lines between the customer service department and the marketing department, and the idea that bad customer service now equals bad marketing.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Medical providers have a lot of competition these days. Gone are the days of one hospital for one city. And hospitals aren’t just competing against one another; in some case, they also have to contend with immediate care centers and sometimes even the clinics that have popped up inside grocery stores and pharmacies. If hospitals want to remain the immediate first choice for patients in need of care — and rely on those patients’ repeat business — they need to practice good customer experience management like any other business.

    People have a choice today of where they go for care. In some cases, doctors will prefer a specific hospital — such as obstetricians performing deliveries — which will take some of the choice out of a patient’s hands, but even in those cases, customers can demand a certain hospital if they’re truly adamant.

    Many hospitals market themselves as the leader in a certain area, whether that’s cancer care, neurosurgery or delivering babies, but if they’re not delivering great customer service when patients are lying in their beds and in the biggest need of good, solid care, people will question their competency on all levels — no matter how good the doctors or how state-of-the art their technology.

    The bigger a hospital is, the more opportunities there are for a disconnect among departments. How will word get back to the larger management of the hospital if there’s an issue with accounts receivable, or the X-ray lab, the nurses station? How will the marketing and advertising department know that their ads aren’t having the desired effect?

    Customers will weight ER wait times, treatment once they’re on site, the quality of the rooms and equipment, and the bedside manner of the doctors that treat them (among many other things) when they’re choosing the place they’ll receive care. There’s always the risk, of course, of a patient in the hospital with something to complain about who says nothing for fear that it will affect the level of care she receives.

    Situations like this make hospitals a great candidate for mystery shopping; proactively seeking out feedback from trained shopper “patients” will increase the chances that a hospital can improve before a real patient chooses to go elsewhere for their care!

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    I hate to be the one to tell you this, but where customer service is concerned, you may not be doing as stellar a job as you think. Here are five ways to know:

    You’re always working for new business.

    If you’re always out there trolling for new business, it’s probably because you aren’t getting return business. Anybody can get people in the door to spend a few bucks; it’s taking care of them once they’re inside your four walls and offering them a memorable, positive experience that really takes effort. Creating loyalty and giving people a reason to recommend your business — automatic new business! — is the result of good customer service.

    You talk about how great your customer service is.

    Don’t tell me — SHOW ME. Great customer service shouldn’t have to be a selling point; it’ll simply reflect in everything that happens in your store.

    Your employees are unhappy and unempowered.

    If the people you’ve hired to represent you are miserable, it’s going to reflect in how they treat people and how your store operates. If they have to ask a manager for permission — or a key, or a signature — every time someone has a complaint or a return, they’re not going to be happy. They’ll do the bare minimum to get by and get out the door. They won’t smile.

    Zappo’s, in addition to providing an amazing company culture, gives their front-line customer-service reps a lot of freedom to help the people who reach them in the call center. They don’t have to ask for permission to offer a refund or do what’s necessary to make someone happy — they just do it. Direct responsibility for people’s happiness can do a lot for morale!

    You’re not testing what you’re training.

    Never assume that your training program is perfect. You should be evaluating every aspect of your training after every new employee you train, and be prepared to change your program if something didn’t work. You may discover in your testing that you’re training the wrong thing — or don’t know what you’re missing.

    Paying attention to your customers’ reactions and satisfaction is a good way to measure how effective your training is. (The two are related, you know!)

    People are telling you, and everyone they know, that you suck.

    No-brainer, right? But if you aren’t listening to your customers, how are you going to know? Do mystery shops. Do text surveys. Watch message boards, social media channels and sites like Yelp, CitySearch and Angie’s List. Satisfied customers often spread the word, but disgruntled customers are even louder.

    And if you don’t hear anything, don’t assume that no news is good news. ASK!

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    When people stay in your hotel, whether they’re there for business or pleasure, they expect a lot from you. They expect quick and painless check-in and check-out, a secure room, comfortable and cozy beds, great water pressure in the shower, and sometimes, even a warm breakfast. Oh — and it wouldn’t hurt, of course, for all those things to be delivered professionally and with a big smile. Guests in your hotel also expect privacy, peace and quiet. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t unobtrusive ways to show you care about their opinions and feedback: Try using text surveys the next time you want to ask hotel guests to weigh in on their stay — even while they’re still checked in!

    Encourage your customers via a placard, table tent or even mirror cling to send a quick message to a five-digit “short code” from their cell phones (no smart phones necessary!), which will then return a prompt to answer a few questions that will translate into actionable feedback from you.

    The benefit of these surveys is that unlike mystery shops, which use people who are being paid to patronize your business, text surveys rely on a group of people who are already somewhat loyal to your business. The feedback of emotionally invested customers is especially valuable knowing all the many hotel options that travelers have nowadays.

    Another benefit? The results of these surveys will come straight to you — via text message or email — as soon as your guests hit send from their phones.

    At the front desk: This is a great opportunity to ask about your staff, even the ones who are standing right in front of the guests. Definitely gauge your guests’ reactions the front-desk staff, bellhops, valets and more. If you’ve sensed issues with wait times, baggage handling and the like, this is a great time to get in there and ask about them.

    In room: Ask how they’re liking their room! Are their linens crisp and clean? IS the water pressure good enough? Is housekeeping prompt and polite?

    Many of the answers you’ll get, if they are negative, are likely simple things that could be addressed by a quick call to the front desk or housekeeping management. But if you’re proactive in asking customers about these things before they come to you with an issue, you definitely come out looking like the champion.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    Staying in a hotel should be a treat for all guests, whether they’re business travelers or vacationers. For them, it’s an opportunity to have all their needs attended to by friendly professionals who live to provide good customer service! They can expect smiles around every corner, clean living spaces and more from you. And you’ve trained your staff to provide just that. And sure, when your employees know that you’re going to be walking around with a fine-tooth comb — and trust me, word does get around, no matter how big your staff is — everything is spotless. Everyone has their biggest, most sparkling smiles on. Things run like clockwork.

    But what about the other times, when your staff isn’t expecting an inspection? You can hope that they’ll be on your best behavior because they care about their jobs and providing good customer service to everyone who walks through your doors, but the truth of the matter is that some employees just won’t. And that’s where mystery shoppers come in.

    When you hire a mystery shopping company, it will hire and train people to visit your hotel and go through all the motions of ordinary customers, with one notable extra: Packed among their toothbrushes and swimsuits will be a list of questions, criteria and other things to look for throughout their stay at your hotel. After they’ve finished “shopping” during their time with you, they’ll compile a comprehensive report based on their experiences that should help you determine what you’re doing well and what could use a little more improvement.

    Here are a few things they might look for:

    Friendliness and helpfulness of front desk staff Cleanliness and organization of lobby Time it takes to check in (and check out) Quality of concierge services Cleanliness of rooms

    It’s important to do shops like these at all times during the year, not just during your busy season. With so many different types of customers and so many rooms in just a single hotel, your results will obviously vary! But varied results from real customers visiting your hotel under real circumstances — not “Hey, the owner’s coming!” circumstances — will provide a better snapshot and insight into your business. The more, the better!

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    It’s not too hard to rise above the competition these days. When you’re out and about doing your errands or eating at a restaurant, how often do you walk out the door and think, “That experience really made my day!” When you do those miniature mystery shops of your competition — you do that, right? — do you take many notes on how you can improve based on the great service or customer experience you had there? Probably not.

    Most businesses today just suck at customer service. Customers are lucky if they walk out of a store or restaurant and aren’t furious; being content or happy just often isn’t in the cards at all. So if you want to be good at customer service, all you have to do is be mediocre, right?

    Wrong.

    I have no idea why the business climate has become such that employees put little to no effort into making their customers happy. But instead of lamenting the state of things, let’s be the change we wish to see, shall we? This can easily be built into your customer experience management.

    Hire people with good attitudes and infectious personalities — especially managers. Skills can be taught and trained; disposition cannot.

    Reward good behavior as much or more than you punish bad behavior. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.

    Create a work environment and company culture that makes your employees excited to be part of the everyday operations and success of your business. Are you doing everything you can to ensure that your employees look forward to coming to work?

    Apply the Golden Rule to everything you do: Treating your employees with respect, and let them know how important they are in everything your business does. Impress upon your managers to do the same. Negativity and apathy are contagious. But the good news is that so are positivity and engagement.

    It actually isn’t hard not to suck. It just requires an attitude shift. So don’t just strive to be the lesser of two evils next to your competitors. Work to blow them out of the water. Kill the competition with kindness — toward your customers.

    Brand Loyalty

    Use Mystery Shopping For Competitor Research

    When people visit your resort, they’re there to relax, enjoy the services you have to offer and be spoiled by the fantastic customer service each one of your employees provides — in every aspect of the business, whether it’s a restaurant or spa or even a member of your housekeeping staff. If something has gone wrong, you’ll definitely hear from your most vocal guests…but what about the rest? Is the only option to call the front desk and speak to someone? That can be intimidating for someone who doesn’t like confrontation and just wants to enjoy their stay. Maybe you just want to know how things are going but don’t have the resources to make a personal call to each guest’s room.

    Hopefully, guests will be busy out enjoying all the wonderful services and activities you have to offer, but they should have some down time as well. This is a perfect opportunity to invite them to take a text survey, a quiet, unobtrusive way to get to their opinions and feedback on your resort. Here are a couple of ideas on how to implement something like this:

    At the front desk: Ask customers, both at check-in and check-out, about their experience with your staff. How long did they have to wait? Were there issues with the check-in process? Were all the charges explained to them? Ask anything you’d like.

    In room: Ask how they’re liking their room! Were the sheets and linens nice and clean? How has housekeeping service been?

    These ideas go for all the other aspects of your resort, too. The questions don’t have to be complicated; the answers won’t be either, though you can give customers the option to tell you more. The best part about these surveys: You’ll get responses instantly to your cell phone or e-mail, which means you can act on both positive and negative feedback immediately.

    If your resort or hotel group has a rewards program, consider using text surveys to communicate with your most loyal group of customers. Offer a small incentive to them for answering a few quick text survey questions. The benefit to you: valuable insights from repeat customers. The benefit to them: A token of your appreciation, plus better service based on their insights next time they come to your resort!