Real feedback 'more useful than secret shoppers'
The commonly used customer feedback method of 'secret shopping' - the practice of sending in mystery shoppers to evaluate a retail store - is neither credible nor realistic, according to Jeremy Michael, managing director for customer insight agency SMG UK.
While Michael suggests that the views of a few people per retail store per month who are not even real customers (and therefore do not have the same expectations as real customers) should not be used to drive business improvement initiatives or behavioural change programmes intended to encourage customer spending, advocacy and loyalty.
Many forward-thinking retailers and service providers (such as Burger King, Pets at Home, and Superdrug in the UK, for example) have chosen instead to move to a system of asking genuine customers to provide feedback on their in-store experience on a daily basis.
This method allows for fast, tangible improvements in actual customer service because the data tells the retailer exactly which areas to focus on to increase customer loyalty, with customer service commonly being a key driver.
As all of these results can be tied back to financial performance data (because the customers are real), retailers can be more certain that the insights based on the feedback gathered will result in real, day-to-day business improvements.
Although the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index results revealed that overall satisfaction levels have increased slightly from July 2010, consumer confidence has fallen as a result of economic fears, spending cuts and growing financial pressures.
Arguably, in such a competitive marketplace, it is more important to understand the customer experience in order for retailers to survive and reward their loyal customers.
"In contrast to simple mystery shopper surveys," Michael concluded, "retailers must be aware there are a range of other equally cost effective methods that capture insights directly from existing customers and that can provide real feedback about real issues in nearly real-time."