The folks at Software Advice, a site that reviews and compares customer service software, released an interesting infographic a few weeks ago entitled The Great Retail Experience Race. The infographic was based on an original study done by Software Advice for their Customer Service Investigator blog, and I thought it would be interesting to learn a little more about what types of expectations the team had going into the study and what surprised them most.
We were able to catch up with Ashley Verrill, who was heavily involved with the study. Ashley is a market analyst at Software Advice and has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features.
Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal.
An Interview with Ashley Verrill of Customer Service Investigator
1. Before you began your research, did you have any expectations of what you would find?
“Yes, and my expectations were right on in one instance (that the national brands would do better at presenting offers and deals) and wrong in the other (that the national brands would excel in creating connections with customers). My assumptions were based on first-hand experience, actually. In high school and college, I worked for two local businesses–a restaurant and a bicycle store–as well as several national chains, including Urban Outfitters, Einsteins Bagels and Starbucks.
In all three of the large companies, I noticed an intense level of scrutiny around when we engaged with customers and what we should say. Urban Outfitters, for example, had the team work in “zones” around the store, including by the front door. That person was charged with greeting every customer that came in. At the register, we were required to make one flattering comment about what the customer chose to buy. Similarly, at Starbucks we were expected to make and distribute samples for new or seasonal items every few hours.
Conversely, in the local stores, there was little if any guidance on what was said to customers, and there definitely weren’t any expectations around offering deals or specials. That’s why it surprised me in the experiment that the local stores beat their national counterparts in every category for creating emotional, personal connections with customers. Barnes & Noble, for example, only spoke to our secret shoppers 20 percent of the times we visited the store; while the local book store greeted us 60 percent of the time.”
2. What were you most surprised to discover in your research?
“I was really impressed with the consistency of our experiences with Panera Bread. They told our secret shoppers about deals or specials 70 percent of the time — the most in the group. I discovered after analyzing the research just how successful this strategy has been for them. Their stock was actually upgraded last year, in part from increased sales that came from upselling. Mostly this came in the form of offering a bakery item for 99 cents.
Not every visitor took Panera up on the offer, but the ones who did chose to accept the deal more than once. In one instance, the visitor declined the deal initially, but when he changed his mind and went back later, the employee still gave him the special price. The visitor chose the deal in every subsequent visit (he conducted a total of four).”
3. In the study it seems that small businesses did not take advantage of the extra time they had with customers to create upsell opportunities. Did you get a sense from collecting the data why that was the case?
“That was exactly the case. Mostly, when these employees spoke to our shoppers, they exchanged greetings. Maybe asked how their day was going. Complemented their necklace, or T-shirt; but didn’t tell them about the special 2 for 1 deal they were offering that day, in the case of the boutique; or the frequent buyer card in the case of the coffee shop. The local sub shop did a really good job of being personable with people, asking them about their weekend, for example. But didn’t tell our site visitors once about their sandwich of the day, or their deal for buying a drink and chips with their lunch.”
4. You give some sound advice at the end of the blog post on how small businesses can bridge the gap with larger ones. What advice would you have for small businesses on beginning the process?
“There’s a lot of things you can do, but I think it really starts with just setting very specific written expectations. My mom actually runs a small business–a chain of bicycle stores in the Dallas area. She’s always expressing frustration when we walk in one of the stores and there’s 10 customers milling around with no salesperson talking to them. The main reason why this happens is that they don’t have any specific expectations. As the old saying goes, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.
Unless you tell employees what you want specifically, they are going to assume that it doesn’t matter how quickly they talk to the customer, or what they say when they do engage with them. One tip I suggested in my article was to be consistent at the register. Again, going back to Panera, they offered the deal most of the time. This is particularly important for retailers like coffee shops, where the average revenue per sale is so low. That’s likely why Starbucks baristas offered us deals on bags of coffee beans–these can go for as much as $14.”
5. Since we live in an era of short attention spans, how would you sum up the findings of the study in one sentence?
“While the national stores did a better job of driving revenue on a transaction-by-transaction basis (because they offered more deals and attempted to up-sell more often), the local stores created more personal connections with customers, increasing their propensity of driving deeper customer loyalty over the long term.”