Mindshare Technologies’ (Salt Lake City, UT) upper-90% client retention success story got started 10 years ago when CEO John Sperry discovered a former college buddy’s mystery shopping company and became certain of the existence of an untapped Voice of the Customer market. “Back then, in 2002, restaurants were spending around $500 million annually on mystery shopping, but the real opportunity was refocusing mystery shopping customer satisfaction data collection on business operations,” Sperry told RBR. “We tried to automate mystery shopping, then in 2005 we reworked the description of our efforts as ’operations improvement through customer involvement’ to help businesses run their operations via their customers’ experiences.
“We rapidly expanded into hair salons; Great Clips, with 2,000 outlets, was our first large client. Retail was next, with Firestone and Hertz, Multi-unit chains, including restaurants and call centers became prime client targets. In the past two years, retailers have jumped in, too.
“Numerous potential clients told us they needed operational results, not more data. Our mission became critical to day-to-day operations, helping store managers, field managers, etc., turn their results around. We learned that fixing growth problems and discovering that a product or service is ’out of variance’-and remedying it-should be among our goals. It’s great when you deliver a 99% customer rating experience. But the reality is that ratings can dip to 40%, so consistently maintaining numbers in the lower 90s and never allowing them to dip below 80 is a nice goal. VOC solutions are advocates for customers, and if you are smart enough to listen to them, you’ll make a lot of money.
“The greater the number of employees involved in a business’ service-delivery equation, the better our fit with that company, and the more we can help them improve their processes to run the business better. We brought Total Quality Management to VOC,” he continued, with respect to the part played by employees in food production, in restaurants and individual meal preparation. Its small adjustments that deter catastrophic events.
“Some clients come to us for customer satisfaction indexing (CSI); proving value from that can be incredibly difficult, and for many businesses it isn’t compelling enough. Some companies said that they viewed our information as just a metric, but metrics alone don’t accomplish anything.”
Of course, metrics differences in results. Sperry said, “Clients will use average, top box, bottom two, NPS, NPS aggressive, weighted average. The toughest thing that all our customers face is employee turnover. They’re constantly hiring new employees, and a new employee who repeats a mistake over and over will drive away uncounted numbers of shoppers. But the magic happens in our follow-up after a customer has had a bad experience. We know that 9 out of 10 customers who have had a bad experience won’t talk to the manager. They talk with their feet and never come back.
“Our goal is to provide as many possible feedback channels for disgruntled people, like taking a phone or web survey. We strive to get a percentage of them to sound off, so they can be recovered as clients. The same day we make a dissatisfaction discovery, we can play back the customer comment to an employee who created the issue for the customer or failed to capitalize on an opportunity. There’s nothing that sends home a message stronger than a manager playing back a customer comment to an employee on our MP3.
“Plus, we’ve learned that lost customers who are recovered are actually more loyal than if they never had a bad experience in the first place. We can also prevent a problem from occurring to anybody else.”
Sperry readily admits that “there are fancy, sexy things to explore in company data, but the Mindshare Technologies’ became helping store managers deal with turnover, training and practical things that occur all the time, plus delivering consistency and quality every day, applying real-time employee adjustments with shoppers.”
The great recession has not dulled Mindshare Technologies’ business. “I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen in early 2009. But now we’ve had revenue increases for 105 straight months,” volunteered Sperry. “In the middle of the down turn, we noticed each customer experience being viewed as that much more valuable by our clients. A bad experience could have compounding consequences.”
Sperry noticed target companies moving away from large research projects. He highlighted Mindshare’s dedication to “small research projects that allow for real-time communication, enabling a business to steer, adjust and empower a field manager and store manager to know their location is performing relative to the client.”
RBR focused Sperry back to clients’ selection of scoring methodologies. “We begin by asking how familiar they are with a VOC system like ours. About one-third have heard of VOC systems; some have used one, on and off. About 50% have not experienced it, but its adoption is growing.
“Understanding their VOC level of experience helps guide us between conservative or more aggressive metrics. If a company has no experience, their early scores are going to be disturbingly low, and tend to be a bit of a wake -up call. Receiving our waves of information can turn them off from the system. We like to start it with a little bit softer metric, like average scores and slowly move to more aggressive scoring methodologies, like top two boxes and ultimately a top box and then NPS. That’s a top box with a negative score. You also want a nice banding in the data that shows opportunities to improve. However, even when data looks sensational, you know that everything isn’t perfect, and that’s when you adopt more aggressive scoring.”
VOC work has become a more crowded marketplace, confirmed Sperry. “There’s a cadre of us out there who mutually respect each other, plus a large group of knock off’ research groups who do this on the side,” he detailed. “Everyone’s CSI system collects client and customer data and leads to a CSI index associated with each store. But those are no more than baby steps and maybe 10% of the work. Those results can’t guide training, product design or enhancement. The magic and separation between different vendors happens with automation of the follow –up processes and rigors of performance improvement. I like to say ’Actions speak much louder than indexes.”
Mindshare Technologies’ client decision makers split between CMOs, operations and research departments. “A lot of clients don’t have in house research groups,” Sperry shared. “Usually, marketing department work is ad hoc, and comes in waves and cycles depending on marketing projects. We meet a client’s operations people every week and live with them on an ongoing cycle.”
Projects send Mindshare personnel into the field to assist corporate owned and franchised stores. “The great thing about corporate owned stores is control of the rollout from headquarters. And at companies with a blend of owned and franchised locations, the corporate locations can establish and prove a program, and help us engage with the rest. “Sometimes working first with the franchise helps us sign a full corporate contract.”
As for growth potential, Sperry smiles. “I think we’ve just crossed over a lot of industries’ early adopters so a lot of significant B2B aren’t engaged with VOC yet. I think when every company has a Customer Experience Officer, you’ll know were in a majority of businesses,” he noted.
Tools from the VOC trade pull from a limitless array of accepted research products and services. Admits Sperry, “Social media is the ’cat’s meow’ to some of our competitors. We say social media has a role to play and we believe it will become more relevant as it becomes more localized. Right now, I see most social media discussions as hearsay and a lot different in value from what you hear from a customer after you ask them a question. Social media so far seems to be best for brand image and awareness.”
When RBR asked Sperry about recurring developments he sees benefitting Mindshare Technologies, he indicated client side benefits from VOC. “A lot of companies honestly feel that they’re built around the customer, but listening to what marketing thinks needs to be done isn’t listening to customers. Those businesses are still centered on manufacturing or delivery of the product,” he remarked. “Until you install a VOC system like ours, you haven’t made your customers the heart of your business.