Why customer service shouldn’t be a mystery

Why customer service shouldn’t be a mystery

It’s not often that I agree with Gerry Harvey, chairman of retailer Harvey Norman, but this time I think he has got a fair case. In a recent study, Choice magazine used ‘shadow shoppers’ to gauge customer service across 10 of Australia’s largest and most well known retailers. Harvey Norman (along with a number of the other stores) performed rather poorly. The issue that Gerry has is that these findings were based on just four individual store visits. I can see his point.

With almost 200 stores across Australia, visiting a sample of only four stores in the Sydney area can hardly be described as statistically significant when it comes to reporting the data collected by Choice in this study. It’s like describing Van Gogh as a terrible painter based on seeing only one of his paintings. I’m sure like Gerry, there are some very unhappy store managers whose stores reputations have been tarnished by this very broad brush stroke.

While mystery shopping is an established tool used to gain a ‘true’ representation of an in store experience, it does have its limitations, especially for large retailers such as those focused on in the Choice study. To truly understand the store experience of an Australia wide retailer you have to visit a large number of stores, something that this study failed to do. Visiting a large number of stores takes a lot of time, effort and in the end, money. Successfully adopting an Australia wide mystery shopper program is not an easy process. It’s a one way process that involves a lot of legwork. So why not turn the tables and let actual customers have their own say?

Thanks in part to social media becoming part of the fabric of our lives, we are increasingly able to have two way dialogue with companies. As customers we are wanting to have our say and retailers just need to be willing to listen.

An online customer experience program (CEP) which can recognise potentially every customer Australia wide is an extremely powerful tool, more so than a mystery shop which by its very nature is limited to only a few in store interactions.

Simply by providing an online customer feedback form on the base of a receipt, or on flyers / signage in store, a CEP provides a collection device than can gather the statistically significant thoughts and opinions of thousands of customers anywhere and at any time.

While Gerry believes that customer service is fantastic across his stores, I’m sure that a CEP would be able to tell him exactly what his customers think.


photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelotuscarroll/10728267535/”>Lotus Carroll</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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  1. Measuring 2% of Mr. Harvey’s stores may not be representative of all of his stores. But you can bet that it is an accurate read of those stores on those visits. And whilst effective social network programs can help identify problems and areas of good performance, they tend to tip toward the problems. So neither mystery shops, nor self reported experiences via social, is perfect.
    But rather than debating the methodology, retailers should identify what can be improved (even if it can only be improved in 2% of stores) and get to it.

  2. As a long time mystery shopper (15 + years experience) I can vouch for the fact that as much as Gerry whines it’s a fact that customer service in many of his stores is pathetic.

    I’ve been involved with companies that have MS his stores over long periods and service levels are well below acceptable standards, ranging from customers being ignored if they don’t fit the salesperson’s criteria for serving, to straight out lies being told to sell a customer what is often overpriced and unnecessary equipment.


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