The Difference Between Customer Research and Actionable Customer Research

What do our customers think of us?

It’s a key question for every company with a product to sell or a service to offer, and many companies go to great lengths conducting customer satisfaction research in an attempt to gather worthwhile data on their customers’ experiences. Too often, though, those initiatives lead to data that is interesting, but not particularly actionable. What specifically needs to be done to improve a less-than-desirable “helpfulness of staff” score? To be truly actionable, the data needs to tell a more complete story.

Take, for example, an IntelliShop study on customer experiences at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Nationally, these brands rank neck-and-neck in overall customer satisfaction and experience. But on a local level, key actionable differences emerged from store to store.

IntelliShop mystery shoppers visited Lowe’s and Home Depot stores in multiple cities, searching for the same product at both locations on the same day. Their experiences showed that product selection, checkout and even the facility itself were far less likely to bring customers back to the store than the personality of the salesperson who helped them and their knowledge of the product.

“At Home Depot the salesperson was lively, enthusiastic, and even funny. He smiled and gave eye contact and was very polite,” said one IntelliShop mystery shopper. “At Lowe’s, the salesperson was neither cordial nor enthusiastic. He gave non-verbal responses and was just going through the motions.”

In a different city, we saw the opposite description. “[The Lowe’s employee] was very nice and courteous. I appreciated how she responded in a polite manner and showed me where the drills were located, and how she spoke with the other employee in the department,” said the shopper. “At Home Depot, the employees were talking among themselves, and did not act like they enjoyed dealing with people.”

This nuance goes beyond what a typical customer service survey would reveal. Using a typical survey both Lowe’s and Home Depot would have learned something they probably could have guessed on their own: some of their stores provide good customer service, while others do not. There would have been no deeper picture of what employees did to produce a particular result.

But with mystery shopping, these two retail giants get a more complex picture of their employee performance. Our results give nuance to their understanding of the retail landscape, showing exactly what employees did well and what they did poorly. Just as importantly, it demonstrates that the factors that played into these results are all at the local level, where it should be the easiest to make changes that produce results.

Armed with information produced by mystery shopping, both Lowe’s and Home Depot should be able to take immediate, well-defined steps to improve their customer experiences at individual stores. There’s no reason mystery shopping can’t produce the same outcome for your company.

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