Customer Experience News & Trends

Think you know your customers? Then put yourself to this test

You think you know your customers — and give them everything they want. Well, a mass exodus could be in the making. That’s what this company found out just in time. 

Arby’s served up low-priced roast beef, a changing menu and “do you want fries with that?” kind of service for quite some time because the organization believed that’s what customers wanted. And it wasn’t going so well for the 50-year-old fast food chain.

“We thought we knew our customers,” said Chuck Sliker, VP of operations integration and measurement for Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc., when he recently spoke at The Future Call Center Summit.

“How? We did infrequent field visits. We reacted to the dramatic, not the sustained — things that were on Twitter talk, not the everyday operations,” Sliker said.

“We judged food in the test kitchens, rather than with people who eat at Arby’s a few times a week. We did some pilot tests, but not real surveys,” said Sliker.

Bottom line: Arby’s wasn’t strengthening customer relationships or growing business because it wasn’t listening very closely to its customers.

Big ideas start small

Sliker admitted: The organization had big plans to get ahead — change its position in the market, become a brand that customers raved about and increase sales in an already tight industry.

It would all start with the Customer Perception Measurement Program. They wanted to find out what customers really thought of Arby’s and then make changes based only on those thoughts — not on industry trends, hunches or in-house testing and research.

They took a systematic approach that looked like this:

1. Define

“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we want to accomplish and why?'” Sliker said. He worked with his colleagues to build the program on the idea that Arby’s needed to hear more of what customers wanted more often. In the end, Arby’s would seek out its weaknesses, rather than get jazzed up over what customers thought they were doing right.

The plan was to get five to seven surveys from customers at each location each day.

“It would give us a full view of the customer perception,” Sliker said.

2. Evaluate

While the idea of more customer feedback is almost always backed in word from the top brass, the implementation sometimes falls through because of the lack of a good plan that shows a return on investment.

So Sliker and his colleagues took their proposal to the top brass, making sure it showed how the feedback would improve operations and revenue growth.

3. Pick the starting point

480630807A big initiative that can change the face of an organization or brand can crash and burn. That’s why Arby’s leaders wanted to test the ground first, having just some of its locations try to get the desired feedback.

And Sliker and his colleagues picked those testing grounds carefully. They looked for locations where the employees cared about getting feedback, and where the technology allowed them to do it successfully.

4. Involve the guinea pigs

Once they selected the ideal test markets and people for the initiative, they wanted to get the people — managers and front-line employees — involved in the implementation. That would gain even more buy-in.

Sliker talked with the leaders and employees for input on the questions to ask customers and the information that should be pulled from surveys.

5. Educate

Arby’s wanted employees to embrace the customer feedback, not fear that it would reflect badly on them. So Sliker and other leaders oriented employees on how the feedback program would work. More importantly, they introduced it as a tool to help them do their jobs better — and help the corporation do better in the marketplace.

“It had nothing to do with catching anyone doing something wrong,” said Sliker, “And we wanted them to understand that from the start.

“It included an emphasis on congratulating people and situations that were positive in the feedback,” he said. “That way, anyone who was having problems would see it wasn’t meant to be a ‘catch us doing something wrong’ situation.'”

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