Mystery shoppers aren’t anything new; this marketing technique dates back from the 1940s. It was then used even before the term “marketing” had been coined. Yet, MarketForce, a US company with offices in Britain, and more recently in France and Spain, have begun to revolutionise the way mystery shopping surveys are carried out, thanks to crowdsourcing techniques and the extensive use of digital marketing.
MarketForce offers a piece of software in a software as a service model on which customers can actually build and look at their marketing data in real time. That in itself is very much in sync with what we can be seen with other companies doing big data and is not extremely innovative. But there is one area in which MarketForce is certainly going further than all the companies trying to improve big data usage, it is the way that they collect the data itself. As a matter of fact, much of the quality of the output of big data boils down to the way the information is collected originally. As the old IT adage points out: “garbage in, garbage out”.
Besides, There is something a little bit naive in all the big data craze at the moment, in believing that software alone could actually solve all the marketing issues that companies have regarding mostly CRM, and other subjects, just by the touch of a button. First and foremost, data quality and a clear objective are required. This is definitely what Marketforce have done by integrating the whole chain from data collection to data delivery. As a matter of fact, Marketforce is as much a research company a market research company as it is a big data company, and that is what makes it standout from the crowd in what can almost be described as a blue Ocean strategy.
Janet Eden Harris and Simon Boydell who answered our questions in Paris
Above all, they are using extensively digital marketing techniques (marketing automation, affiliates marketing, etc) to recruit genuine customers who help them carry out the research. As they set up shop in France and in the rest of Europe, where customer service is traditionally bad not to say appalling, MarketForce have provided a business case about French petrol stations (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean) which shows the level of satisfaction even for such a straightforward kind of service. As they say, “okay is just not enough” and hopefully, this piece of research, and the service that MarketForce provides is a great assets for European companies to change their ways about how they keep customers satisfied which, in turn, will help them get through the crisis that we’re experiencing at the moment.
Let us develop this story, with Simon Boydell and Janet Eden Harris from MarketForce, whom I was able to interview in Paris a few weeks ago*.
cartoon by antimuseum.com
with Janet Eden Harris, CMO & SVP Strategy at Market Force Information and Simon Boydell, Global Marketing Manager at Market Force Information
What is market force about?
Janet: we have a solution which provides the ability for big retailers to improve their business by focusing on customer satisfaction and the experience they have when they walk in the store.
Simon: we focus on retailers, leisure and hospitality providers, any business that has B2C contact with customers and that can be across all channels, so it’s not just in-store, it could be online, using the call centres, we will be collecting customer experience feedback across all those different channels.
A SaaS model: the knowledge force platform
Simon: our customer intelligence platform knowledge force is the central point for all clients. After login each client has individual tailored user access to the site so that they can access their results live and in real time so they can see exactly how the customers are feeling about the business. It does look like it’s built like a SaaS model but itis something which is very different from the other sorts of CRM systems that are out there. All information is produced and made available across all different devices; you can login and you see those dashboards, it’s not just a predetermined set of dashboards, we also have a series of reports that users can go in and use and create their own individual reports, so they can cut and analyse the data in their own way and at their own leisure.
Data collection: from mystery visits to social media
Simon: we have 600,000 genuine customers now, while going out and completing mystery visits for us and providing feedback on experiences they receive, we also operate customer satisfaction surveys which go out to any customer that the business has and it can feed the information straight back into our system and our customers get to see the results as they are happening, so they can always keep their finger on the pulse of the customer.
Janets: we can also pull out things such as social media data and we can tie in this data potentially with other data that is collected from other vendors and even our customers’ own financial data so that they can match them all together.
Janet: how we do it boils down to the location level so that if I am a manager of that location I can look at the customer satisfaction data for that particular location as well as my mystery shoppers and any social media commentary so that I can take action. I can understand where we’re doing well, and I can also understand where we have to improve.
Recruiting genuine consumers
Simon: there are challenges, but a lot of it comes from the way we optimise our website for search in search engines; we have a variety of initiatives in a number of websites so get a lot of people involved too, looking to experience new and different things so that these people want to get paid to get to the places they enjoy going to already.
It’s a very small amount that there own but they do get reimbursed towards any products that their purchase, so you could say that this is almost a free night out, like going out for a meal out at a restaurant.
UK, France and Spain
Simon: we’ve have been based in the UK since 2003 and we have opened an office in Paris, and we also have one in Madrid and the decision has come by opportunity. We think we have to support businesses in France to get a better understanding of their customers, because in today’s economic climate, customer loyalty is of absolute importance, and we feel the insight we can provide and the data we can collect will really help businesses understand how they can drive that loyalty and where they should look to improve specifically in the business, that will drive future sales.
Business case on French petrol stations : “okay is not good enough!” (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean)
Simon: we have recently run a piece of research on a panel to get feedback on people’s experience of petrol stations in France and we are sharing this on the web right now. This highlights which stations people find to be the favourites, not only that, but also the reasons which drive them into these petrol stations, and what are the decisions they are making in those stations and what the opportunities for those retailers to understand whether the service is okay or not. The research highlights that “okay is not good enough!”. 3
Customer experience in Europe? In the words of my old maths teacher … “could do better!” (excerpt from the Petrol Station research)
This piece of research was carried out with 1,500 consumers across France, evenly spread across ages, sex and the geography; yet our programs will vary depending on the sector.
Simon: the impact satisfaction can have on consumers on the likelihood to recommend is one of the areas of importance: if you score something like a 4/5, there is a big difference, the research highlights, with 5/5 satisfaction.
Price and convenience are always going to be important, that’s fairly natural but, it’s also about the service they receive in the stations, friendly and efficient service will always go along way in; whilst people might not especially expect it, when they receive it, it will make a very big difference to the customer’s experience.
About the company: a blue Ocean strategy
Our ambition is to help French businesses improve the service they give to their customers. We certainly intend to grow the business; we think we have a very exciting offer for the retailers, leisure and hospitality businesses, they are going to find that very exciting.
In terms of our competitors, we don’t have one single direct competitor, we have several competitors across the various disciplines and methodologies that we use.
We certainly intend to grow and invest into the business here in France, we intend to grow our team rapidly here and I think we’ll see a continuation of the success we’ve had in other countries, here.
Marketforce has 450 employees worldwide. In Europe, we have 156, is growing rapidly.
Janet: our revenues are about $60 million right now.
*note: this interview survived the theft all my belongings in July 2, including my notebook with all his notes. I reconstructed this interview from memory and using the sound bite which I recorded on condition