Part 3: Shaping the industry to align with evolving client needs.
In part 1 and part 2 of Ellen Pochekailo’s interview with Dale and Mike Bare, we learned how they grew from ground floor to global. In this third segment, they share their perspectives on how customer experience research has progressed, how they’ve helped enhance the industry, and why this research is still critical to success in today’s markets.
How have you advanced the field of customer experience research?
Mike – Our most significant contribution would have to be our role in launching the first credentialing organization for mystery shopper research firms. When we had been in business about ten years, we realized there was a real need for established standards in the industry. I had met several colleagues who felt the same way, including Mark Michelson. He and I decided to form a credentialing and education association.
We held our first meeting in Orlando in February 1997. Expecting about 20 to 30 people, we were surprised by the promising attendance of 80 participants. We discussed the role, purpose, benefits and format of the proposed organization, and with the support of our peers, decided to move forward. Together Mark and I co-founded the Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA), which is still the leading regulatory organization in the industry. I’m proud to be recognized as one of its co-founders.
Dale – MSPA sets the standards for the industry and provides a credentialing process to ensure quality measures are in place. Not only was Mike the driving force behind its foundation, we have completed its rigid credentialing process and remain active, influential members.
How have you seen the industry change?
Dale – I’d say technology-driven changes have had a substantial impact. When we started out, all evaluations were handwritten. We had staff whose only task was to type reports. It was a big job with just a few clients. Now it would be impossible as we process thousands of reports a week.
In those early days, evaluations were scheduled by phone … reports were mailed or faxed … projects were tracked on white boards. As new technology was introduced, we integrated advancements into our business, often creating and adapting software customized specifically to our industry. So on the operations side, technology has helped us vastly improve our efficiency, provide faster turnarounds and deliver more thorough analyses.
How else has technology affected the industry?
Mike –The impact of new technology significantly altered the landscape of customer-business interactions. The way businesses serve and communicate with their customers has changed drastically, and customer expectations are higher than ever before. As a consequence, we’ve adapted and expanded the way we conduct customer research, and keep a diligent eye on the next generation of change. In addition to onsite visits, in-person interviews and phone evaluations, we have online and digital services, social media monitoring and customized dashboards that put data at client fingertips.
Aren’t today’s online rating and review sites a good source for customer experience information?
Mike – Reviews posted on rating sites are generally at one extreme or the other, are rarely objective, and typically are influenced by emotion. Plus, many people don’t post at all, but choose never to return. So while rating sites can provide a snap shot, it’s highly subjective and puts businesses in a reactive position. By the time a bad review it posted, it’s too late.
Dale – Clients who work with Bare International receive objective, comprehensive data. Evaluators understand they are not there to judge, or point out only the negative. It’s not their job to say what’s right or wrong, but to provide an unbiased observation.
What makes mystery shopping still a worthwhile investment?
Mike – Our reports provide a much broader picture than rating site reviews, going well beyond the customer experience to include customized audits, brand standard testing and detailed analysis. With a mystery shop program, clients can catch issues and be proactive about fixing them, circumventing a bad review before it happens.
Hiring mystery shoppers also makes a difference in staff attitude. Employees respect what you inspect. If it’s important to you, it’s important to them. Our reports reinforce the positive and denote opportunities for success. If used correctly, the return on an investment in customer experience research should far outweigh the cost.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for organizations in utilizing customer experience research?
Mike – Surprisingly, the biggest challenge seems to be in doing something with the data we collect. Some clients sit on the information far too long before disseminating it to their frontline managers. Some don’t do anything with the data at all. Gathering customer experience data is only the first step in the process. Sharing the data promptly and taking actionable steps is the critical next phase.
How do you help clients get the most from their research data?
Dale – At Bare International, a fast turnaround is a priority. Stale data is of no value to anyone, so when an evaluator visits a store, the client has the report the next day. We also provide clients with customized dashboards so information can be easily interpreted and analyzed quickly. And perhaps most helpful, our global experience enables us to share insights on what other companies have done, propose ways to resolve common issues, and identify opportunities for success.