Observing the physical customer experience

July 31, 2009 by Nanette BrownComments

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Customer satisfaction surveys are a useful tool in monitoring the customer's experience. Except that there are dynamics of the shopping experience that are measured better through additional methods. Tools such as mystery shopping (or, as it's often called, secret shopping), visual merchandising, and in store observations offer distinct information that cannot be found solely in surveys.

Surveys are the widely used as a customer experience metric tool since they are easy to administer, widely distributed, and we expect the customer to be the best source of information. There are human psychological barriers that affect the detail of the information provided by customers. Surveys alone do not provide the full customer experience story.

William Cusick discusses the psychology behind customer feedback's limited perception of the shopping experience. In his Retail Customer Experience article, he points to Paco Underhill's thorough study of shopper behavior that can only be measured through physical observation. There are physical reactions to the store layout, product placement, aisle width, colors, scents, and technology that consumers rarely communicate through surveys. In order for retailers to understand the physical components of the shopping experience, it requires observing the actual moment versus recounting it through verbal questions.

Individuals such as Underhill have amazing resources that discuss general theories on the physical shopping behavior. The good news is retailers can use companies to conduct in store observation studies to gain insight to their specific retail storefront and consumer demographics.

If you really want to measure the customer experience from a true point of view, using hands on observation studies provide the most accurate information. Visual merchandising, mystery shoppers, and in store observation studies is an eagle's eye of the customer's experience. We look at your product displays, in store promotions, brand placement, product packaging, and every physical aspect that causes an emotional or physical reaction in shoppers. It's observing the shopper in their environment through a non-obtrusive manner while yielding very specific metrics.

Behavioral analysis also extends to e-commerce business. It's looking deeper into the web metrics than just page views or hits. It's taking a full spectrum look into how the shopper navigates through the website. It's recreating the shopper's experience to determine the most functional and aesthetic designs.

Customer experience is more then just opinions and feedback. Human feelings are affected by physical and mental surrounding which together affect the overall customer experience. While customer satisfaction surveys can provide you with general satisfaction index, the inside scoop on the full customer experience is best measured with additional tools, including secret shopping, visual merchandising, and in store observations.

Topics: Mystery Shopping

Written by: Nanette Brown

Executive Vice President and General Manager, Nanette continues to instill her passion for excellence across the organization, guiding the measurement, management and improvement of our clients’ customer experience.


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