Loyalty apps can’t replace store associate feedback

As loyalty apps become increasingly popular, both grocers and food manufacturers rely on data from them to glean important information about customers. But if they rely too firmly on these platforms, they may ignore feedback from store associates -- and that should remain a largely important factor when gauging customer behavior.

Facts from the front lines

“From their perspective on the front line, employees can provide rich qualitative feedback about the customer experience at their store and in their department or area,” says Douglas Madenberg, principal with the Retail Feedback Group.

The information retailers and manufaturers can glean may include general facts, such as the questions customers are asking about specific items or their reactions to a recent store remodel. However, very specific feedback feedback might be acheived, such as details about a particularly well-executed service experience, or information about a negative experience that a customer encountered.

“In short, employees can be paying attention to many more inputs than the sales data generated via a loyalty/card program,” Madenberg says. “In addition, most store employees are also customers, so they often see things that are happening in the store from a unique dual vantage point.”

Springing into action

In addition to gathering information that may be unavailable from an app, speaking to customers also serves the purpose of allowing retailers and manufacturers to act quickly if the feedback requires a reaction from the store — as long as they’re prepared to act swiftly when the time comes. 

“The company needs to have systems in place to facilitate this employee input, as well as a culture that supports and reacts to this kind of communication,” Madenberg advises. “For example, we know from our research that being out of stock on an item has a measurable negative impact on a customer's visit experience. If in-store staff were tuned into this situation while the customer was still in the store, they could apologize and rectify the issue immediately, perhaps even turning it into a cross-selling opportunity. Then the employee could communicate the shortage to management/corporate and potentially to other stores.”

Not only does the instant feedback allow food retailers and manufacturers to act quickly, but it may also help retain a customer, he adds. “Our grocery research also shows that successful problem resolution can actually result in a more positive experience than if the problem hadn't occurred.”

Don’t practice a script

Although gathering information from store employees is very valuable, don't attempt to collect the feedback by asking staff members to follow a script, because this can seem disingenuous to a customer, Madenberg says. Instead, employees should simply be genuinely interested in their customers’ store experiences. 

“It's usually not a secret if someone is happy or displeased as she is checking out or leaving the store, or if he could use assistance while studying a product label,” he notes. “A purposeful question or comment can both elicit important information and show the customer that you care.” For example, you might ask, “can I help you find something?” to a customer who seems to be lost, or “have you tried this new flavor? What do you think of it?”

Asking these types of questions might spark a conversation rather than asking if the customer found everything okay, which could simply result in a yes or no answer.

“Anyone on the sales floor should be basically interested in people and able to communicate with guests in a caring and positive way,” Madenberg said.

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