Dashboards, BI: Springboards To the Customer Experience

The economy continues to squeeze consumers, and they are responding by pulling back their discretionary spending, and in-store visits. As retailers struggle to navigate their businesses among a tightening economy, now more than ever, they need to learn how to improve the customer experience.

By leveraging the power of Web-based dashboards and business intelligence (BI), chains can gain the insight needed to meet, if not exceed, customer expectations.

Dennis Ehrich, CIO, Kansas City, Mo.-based Service Management Group, and senior editor Deena M. Amato-McCoy discussed how these solutions are helping retailers make this store-level transition.

What trends are impacting how retailers measure the customer experience? 

As the economy slows and people are more careful with their money, the customer experience is more important than ever.

At one point, it may have been OK to have a mediocre experience as long as you offered great product. But people have grown to value customer service—especially now. If shoppers had to choose only one retailer to shop at, they would go to a chain that provided a good experience in the past.

That said, retailers are growing increasingly reliant on actionable insight. It is no longer about analyzing data to come up with a satisfaction “score.” Now the data needs to be able to drive action and results toward a change.

How can exception reporting and dashboards help chains achieve better customer service? Many retailers use point-of-sale receipts to invite customers to take customer-service surveys. Surveys can be accessed via an 800 number, Web site, IVR (interactive voice recognition), even text messages.

A dedicated code printed on receipts identifies participating customers. They also allow us to marry survey information with other data, including what the shopper purchased.

Retailers can feed this information into dashboards and look in near real time at customer-satisfaction levels for different times of day to pinpoint issues.

Results are available within 20 to 40 minutes. It used to take months, if not quarters, to uncover this information from paper-based reports.

The goal is for corporate executives to provide actionable information at unit or store level, and then enable managers to set goals and benchmarks that will positively impact the experience.

What role does business intelligence play? 

BI is definitely a hot topic. The dashboard is a simple, macro view of the information. The power comes from linking BI so retailers can drill into it, mine it and gain insights.

Databases are also changing. Today, they include terabytes of available historical data.

Retailers are using the dashboard to drill into information. BI lets them drive deeper trend analysis by combining customer experience, loyalty and purchase-behavior data like never before.

The dashboards can also be designed with different functionality based on the user role. For example, a store manager sees different information than a regional manager. And the view is different still for a “super user,” or those who rely on the data to make day-to-day decisions.

Based on the information gleaned from dashboards, how are retailers leveraging this information? We have seen some retailers link their customer-behavior data into training programs.

This closed-feedback process allows them to teach associates where to focus, and answer questions like, “What are the specific trouble spots that customers may complain about at store level?” and “What are the behaviors that drive increased purchases?”

This information is delivering positive financial impacts, from increased average tickets, and driving higher customer loyalty by converting more customers from shoppers to buyers.

Retailers also want to get store-level employees familiar with using the dashboard as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

What still needs to change in the corporate culture to use these solutions? Retailers invest a ton of money in their stores, but they need to focus on their “people performance” and prioritize it. If store managers are only focused on achieving a quarterly bonus based on store profitability, then they may reduce staff to hit that number.

But what is the impact of that decision on the top line, and, more importantly, on future sales?

Companies must manage their performance with customers just like they manage their P&L. Putting a customer-experience measurement metric on the dashboard is a good place to start, but C-level executives need to do more than review the customer-experience dashboard. They must be involved in setting the strategies for driving improvement.