Il customer est siempre Recht
Il customer est siempre Recht
Article by Richard Leech, Head of Learning Services at Grass Roots, in Customer Management magazine.
It is both undesirable and unrealistic to set global standards for customer service... or is it? With reference to the findings of a recent mystery shopping study of four retail sectors across six European countries, Richard Leech, head of learning at performance improvement business Grass Roots, reveals why the Germans seem so good and the French so poor. What are the implications for global retail brands and what can they do to get the "right" standard of service in each of their markets?
There are two views of global service standards that at first glance seem to contradict one another. On the one hand we have international brands striving to create a customer expectation that should be met uniformly wherever in the world the brand appears; on the other hand every country is considered to have a set of commercial attitudes and experiences that will vary from any ‘international’ norm.
I believe that these opposing views are more of a paradox than a contradiction, and the way to resolve the paradox is to distinguish between strategy and tactics. There is nothing to prevent a consistent global brand strategy being successful, provided that its tactics are appropriate to different local circumstances. To take an obvious example from the automotive market, we are quite used to seeing the same models badged differently around the world to reflect different heritages and sensitivities – whilst claiming common standards of quality and reliability. Likewise, global retailers have discovered that exhorting every single customer to ‘have a nice day’ produces reactions ranging from ecstasy to embarrassment according to where in the world you happen to be. The trick is to find out how you convey the friendliness and goodwill of the ‘have a nice day’ sentiment without forcing people into speech patterns that are alien to their habits.
The survey on which this article is based covered fast food, financial services, mobile phones and cars, in France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and the UK. We drew on our European mystery shopping panel of some 60,000 to select credible and representative members of the local population in each country and market, ensuring that each visit would produce valid data.
The data itself is as objective and accurate as we can possibly make it: Conscious that service (like happiness) can be different things to different people, our mystery shopping is strong on facts and objectivity. “Did the person smile?”, “Did the person make eye contact?” and “Did the person say goodbye?” are not only more reliable measures of what happened than “Did the person give good service?”, they are also a better basis for providing staff with clear guidance as to how they should act. Having said that, we also ask mystery shoppers for their subjective opinions because we know that truly good service is more than a series of measured actions – there needs to be passion as well as process.
There are two key concepts in this study, and it is important to distinguish between them:
The Performance Index is the percentage score against the notional maximum across all aspects measured. It combines objective content (e.g. did the person smile) with subjective opinion (e.g. did you think they were friendly) and ratings (generally a score from 0 to 4).
The Satisfaction Rating is the percentage score against the maximum possible for a single rating of the service experience as a whole. It is thus entirely subjective.
Because it brings together all the component parts of the encounter, the Performance Index gives the more accurate account and representation of the customer’s experience. However the Satisfaction Rating, as a single overall judgement that does not have to be supported by evidence, provides the more accurate statement of the customer’s attitude. As the table below shows, there was a relatively small but consistent downward shift from Performance Index to Satisfaction Rating.
Looking at the individual market sectors, the theme is very much ‘Deutschland über alles’, as the Germans top two out of the four international tables for Performance Index (fast food and cars) and three out of the four for Satisfaction Rating (fast food, financial services and cars). Life is much more varied at the bottom of the leagues, where France, Spain and the UK take it in turns to prop up the others. The Netherlands and Ireland manage to avoid most of the extremes: the solitary exception being mobile phones where Irish eyes are smiling. Again, the Satisfaction Ratings are almost invariably lower than the corresponding Performance Index.
The question that most demands an answer is whether service is actually better in Germany than elsewhere or whether Germans are just more easily satisfied than their European neighbours. All the evidence suggests the former – and that is before we even begin to consider national stereotypes.
By asking for a great deal of factual information, we leave as little as possible to our mystery shoppers’ imagination or opinion. They work to a specific brief that covers what to look for and what to ask about. In this case, they were briefed to make a typical customer enquiry, with the exception of fast food where they ordered and ate a meal.
With that in mind, we can be quite categorical about many aspects of their service experience. We identified five key stages in the customer interaction, and we calculated the percentage satisfaction scores for each. The stages were:
Environment – the first impression of the surroundings, especially in terms of ‘housekeeping’ issues
Waiting – not absolutely how long the mystery shopper was kept waiting but whether it was reasonable in the particular circumstances of traffic and staffing
Enquiry – how well the member of staff handled the mystery shopper’s enquiry in terms of courtesy and attitude
Meeting Needs – the extent to which the outcome measured up to the objective
Closing – whether the encounter was rounded off satisfactorily.
Here is a brief summary of how the different countries fared on this analysis.
France only managed one score over 80%, Environment for Financial Services, and only a handful above 70%. In each sector, the highest score was for Environment – in other words every experience immediately went downhill – and the lowest was either for Waiting or Meeting Needs.
In marked contrast to France, Germany dipped below 70% only twice – for Meeting Needs in Fast Food (56.4%) and Mobiles (68.4%). In every case, the two highest points of the encounter were Environment (first impression) and Closing (final impression).
An interesting mixture of highs and lows; Financial Services and Mobiles were better then Fast Food and Cars, but Waiting (Mobiles and Cars) and Meeting Needs (Fast Food and Financial Services) were the main problem areas.
The Dutch are the best at Greeting, which they do particularly well in Financial Services and Cars. Their 52.0% for Meeting Needs in Fast Food is a long way adrift of the next worst score, which is 67% for Waiting in Cars.
Brilliant at handling the Enquiry (82.4% average overall) but, with the exception of Fast Food, Waiting is always the worst part of the Spanish experience. This is, of course, the country that gave us the word mañana.
Meeting Needs in Fast Food (62.9%) is the lowest point in the UK experience, then comes Waiting for Mobiles (65.3%). UK Cars were not covered in this survey, so we are short of a full comparison.
There is much more data to be mined and sifted, of course, but these few nuggets show how modern mystery shopping can yield information that is actionable rather than merely interesting.
This particular survey was a speculative exercise to help us best define the prime prospects in key markets; it did not focus on individual clients’ priorities, and the top line results frequently concealed some very different patterns between brands. Returning to the strategy/tactics distinction introduced at the outset, on a real client project we would pool our local knowledge to arrive at the right tactical interpretations of their agreed international strategy, to appreciate any constraints that they might be under and to create a realistic customer scenario. Pretty obviously, it is easier to keep a motor showroom neat and tidy than a fast food outlet that generates more clutter with each trading minute. But clearly, if you have a situation where Waiting is a problem, it is exacerbated if the customer is waiting in a poor Environment.
Finally, the international perspective gives a new slant on what is possible. If you don’t have to wait ages to be served in Germany, why should you have to in Spain or France? What prevents the Dutch and the Irish handling a customer enquiry as effectively as the Spanish? What is the particular problem with Mobiles in France? Being in possession of more facts leads to better decisions and more productive action – which is the real purpose of mystery shopping. It is not academic research, but actionable data to stimulate change and enable improvement – for the customer’s benefit.