Retail in Asia

In Trends

Talking Shop: The moment of truth

Retail in Asia recently sat down with Bruce Wells from the market research firm Synovate. Wells is Global CEO for Synovate’s Voice of the Customer business, as well as its Footfall and Mystery Shopping businesses.

Voice of the Customer refers to the practice of collecting data about what customers need and want from their retail experiences. Analysing such information can enable retailers to make improvements to their customer service and operations. Success, however, depends on being able both to gather data reliably and process it in a timely fashion.

In a society in which, increasingly, everything seems to be available on demand, "real time analysis" has become a buzzword in many industries – retail included. Wells notes, however, that providing information in real time may not always be the most appropriate strategy.

"What you really need is right time information," he explains, adding that it isn’t particularly helpful, for example, to be told what your conversion rate in a store was two hours ago. "If you give certain information to staff too soon, it’s like driving a car and looking in the rear-view mirror," he says. Conversion rates – which depend on the interplay of a range of short- and long-term factors – should be analysed in more of a "big picture" way and are an example of what are known as "lagging indicators" of performance.

Other types of information, on the other hand – the "leading indicators" of performance – are best appreciated in the moment. Leading indicators have very much to do with what has just happened. As an example, Wells produces a store receipt with some wording inviting the customer to provide feedback on the in-store experience. The practice of giving out such receipts is prevalent in North America, has made inroads in Europe, and is just starting to appear in Asia.

Wells says it’s all about getting closer to the "moment of truth" – that is, what the customer has just experienced, and how they really feel about it. Historically, this was not always the easiest thing to do. "The impersonal nature of the methodologies involved in collecting data has been a barrier in the past," says Wells. "Now, with people freely SMSing, IMing and so on, all that is changing."

He adds that incentives are usually provided with invitations to give feedback – "because otherwise, you’re undoubtedly going to get highly polarised views – very positive and very negative feedback; it’s human nature. Using an incentive helps to drive a broader compliance and therefore a broader understanding of expressions and opinions."

Wells says the other trend he sees emerging in Asia and around the world is for brands to be more open to communicating with customers through a variety of channels – through online, by SMS, or through interactive voice response, for example. "It’s really about recognising that the consumer should be the one to decide how they want to communicate to the brand – not the other way round."

Talking Shop is the Retail in Asia section devoted to interviews with brand CEOs and retail industry leaders.