Are Retailers Getting The Most Out Of Customer Surveys?

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire, retail industry executives get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a panel of retail industry experts.

A new white paper from the National Grocers Association (NGA) and the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART) identifies a myriad of best practices for how grocery store managers track and respond to customer feedback.

The report was based on interviews of six managers of stores that feature a “feedback mechanism,” or a way for shoppers to complete surveys on their shopping experience. To prompt shoppers to complete the surveys, a toll-free phone number and/or survey microsite is printed on register receipts. Checkout clerks also routinely point the information out to customers.


Survey questions included: whether consumers were greeted pleasantly by store employees; product availability and accessibility; the appeal of specific categories and departments; and the checkout experience.

The report identified six unique ways each of the managers capitalized on customer feedback:

  1. Focus On Greetings: The store manager zeroes in on the store greetings rating score “as a rallying point for staff,” seeing success at the entrance extending across service areas.
  2. Guide Staff Performance: The customer feedback enables open and constructive discussions with the team about how well they are performing. With conversations grounded in actual customer comments, employees accept criticism and share in the praise.
  3. Dawn Delegation: The manager begins his day early with a review of the survey responses received overnight, then performs a kind of triage, by forwarding most of the comments to the appropriate department managers. This ensures that a response reaches every customer who wants one.
  4. Cultivate Culture: The manager ensures that staff members, especially checkers at the front end, are continually aware of feedback being received from customers by posting both praise and complaints in the break room. An open workplace culture and peer comparison helps motivate individuals to perform at their best.
  5. Team Empowerment: The manager designates a trusted assistant to do a first-pass review of all shopper feedback received in the system. She handles the more routine responses and forwards only the most pressing matters to the manager.
  6. Human Touch: The manager regularly responds personally to every comment he possibly can, even if the topic may seem trivial. He delegates some matters to department managers.

Managers also use the feedback data to measure their stores against sister locations, their entire companies, and national norms.

The study concluded: “It pays off handsomely when the retailer also has a plan in place to listen actively to both praise and complaints, and then take consistent action to let customers know they are both heard and greatly valued.”

Retail Experts Consider How To Maximize Customer Feedback Surveys

In the comments following the article, retail consultants and executives discussed top challenges retailers are facing in the area of customer feedback surveys. A leading conversation point was how organizations can better prompt customer participation in surveys.

According to Doug Garnett, Founder and CEO of Atomic Direct, innovation is required because the tactics currently being used are ineffective. “It is critical to figure out ways to listen to consumers,” he said. “But a culture of battering consumers non-stop with requests for surveys works against the concept of listening. And nearly all data gathered this way should be ignored.”

Garnett recommended that retailers “lower the pressure behind constant surveying,” and instead, implement in-person surveys periodically. “The retailer’s goal should be to leave consumers free to shop, live their lives and enjoy their experience,” he said, “And only gather research periodically and in ways that avoid the danger of consumer rebellion.”

Camille Schuster, President at Global Collaborations, Inc., noted that prompting feedback on receipts also is becoming a less efficient strategy. “Not many consumers review their receipts after returning home,” she said. Furthermore, “not many consumers remember the prompt by the time they return home.”

To motivate consumers to complete feedback surveys, grocers and retailers in other categories could embrace digital channels, noted Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief of Retail TouchPoints. “They could take a lesson from OpenTable, which asks users, via email, to fill out a survey immediately following a dining experience. Grocers could target specific groups of loyalty members with this type of approach.”

In addition to email, mobile-optimized surveys also can help encourage consumers to share their feedback. “Any capable platform should be mobile-ready so the shopper doesn’t need to wait; they can complete the survey immediately on their smartphone or tablet,” said Brian Numainville, Principal at The Retail Feedback Group. “They also can provide feedback on their phone if they would rather complete the survey by IVR. It is critical to make it easy for shoppers to participate by providing multiple options to provide their feedback.”

While customer participation was a key pain point discussed among contributors, employee and manager engagement in customer feedback programs also is a challenge, according to Bob Phibbs, President and CEO of The Retail Doctor & Associates.

“The challenge to such programs is how the front-line employees take the feedback,” Phibbs said. “That is as much a function of culture and training as anything. I have heard many on the front line who don’t find it nearly as compelling as upper management. For those who have an engaged team, rigorous hiring and firing guidelines, this can be a natural extension of that training.”

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