Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bid on a mystery shop: support hospitality scholarships and outreach

The annual auction of CHATA, the Curacao Hospitality and Tourism Association, is open, with fabulous prizes. This year is also the association's 40th anniversary. If you haven't done so before, this is your opportunity to contribute to funds for scholarships and recognition activities such as the Curacao Culinary Team (which won Caribbean Gold last year), the Starts of the Industry Program and hospitality school activities.

MarkStra has donated two (2)
mystery shops: A two-day shop for hotels and one for other types of organizations. Sorry, shops can only be done in Curacao. A lot of the other prizes can be bought by anyone, though.

What can you use a mystery shop for?

  1. to find out if service standards are being adhered to. Are the phones being answered as agreed? Are customers greeted and thanked appropriately? Do they get the correct information? Are complaints handled in a way that customers would find pleasant? Do employees try to up-sell and cross-sell? Do customers feel that they got the product and quality that you advertised and they paid for? Do they get receipts, without asking for one? Etc.
  2. to find out what the customer's total experience is, if this is good enough or if it has that "wow" factor. Do your procedures make sense? Is the atmosphere pleasant to the customer? Do employees have a pleasant attitude? Do all these issues reflect your brand's attributes?
  3. to find out how your service and experience compares with the competitor. What do you do better? Can you use this as a selling point? What might you want to copy? You may not use the CHATA bid for this type of shop, though.

Who can benefit?

  • any organization with face-to-face contact, including retail stores, hotels, car rentals, banks, brokers, restaurants, airlines, touristic attractions, etc.
  • call centers: reservation, help desks, information
  • organizations with an online presence. How do prospects experience your site? Does it convince them to buy?

What are the "procedures" if you win?

Together with you we will:

  • determine what you want to know or improve
  • develop a questionnaire with ample space for comments
  • send a certified representative to your location, who will pose as a true customer or guest
  • within 5 to 10 days of the shop we will be ready to discuss the reports and comments with you

To clarify: if the shop involves a purchase, the deal is that we will advance the purchase and that you will reimburse us afterwards.

Hurry: Auction closes Wednesday, May 2, at 11am.

Diversity in communication: an anecdote

My boyfriend has lived in the Caribbean for several years now. He is a good sailor who has sailed the Caribbean Sea extensively. He is also an accountant who works in the international financial sector. A native Dutch speaker, he speaks good English.

I am a local Caribbean woman who had a proper undergraduate and graduate U.S. education in the North East. I too have travelled extensively in what I call "my Caribbean" for my roots lie in the Dutch as well as in the Spanish and English Caribbean. I am a marketer. A native Papiamentu speaker, I speak good English and Dutch. Spanish also, but that's not relevant now.

We are going on a sailing holiday with some friends: Canadians, New Yorkers and Californians.

The - admittedly not so original - idea of making caps for everybody befell us. So, for the past week the two of us have been thinking of a slogan that fits the following requirements. Probably also in this irrational order:

  • The captain (my boyfriend) should like it well enough to accept on his boat. Ahoy, captain!
  • I should like it well enough to arrange the production. A little sabotage goes a long way
  • The guests should find it appropriate both on vacation in the British Caribbean and when they return home, so that they will continue to wear it. At least, the two of us should think that they will
  • Our Anglo-Saxon friends and their friends should understand the humor, a humor that does not have Anglo-Saxon roots. Again, so that they will continue to wear it. Again, at least the two of us should think that they will

This all given:

  • our different ethnic and professional backgrounds
  • the hierarchy and our position in it
  • that it should remain a surprise for our friends. So, we cannot consult them. No, we are clairvoyant enough

In many ways it reminds me of the times that I have thought up or contributed to marketing communication efforts. Or of some of the efforts I see and hear today.

I have accepted that everything we think of with the caps will be "a bit off". But, on vacation, it doesn't matter. We will all still enjoy the experience.

But, what if it were important, as it usually is in a marketer's professional life? What if we didn't know if it is important? Or how important it is?

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How well does your organization handle internal diversity?
  • How well does it handle diversity as it relates to the customer? Do you just translate to different languages?
  • How do you ensure that you make and execute the right decisions, i.e. those that appeal to the customers and not necessarily to yourself? Or the boss? Or her husband?
  • Do you localize global campaigns? How? Based on what?
  • How do you convince headquarters that something won't work locally?

Yes, maybe your market is small. But, how much can you afford to get it wrong when you could and should have gotten it right?

7 ways to use market research

Often we think of market research as a way to get insight from customers with regard to our own company. But, that's not its only use. Here are some ideas:

  1. measure, rank and score yourself on issues that are important to your organization (Key Performance Indicators) or the customer (Customer Core Values). Don't bother measuring things that are not important to either you or the customer.
  2. check out your competitors. So, you know who to copy (and in which way), whose customers to go after (because they are dissatisfied) or leave alone (because they are way too loyal). Maybe you are uncomfortable asking about your competitors, but an independent researcher is not.
  3. find out if the perceptions that employees have of their organizations matches the perception of customers and make adjustments when and where necessary.
  4. establish a common starting point (a common data-backed assumption) in your organization with regard to opportunities. This, so that innovative ideas are not shot down or delayed just because of different suppositions. This is especially true when the decision-makers have varying degrees of experience with the issue or look at it from different angles. An example: the director and supervisor may have different assumptions. Whose is most likely to be correct? Whose is most likely to "win" without independent insight.
  5. determine desired ROI. For example: Based on the research data, can you gain 5% market share? What would be the source of this growth? How much would it cost? Is it worth the effort?
  6. If your organization is not yet into ROI, you can use the data to set quantifiable and realistic objectives. Example: if the research shows that you have a 50% market share, is it realistic to set an objective of 25% growth over the next 12 months? In other words, you need to know what your market share is. Otherwise you can't determine if your growth objective is realistic.
  7. create a unique value-added experience. Nowadays it's not just the product that is important. It is the experience when purchasing or perusing the product, online or offline, that is. Through research (mystery shopping) you can find out what customers find a "wow" experience.

Which market research method when? A quick guide

Often, when people think about market research, they tend to think about surveys (in Dutch: enquetes; in Papiamentu: enkuesta), with a few hundred interviews.
But, in reality there are several methods of research. In this post I will give a quick run-down of three methods and a quick guide on which to choose when.

In a small market when the incremental benefit/profit from the research findings for your organization may be limited, it is important to make the right choice. It is also important to know in advance how you are going to use the data and to make sure you have the resources to use the findings.

3 Basic Market Research methods
  1. quantitative research - mostly to measure in a numerical way. The result will be a score, a ranking. It will reflect issues such as frequency, (average) amount of usage, market share, preference.
  2. qualitative research - mostly to explore the breadth of opportunities, innovative ideas, possible service improvements, possible next trends. This can be done through questioning or observation (looking at how exactly customers use a product).
  3. desk (secondary research) - using existing data, public or private, local or international to extrapolate, draw inferences and make forecasts.

When to use quantitative research?

  1. when you already have some relevant specific information. For instance, if you already know what guests find important in a hotel (the core values), you can then measure how your hotel scores with regard to those core values.
  2. when you plan to do the same research regularly in the future. For instance, if you are going to invest in customer service training, you can measure over time if and how much this has improved service. Or, if you plan to increase your rates, you can measure, over time, how this affects your occupancy and guest satisfaction and perhaps that of your competitors.
  3. when producing a number, a score or a rank is important because "the boss" wants to see a number or the organizational culture expects to see a number. That's a quite valid reason.

When to use qualitative research?

  1. When you have no information at all. For instance, you have no idea how and based on what people choose a hotel, restaurant or car rental. Sometimes the reasons customers act the way they do are by no means obvious or rational.
  2. When you want some customer insight, feedback, suggestions, ideas with regard to innovative product or service improvements, branding, pricing.
  3. When you really want to understand the customer's deeper thought processes. Qualitative research is most often an interactive conversation, sometimes in a group. Ideas, reasons, perceptions and preconceptions can be challenged, probed, explained further, enhanced, struck down. As markets become more saturated, it is the deep understanding of the customer's motives that provide ideas as to how to target the customer better. Knowing this well and being the first to know, provides a competitive advantage.

When to use desk research?

  1. when you are in the orientation or initial phase of a new product or service idea. Often you have no information at all. And, since you are not sure whether the idea will fly, you may not want to make a large investment.
  2. When you know that a lot of data is already available, locally or internationally. You can always draw preliminary conclusions based on data that is not your own. The Internet is a tremendous help for you (and both a colleage and a competitor for us). An often overlooked source are market research agencies. They have insight into many industries based on previous work. Yes, MarkStra does too, especially with regard to (alcoholic) beverages, health care and pharmaceutics, banking and Caribbean markets in general.
  3. When, quite simply, you don't have the budget to collect your own primary data.