Oops, I did it again.
No, Britney Spears has not taken over the glamorous job of running Customerwise. Not as yet.
Once again however, I am writing this blog post much later than I intended, and after a very long gap.
Running a small but growing business, there is so much to do and it is so hard to keep on top of everything that I should do. And of course, customers / clients always have to come first. The happy news is that that’s what we’ve been busy with – helping clients – and 2019 was by far our busiest year yet.
A lot of it has been continuing work (I’m pleased to say that we have never lost a client to a competitor.) including for a national retailer, independent holiday parks, car dealership networks, opticians, and once again, managing a national study (using Mystery Telephone calls) into financial brokerages.
In addition, our more traditional mystery shopping work over the last year or so has involved working with a significant number of new clients: new car dealership groups, various automotive service providers, a national electronics retailer, home builders, home improvements companies, a local authority, and one of the UK’s largest holiday park operators.
Some of our more unusual and niche projects have related to online gambling, and competitor mystery shopping and research in various industries including B2B nutraceuticals, B2B plant hire, property (cash buying) services and more.
A significant amount of our work has been in the area of Telephone Mystery Shopping, and this is an area where I think that we really excel in the quality of our offering. We’ve continued to build up our team of callers (who I believe are among the best in the country), and developed our own technology and systems to provide a better service to clients and avoid some of the main issues that are commonly experienced / suffered by users of these services. We regularly learn about the problems that clients have endured on a long-term basis with other providers, and we get reminders from clients about how we are helping them achieve more through what we do for them. Here is a recent example of a recommendation left on LinkedIn.
Customerwise helped us with a particularly complex B2B mystery shopping programme for one of our large clients. They understood the brief immediately, selected 23 fantastic shoppers, arranged one to one briefings and did a fantastic job of administering the process from start to finish. Calls were routed via alias numbers to route into regional operations, they coped with fifty different complex purchasing scenarios. I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are now our go-to guys for this kind of work.
It was also a pleasure to work with Cliff Burgin at Burgin Associates.
“Have you ever worked with (our type of business) before?”. That is a question that often (understandably) gets asked by companies that reach out to us.
I can understand why people ask that question. If the answer given is a “yes…”, there will be a general feeling of reassurance, and a lower feeling of risk. It’s not irrational to think that experience working within a field suggests some understanding of it.
However, I don’t think that experience in an industry is necessarily a good central criteria for deciding on a partner.
Familiarity can sometimes breed complacency and stale thinking. In an industry like ours it can often lead to a “rinse and repeat” or “cookie cutter” approach. New challenges can often inspire creativity and fresh thinking. Fresh challenges allow for fresh perspectives, and can inspire people to give their best.
The relatively short history of Customerwise (nearly 4 years) is one of continuously rising to new challenges and working with clients in new fields. Indeed, every single industry that we’ve served has been brand new to us within the last few years…yet clients are always pleased they chose to work with us.
For over 3 years now, we’ve been repeatedly acquiring clients (who regularly use our services) from more established and better-known providers, and we’ve been told consistently by those clients that we provide a far better service. Obviously, that’s satisfying and encouraging.
We’ve never claimed to specialise in an industry (we’ve been in no position to do so). It could be said that our USP is that we don’t have a speciality – our USP is our proven adaptability. Our progress so far has been despite going against modern marketing wisdom (with (perfectly valid) mantras like “identify your customer!”).
In the last few months, one of the best known and longest established UK Mystery Shopping providers, Douglas Stafford, announced its closure, with the redundancy of around 50 staff (and with many mystery shoppers being owed significant sums that they seem unlikely to every recover). The closure was of course very sad for all those involved, especially as it was announced (including to staff and mystery shoppers) just before Christmas.
The MD of Douglas Stafford largely blamed (through email announcements) increasingly low margins, saying that DS had been forced to compete on price with another well-known MS company (which had been apparently undercutting them for many years).
We’ve learned since DS’s closure that they were indeed providing services at incredibly low rates and issuing proposals at “dirt cheap” levels, even for extremely low volume fixed term projects. In one case, we learned that DS had issued a proposal to a client for an amount that was similar to the amount that we would pay to mystery shoppers for the work that was involved. It could be said perhaps the writing had been on the wall for some time. Douglas Stafford clearly didn’t want to compete on price (who does?) but for some reason they clearly felt forced to do so, and they did so, to the point where they were bidding to do work “for nothing”. One can’t help wondering why, and of course, whether different decisions earlier one could have averted this, and perhaps helped to avoid the race to the bottom that was blamed for their downfall.
We’ve also learned that several companies were already unhappy with the level of the service and were looking around for alternatives. The service was very cheap (and of course, clients will have liked that aspect), but it wasn’t good enough.
DS boasted many large clients in the automotive and construction (home building) industries (as well as others), and understandably they claimed to have valuable expertise in these.
Following the closure of Douglas Stafford, several large home builders let it be known that they were seeking a new provider. Understandably, they all wanted to reduce the risk of making (arguably) the wrong choice again. Some of the approaches to selection seemed to be mostly based on instincts, and some selection processes seemed to be highly systematic.
One of these companies understandably felt that they’d been “left in the lurch” by Douglas Stafford, and of course, very disappointed about that. They clearly didn’t want to pick a Mystery Shopping company that couldn’t cope with the volume of work involved, or one that might be at any risk of closing down. So, one of their main criteria for selecting an MS company seemed to be size (i.e. the bigger the better). This seemed slightly ironic considering the fact that Douglas Stafford was one of the largest MS companies in the UK.
Big isn’t necessarily beautiful. Customerwise is continuing to grow though, steadily and organically, by focusing on our clients: providing value to them and exceeding their expectations, with a long term commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.
We still may not have worked in every single industry, and while we have experience now in several, we don’t make a claim on our industry expertise as being a reason why clients should use us.
However, over 4 years, we’ve certainly demonstrated that we are versatile. And what matters more than anything, I believe, is that we are conscientious and committed to providing a superb service to our clients.
We’re looking forward to an exciting 2020 helping clients to improve performance, compete more effectively and grow. If you think that we might be able to help you to do this, please get in touch using firstname.lastname@example.org or 01392 984224.