• September 24, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Cities That Serve: New York? Fuhgeddaboutit.

Phoenix, Ariz., is the best city in the United States in terms of customer service -- doubly so for prospective home buyers. So says a new secret-shopper report from Grass Roots Performance Measurement, the new U.S. arm of U.K.-based The Grass Roots Group. The "Are You Being Served in the U.S.A.?" report shows the desert city leading the pack in overall customer service experiences, as defined by the following categories:
  • Environment
  • Waiting
  • Greeting
  • Inquiry
  • Meeting needs
  • Closing
  • Waiting in line
  • Cashiers
  • Satisfaction
Grass Roots conducted a nationwide mystery-shopping survey during July and August 2007 to understand general service levels and customer experiences with service and brand in 10 U.S. cities and across 13 industry sectors. In total, 800 visits were conducted. Grass Roots has been conducting such surveys for nearly three decades using mystery shoppers and mystery guests to help assess service standards. Internationally speaking, the U.S. was the number-one country in terms of performance (80 percent) and satisfaction (78 percent), and had the top overall likelihood-of-return by shoppers (84 percent); only America's likelihood-of-recommendation rate was anything less than the best (77 percent, second only to Germany's 78 percent). But service levels were not consistent -- not from city to city, and not from industry to industry, according to Jane Edwards-Hall, general manager of Grass Roots Performance Measurement. "Consistency seems to be the key and this is what the real estate industry and Phoenix have in common," Edwards-Hall wrote in the report. "Phoenix because the service is good across so many sectors and real estate because it's an industry that shows most consistency across the nation. In comparison to retail, fast-food appeared to be a sector where inconsistency was the only thing constant," she added. Phoenix's satisfaction level was 85 percent, according to the Grass Roots study, closely followed by Dallas with 84 and Kansas City with 83. The New York region's bottom position in the overall rankings was a still-respectable 76 percent, coming in behind a three-way tie between Miami, Los Angeles, and Boston at 78. Split by vertical, real estate was the top performer, scoring 93 percent nationwide. Banks followed at 88, and furniture stores narrowly edged out bars (86 to 85). Department stores and groceries tied for the bottom with 74 percent each. Edwards-Hall was quick to point out that the aggregate figures are made up of numerous individual encounters, and each sector had its good and bad moments. "One mystery shopper was directed to realtor.com rather than engaged directly," Edwards-Hall says. The most significant lack of consistency was in the fast-food market, according to the report. "The key thing is how heavy the importance of consistency is, even in the real estate sector," Edwards-Hall says. "Even if 95 percent of your interactions are good, you must also take care of the other 5 percent; they'll be a very vocal 5 percent. Consistency is an important part of branding, and if you as a customer receive bad service, you will associate it with that brand and spread the word."

Related articles: Viewpoint: Personalizing the High-Transaction Marketplace How to put the individual experience back into every customer interaction. Viewpoint: Death of the Salesman Is CRM responsible? Viewpoint: Four Components of the Successful Customer Experience It's about more than fulfilling a transaction. Feature: Pointing to Profits It takes a special breed of thinker--quick, tenacious--to be a successful salesperson, and the job has been getting harder. Feature: CRM.gov No longer the bailiwick of the private sector, CRM is a prime focus of government agencies. Feature: The 2004 Service Elite With a $40 billion annual budget and millions of citizen-customers, the City of New York can be seen as an enormous corporation with a widely diversified range of services. Capital City Wants ''Certified Friendly'' Hospitality Workers Columbia, S.C., launches a citywide customer service training program.
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