If you receive a blue-and-white calling card saying “You’ve been tested”, consider yourself lucky. It means your business has been visited – and service tested – by a ‘phantom shopper’ who will have provided you with a wealth of information on how you can improve your service offering, facilities and product. The anonymous service testing, calling cards and leave-behind data are just some of the innovations of Phantom Group, a company started in 2005 by Mike Hewan, Wayde Kennedy and AnthonyField-Buss. Appalled at the current levels of customer service in South Africa, the three Gauteng-based entrepreneurs saw a gap for a market research company specialising in customer experience-based research that would help clients to increase their bottom-line profitability.
“Companies pay lip service to customer service but they don’t treat it as a vital frontline function. They should be tracking service levels like they track financials – it affects the bottom-line.” explains Kennedy. “With the tough competition that so many businesses are facing out there, there is a huge need to shift the focus from the product or service, to the entire experience that is created for the customer. We believe that it’s in this experience that companies will find crucial differentiators.”Changing service levels is all about changing behaviour, something that is notoriously difficult to do. While many companies have the passion, they lack the technical expertise to effect such change. Phantom Group’s approach to tackling the problem was to look to well-researched methods that have been proven to work.
“Customer satisfaction tracking has been used successfully in most of the world’s strongest economies but is still in its infancy in South Africa,” explains Hewan.The mistake many companies make when it comes to customer service is leaving too much to chance instead of approaching the problem from a strategic perspective. “Research shows that customer contact strategies are vital for the success of any organisation, in that all companieshave customers and the customer is any company’s greatest asset,” says Kennedy.
The group employs a two-pronged approach to customer satisfaction, involving customer satisfaction tracking and phantom shopping. The two work hand-in-hand to increase retention, turnover and ultimately profit margins. Phantom shopping establishes service trends and supplies measurable data that allows clients to objectively compare different locations, shifts, and employees using the same standards. Customer satisfaction tracking allows them to continuously listen to the voice of the customer in order to implement ongoing business process improvements.
One of the challenges of improving customer service however, lies in the fact that different businesses require different solutions. It’s a challenge to which Hewan, Kennedy and Field-Buss have devoteda great deal of thought. In spite of drawing on the same underlying theory and using the same tools, all their solutions are tailor-made to suit a client’s specific needs. “When it comes to customer service, although there are universal truths, there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Hewan.
Although the concept might be new to the South African market, Phantom Group has overcome the first hurdle of educating businesses about the potential benefits their services offer. With every calling card that’s left behind in a restaurant, shopping mall or business, the Phantom Group brand gains in strength and the concept becomes more widely recognised. In the last 18 months, the business has increased in size and momentum. Initially self-funded by the three partners and using a database of only 100 phantom shoppers, Phantom Group now lists Nu Metro Film Distribution,WesBank, and Primi Piatti amongst its clients and boasts a database of well over
1 000 individuals. In a relatively short period the partnershave established a foothold as industry experts, but they’re still hungry for more.
Setting their sights on meeting the next big challenge, they say: “Phantom Group will create a standard system of accreditation for service thatwill become the de facto measure of the value a business places on customers. Perseverance and an unwavering belief in the value of our business guarantees success.”