Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here

Ready To Launch? Why a Soft Pilot Is Best


Most companies have a solid plan in place when rolling out a new program, policy, or procedure – test it as much as possible in preparation for the official roll out.


When that doesn’t happen, things can go awry pretty quickly. One example is Kmart, a retailer who has been gearing up to face technology with a mobile app that allows for an easier shopping experience, with great features such as coupons and rewards points being immediately redeemed from their account and mobile purchasing. The idea was simple – users could find what they were looking for through the search feature, as they were shopping they had the ability to scan the items with their phone, offering up their phone at checkout to complete the transaction. Sounds pretty great, right?


Well, it has potential.


According to an article that was recently published, the company started using it at one of their stores in mid-2013 and added two additional stores a month later, with the goal of rolling it out across all of their locations by summer. Starting slowing and testing at a location or two is a good start in any planning of such a new service. They seemed to miss a step, potentially, by rolling it out on a smaller scale.


Effective planning for something like this takes patience and small steps to weed out any potential issues or hiccups before it goes live. By starting in only a few stores, the company did well to release it slowly. However, it seems as though they may have missed a couple of steps before that – when releasing a program, a soft pilot may include some of these steps too once planning and design is complete:


1. Testing conducted by those who created the program or app to pinpoint any areas that need improvement.


2. Testing conducted by a group of employees who have had no prior experience with this new program – this gives companies the first insight into consumer use. Feedback from this group can give some quick insight into any tweaks that might need to be made.


3. Training/testing by front line staff who will be responsible for this new program, BEFORE it rolls out. Because something new can be daunting for all involved, it’s so important to get the front line staff up to speed on the new program. Let them use it as a customer, make sure training is solid for using the new technology while interacting with staff, and get some feedback from those front line workers on potential challenge areas.


These steps may have been overlooked by Kmart, as evidenced by a reporter’s account of their experience when using the new app during a recent shopping experience.


1. Product searches didn’t go so well – the article cites an example of typing in “healthy food” and receiving coupons for unrelated items such as jewelry and an outdoor play set.


2. All items didn’t scan so well – testing of all types of packaging will ensure a smooth process. In this case, there is some user related challenge if they are unfamiliar with scanning items, especially more tricky ones such as bags, where the bar code can be hard to make completely flat. Hopefully Kmart did testing in several groups across several types of product packaging.


3. The biggest caveat of this experience? When the reporter went to the checkout line to complete the process, the employee had no idea what to do, and claimed she had never seen this program before with prior customers. It was clear that not all of the employees at this target location were familiar with the process and might not have received training on it.


Proper piloting of any new program will help alleviate potential issues; just testing at a store or two as the pilot isn’t enough. Following the steps above for launching a new program can lead to less issues, bumps, and frustration for both customers and employees along the way. Hopefully, Kmart will get the app running smoothly before it is rolled out to all of its locations.


Managing Customer Feedback Data Is Like Raising Kids


I’m still a fan of the show “Undercover Boss.” As I was watching it the other night, I listened to an employee share with the “new hire” (really the CEO of the company) how corporate gathers a lot of customer feedback, but there are some aspects of it that just don’t relate to their specific location, or even geographical area, and that she wished corporate would also take “local” data into consideration.


This got me thinking – much like parenting, it’s good to take a close look at all types of feedback coming in. ¬†While it’s good to look at things from a more overall, company wide level, there is something to be said about looking at more granular information, and maybe even gearing your feedback toward this.


Now, what does this have to do with parenting, you might ask? For any of you with more than one child, you know how different they can be. I have three children, who were all raised by the same two parents, in the same enviroment, and they could not be more different from each other. While parenting them, there are some global aspects that relate to all of them, but sometimes you need to take a different approach with one compared to the other two, to be effective.


This holds true for multi-location companies. In the example from the show, she said that corporate was pushing a particular dessert, because feedback was overwhelming trending toward customers enjoying it. However, from her experience, she knows that this particular item is more popular in other parts of the country, not in her neck of the woods. Customers tend to enjoy a different item much more, and are disappointed when all they have is the one corporate believes “everyone” wants.


It’s a good lesson to think about – what works for the company, in many respects, works for all locations. However, taking a closer look at the feedback coming in can make a difference. Here are some things to consider when running your feedback program:


1. Look for global trends, but refocus on location: if you’re only looking at the composite data, you may be missing out. Sure, customers tend to rate one item as very popular overall; however, if you refocus on a particular geography, or set of locations, does this still hold true? Drilling down and looking at the data from different angles, whether it’s geography, time of day (maybe weekends show different trends than weekdays?), or any other metric might be able to shed some light on what different sets of customers want.


2. Customize your feedback surveys: most programs can customize surveys based on location or district. If not, it might be time to reconsider the program you’re using. If you’re seeing a particular trend in only some locations, change up your survey to ask more targeted questions about these issues, but just at the affected locations. You may get another perspective that is really relevant to that set of customers, and you may find ways to increase satisfaction and loyalty


3. Talk to your employees: they are on the front lines, after all, and know your customer best. On this show, they ended up creating a “board” of district managers who would meet on a regular basis to discuss trends and ideas related to their particular set of locations. This, in conjunction with customer feedback data, can help to gauge what’s great and what needs improvement, as well as specific ways to tweak service levels or product offerings to better satisfy customers, while still falling into line with the corporate brand.


Making sure you’re treating all of the locations the same to create consistent brand messaging, while making sure individual needs are taken into consideration, can make a great impact on your business. Much like parenting, it’s a tricky road sometimes to make sure you’re setting your approach to each individual personality, but it can be done.