Companies around the world have had to change many of their processes since the COVID-19 social distancing practices started to be implemented. Some companies are managing the situation very well while others are losing their edge. As a marketer, competitive intelligence during COVID-19 will help you identify your competitors that have been able to quickly set themselves apart during this period. This information is critical because COVID-19 will require special guidelines for stores for a year or two. This allows one plenty of time to gain or protect market share if competitors making headway during this period. It also allows for optimal strategic decisions, something that could not be achieved without research. Finally, it will allow you to set a strategic plan to outsmart your competition during these challenging times.
A simple competitive intelligence gathering approach, such as mystery shopping, can help you learn what your competitor’s key strengths and weaknesses are when servicing customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. A small sample of shops will provide invaluable insights into what your competitors are doing right or wrong. You can then use what you discovered to strengthen your service delivery and market position.
As an example, I did some unofficial mystery shopping to see what I might uncover regarding the customer service at various stores during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following summarizes what I uncovered during interactions with Canadian Tire, LL Bean, No Frill and STAPLES:
Best Practices Identified During COVID-19 Mystery Shopping:
Canadian Tire: No delay in ordering / picking up merchandise
- Took less than a minute to order and get email reply that they had item in store for pickup
- Waited outside store under 5 minute to pick up item
L.L.Bean: Making it extremely easy to return clothing
- On the invoice they listed a phone # to call for returns and refunds
- I got through to a live voice on first attempt
- Agent assured me there would be no problem returning item and during our call emailed me return mailing labels
- Refunded 2 days after shipped merchandise back
Worst Practices Identified During COVID-19 Mystery Shopping:
No Frills: Lack of floor staff results in over-stressed cashiers reacting rudely to customers
- End of the day, few customers in the store and only 1 cashier. I waited for a signal to go to the cashier but it never happened
- I went to the cashier and was told to go back to the frozen food section even though there was no customer with the cashier at the time
- I said I had been waiting over 10 minutes and would like to leave
- The cashier replied “Stop being such a jerk.”
Staples: Contact centre not taking calls
- There was no acknowledgement from STAPLES to confirm that they had received my online request to return an item
- After 4 return requests from me, I finally received an email stating that it would take up to 3 days for somebody to call me to arrange the return.
- Nobody called. I then emailed the Marketing Manager and Operations Director for help
- There was no reply from either one
These competitive intelligence results can then help you upgrade your customer support during the COVID-19 situation.
If you compete against No Frills;
- Ensure there is always a front-line manager to monitor and direct customers
- Train staff to be reasonable and flexible when customers do not follow COVID-19 store guidelines
- Post signage providing clear guidelines on where customers should wait until they are signalled over to the cashier and what to do if there is no front-line staff available to direct them
If you compete against STAPLES;
- Ensure customers have direct access to a live voice
- Eliminate delays to confirm online purchases
- Avoid making commitments such as promising to call the customer within a certain amount of days if you are unable to fulfill the promise
Mystery shopping continues to play an important role in gathering competitive intelligence during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a simple way to gather information on how competitors are providing customer service during this challenging time.
If you are planning to gather competitive intelligence via a mystery shopping program during the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend that you read this article first to avoid preventable mistakes and unnecessary headaches; Mystery Shopping: How to Avoid a Catastrophe.