Customer Intercepts: Answering the “Why” Behind Shopper Behavior

Mystery shops, CSATs, and sales numbers can tell you a lot about what’s happening in your stores. Especially if you study them as an integrated whole.

And yet, as valuable as they are, these data streams won’t help you to fully understand the why: why your customers behave the way they do on the sales floor.

Suppose a customer enters one of your stores, with merchandise of all kinds as far as the eye can see, and walks out empty-handed. Or a customer spends most of her visit in one section of the store and ends up buying something from another section.

Why did these customers behave the way they did?

Was it the way the products were displayed? The way pricing was communicated? The service that was (or wasn’t) being offered? Maybe it was something else entirely.

Occasional responses to open-ended CSAT questions might offer you clues. But without observing your customers firsthand—where they browse, what items they pick up, etc.—you can only speculate about what’s motivating them.

The only way to know for sure is to ask them on the spot.

The Beauty of Customer Intercepts: Filling the CSAT Gap

Recently, we published an eBook about the value of combining objective data with customer feedback. In it, we explain how to manage these programs for growth. (Click here to download your free copy.)

Unfortunately, many brands think of collecting customer feedback only in terms of traditional CSATs—quantitative surveys sent to customers following specific interactions or mailed out en masse using a CRM system database.

CSATs are great at capturing macro trends related to customers’ perceptions on specific topics. But they don’t enable you to dive deeply. Customer intercepts, on the other hand, are interactive discussions. Each customer response determines the next question asked—a kind of “choose your own adventure” dialogue.

And, unlike traditional focus groups, customer intercepts aren’t heavily engineered. There’s no recruitment company compiling a list of demographically targeted consumers or approaching them on the street and offering them cash to participate. Intercept interviews are one-on-one, on site, and in the moment, making it easier to uncover the real impetus behind your shoppers’ buying decisions.

Although it’s a relatively simple process, interviewing select customers as they exit the store has many possible uses and benefits. And it can change everything you thought you knew about the customer experience.

How You Can Use Customer Intercepts to Boost Business

Customer intercepts can be used both proactively and reactively, and they have potential applications for nearly every team in your organization—from CX and marketing to store operations, merchandising, and product development. Whatever topic you choose to explore, you can target specific demographic groups, specific actions in the store, or both.

Here are just four of the many things you can do with this unique research tool to boost your company’s top and bottom line.

1. Find out why people aren’t buying.

An obvious brand failure (lousy service, for example) isn’t the only thing that discourages sales. In fact, in most cases, it’s a subtle misalignment or miscue that customers will quickly forget and never comment on in a traditional survey—and that you won’t know to ask about in the first place.

2. Avoid costly blunders.

A client asked us to use in-store intercepts to gauge customer sentiment ahead of a seasonal product launch. A few sample sweaters were displayed in the store, and customers were asked which styles they preferred and why. Some of the designs failed to wow customers, so the company adjusted its order accordingly—thus preventing a substantial loss in markdowns.

3. Get a handle on the competition.

By asking your customers where else and how else they shop for similar merchandise, you’ll know for certain who your closest competitors are. The answer may upend your team’s assumptions—and possibly lead to groundbreaking market strategies.

4. Test CSAT and mystery shopping programs before they launch.

We include this advice in our new mystery shopping eBook, and it’s just as true for your CSAT program: make sure your questionnaires reflect customers’ concerns.
What’s most important to you about the in-store experience? We think it’s cleanliness, the way you’re greeted, availability of discounts, and the return policy. Are we right?

By using customers’ responses to these questions to refine your study methodologies, you’ll maximize the value of your mystery shopping and CSAT data.

What Can(’t) You See Through Your Customer Feedback Lens?

Quantitative data (both subjective and objective) is indispensable for revealing trends in brand performance and customer sentiment over time. But you also need qualitative data to challenge your assumptions about your brand, your customers, and the customer journey.

An open-ended question here or there can’t capture the fine details of your customers’ perceptions and experiences; you need to ask customers directly, in the right time and place, what’s driving their decisions.

If you want to learn more about how Intercept studies are set up, executed, and leveraged, please reach out to us. We’d be happy to answer your questions and share some success stories.

Better Mystery Shopping