What consumers really care about should be researched and then funded – and all else discarded, says Nigel Cover

The beginning of 2010 has heralded speculation and hype around future shopper trends, with locally sourced products, luxury goods and even carbon footprint labelling being tipped as hot topics for 2010.

But as signs begin to show we are turning the corner of the economic crisis and consumer confidence begins to recover, the need to assess what's important to today's shoppers, as well as what they think of the service they receive, is still of utmost importance.

Many retailers do not have a clear view of their business from their customer's viewpoint, although it's widely known that exceptional customer experience is the route to profitable growth.

Eliminating everything customers don't care about and increasing investment in what matters most is essential. It's no good asking customers if they like a new product when they're more concerned about the service they receive.

Mystery shopping and customer surveys are simple methods of measuring customer opinions about knowledge, delivery and passion for service as well as premises and product availability. Understanding the results of this research enables companies and brands to engage with customers better.

Data should no longer be viewed in isolation, but followed up by acting on results with frontline education and learning.

The benefits speak for themselves: improved customer service, greater staff engagement and better employee retention.

Mystery shopping should be viewed as an agent of change, inspiring people and stimulating results. It should encourage staff to be inquisitive and positive towards customers and, in turn, this can lead to increased sales figures and brand recognition.

While customer expectations continue to grow and flex in tune with topical and cultural influences, research will remain an important part of the business toolkit. As part of a thoughtful mix of communication, education, measurement and reward, organisations have every chance of creating the brand experience they seek in 2010.

Nigel Cover is board director at research services company Grass Roots.

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