PJStar reports on Bradley's secret shoppers project
May 1, 2012
The Foster College of Business Administration offers students an education that balances business knowledge with practical skill development. And all business students must take BMA 452 Strategic Management and Business Policy—the capstone course that turns seniors into consultants. The students work with clients solving a business issue over the course of an entire semester. Most recently, one group worked to help business owners in Canton. Their work was profiled in the March 31 edition of the Peoria Journal Star.
BU students report on Canton shopping
Study that included survey and secret shoppers concludes that service is key in small towns
By Terry Bibo of the Journal Star
CANTON — Note to small-town business owners: You may not be able to beat big-town big-box stores on product selection or 24/7 hours of operation.
But you can compete on customer service.
According to Bradley University senior consultants who are working with the Canton Area Chamber of Commerce, your customers want attention. And it isn't always your teen employees to blame when they don't get it.
"In my case, I think it was the owner who stopped to answer his cellphone while I was trying to check out," Bradley student/secret shopper Sarah O'Brien told about 30 Canton business people Friday morning.
The students conducted an online survey in late February and early March. Incorporating Facebook and newspaper ads taken out by the chamber, they solicited opinions about shopping in Canton, as well as sampling local services for themselves. Twenty-two-year-old Bradley student and project manager Michelle Hamm said the goal was not to point fingers, but to point out possibilities.
"We just wanted to kind of start the conversations between the businesses themselves," Hamm said.
The first survey question tried to pin down specific reasons for customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. More than half of the 83 respondents indicated some level of dissatisfaction with the availability of products; about 17 percent didn't like business hours. But in the comment section, many of those same respondents said they could understand those gaps in a smaller town. What they couldn't understand was lousy service.
"We are willing to stay in town even if it costs more as long as we get good service and therefore a value," wrote one customer, who cited Mel's Sporting Goods and Blessman's Boutique for exemplary service and several restaurants for the lack of it. "But a bad customer service experience really ends our patronage of a business."
Dennis Crawford got the message. As a member of the chamber's business development committee, the 63-year-old owner of Crawford's Home Furnishings—a Bradley grad himself—had seen a preview of the survey results. He said he was surprised and dismayed by a couple of negative comments, but saw the survey as an opportunity for his own business and the overall business community.
"I think it brings to the top of the mind: customer service," he said. "Canton's on the edge, too. We think there's some good things coming down the road."
Canton Chamber Executive Director Missy Towery, 39, agreed on all points. She said the input from Bradley so far has been both cost-effective and valuable, but she's looking forward to the final step in the student/chamber collaboration: putting the survey information into practice.
"What will be useful to us is to embark on our 'Shop Canton' campaign," Towery said.