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should rightsizing be retail’s next big step?


When was the last time you went to a mall? For me, it was over the holiday season when I hesitantly performed pick up and drop off duties for my family. Usually packed to the gills during peak holiday times, mall traffic was noticeably lighter. As I watched the masses comb for sales in the brick-and-mortar space, I couldn’t help but wonder about the crowds that I couldn’t see. What happened to this once great meeting place: is it dying a slow, painful death or does the mall space have time yet to reinvent itself? Or is the writing on the wall with the onslaught of technical marvels like Google Glass, in-store tracking concerns and Amazon’s uncanny ability to outperform everyone leaving the remainder of retailers to battle for a smaller piece of the retail pie?

The Great American Mall was once a symbol of strength, vibrancy and a status symbol for shoppers everywhere. Many once-thriving mega-anchors like JC Penney have laid off workers by the hundreds or similar to now-shuttered Borders, closed their cash registers for the last time. Empty store-fronts sit vacant and eerily dark within the malls of today and it’s easy to lose count of the once mighty shopping meccas going bust. There’s even a website that chronicles dying malls and closed stores within shopping centers. In fact, Green Street Advisors forecast that 15% of the nation’s enclosed malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space in the next decade, up from its prediction of 10% just two years ago.

While the cool factor of yesterday’s mall has certainly ebbed in the wake of the digital revolution, there’s no question that brick-and-mortars have some catching up to do with their leaner digital counterparts. Pricey real estate and personnel costs are just some of the factors that can eat away at profits. Throw in the customer experience conundrum in an omnichannel world and it’s enough to pack up and turn the store-front into a museum exhibit of what once was.

But many companies are viewing today’s non-line customer and their desire for a universal experience across all channels as a rallying cry for action. Brands like Staples are rebalancing their resources to support strong online strategies and a chance to realign investments to better support fast-growth ecommerce sales. For them, and major retailers everywhere, the challenge is to bridge the gap between the physical and digital while still delivering excellent customer experiences. This doesn’t mean the all-important store or even the once mighty mall will disappear but we will begin to experience an era where retailers begin to right size their brick-and-mortar locations based off customer needs and wants.

Our latest contributed article “Should rightsizing be retail’s next big step“, featured in Multichannel Merchant, examines what size is the right size–be it pop-up, smaller concepts or even out of the box options like mini distribution centers. Read the article and then tell us in the comments section what you think is retail’s next big step.



opinionlab rockstars: meet mitchell


Meet Mitchell. He’s a Chicago Senior Software Engineer who is helping build ETL (extract-transform-load for us non-techies) data tools in OpinionLab’s next generation of software. If that weren’t impressive enough, he also keeps our current infrastructure humming including our Alerts system which on its own accounts for an outstanding 20,000+ emails daily to clients.  While a coder at heart (Python and Clojure are his weapons of choice), Mitchell can also hold his own on the trivia scene. A member of the $10,000 first place winning team in the Team Trivia National Championships, Mitchell also cut his trivia chops on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” twice. Yes, twice. Once as an actual contestant and again as a lifeline (receiving the call at our offices even) for his friend Shea. Pull up a seat and get to know Mitchell!

It’s almost the weekend, what can we find you doing most weekends?
Most weekends I’m at home caring for my son Zachary (he turns four years old on March 7th). I’m working on improving my Polish and Spanish language proficiency (I speak Polish to my son at home). Otherwise, I work with various community media and media-related projects, including Chicago Media Action, Chicago Indymedia, Chicago Independent Television, and radio shows on both WHPK and WLUW.

Anyone in the Chicago office knows you are a Scrabble force to be reckoned with. What was one of your best game ever?
When I played tournament Scrabble, I was in a tournament in LaGrange Park, Illinois, playing in a tight game with the division lead at stake (my opponent and I were both 5-0 going into the match). I blew the game open about three-quarters of the way through with the only bingo of the game, RATIONS. I wound up winning the game and the division, and took home a first place prize of $45.

Any other honorable mentions?
I’ll mention the most memorable game I ever played; I didn’t win but I came quite close. In July 2001 I participated in a charity Trivial Pursuit tournament across the street from Wrigley Field. I qualified for the hour-long finals with six other participants. One of the other finalists, a gentleman named Paul, took a 5-0 lead after the first 10 minutes. The rest of the finalists were demoralized, but I said to myself “Time to mount a comeback.” Indeed, over the next 45 minutes, I crawled my way back to take a 6-5 lead with just five minutes remaining. Paul sat on the last question for the last five minutes, with a correct response needed to force a tiebreak. Paul responded with the correct response, “Mikhail Gorbachev”, and wound up winning big in the tiebreak by a 6-3 score, but even so I count the comeback as the most memorable trivia “win” I’ve ever had.

What other games do you play?
These days, I play the classics with my son: Candy Land, Go Fish, Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Pengoloo, and a homemade variant of Scrabble where we share a single rack and make words together (it helps build his vocabulary).

Here in Chicago, the bleak cold continues. How are you dealing with the Chicago winter?
As perverse as it may sound, I kind of like it. I grew up on the other side of Lake Michigan, where snows are more frequent than they are in Chicago. In the 17 years I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve often complained that Chicago winters are too gray and not enough white. Not this year.

Favorite food to eat? What’s your go to restaurant in Chicago?
I’ve been vegan for 20 years, so when I eat out I’ll go to a vegan or vegetarian-friendly restaurant. My favorites include Native Foods, Chicago Diner, and the Pick-Me-Up Cafe. My great weakness is anything with BOTH peanut butter and vegan chocolate.

Do you shop online or in-store?
Mostly in-store, mostly groceries.

What are you reading now?
I’ve got a copy of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger in my backpack and “The Pragmatic Programmer” by Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt on my desk at home; one of these days I’ll finish the books, I swear. I’m a big nonfiction reader, and among my all-time favorites, I count the books of Robert McChesney (who writes on media history and media policy), Timothy Ferris (a science and astronomy guru), and Robin Hahnel (a political economist who writes for actual human beings).

Think you’ve got what it takes to be a part of our rockstar team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions over on the Careers Page for open positions in our Chicago headquarters.


opinionlab rockstars: meet Rob


Meet Rob. He’s a RM (Relationship Manager) located in our Chicago office with a passion for doing whatever is necessary to make sure our customers are happy and leading healthy and strategic Voice of Customer (VoC) programs. If you ask Rob, he’d say he makes sure our customers fully appreciate the value of VoC and is always helping clients find new and better ways to listen to their customers. He’s a easy-going road warrior (most recently found at our Adobe booth in Salt Lake City) who spends his time knee-deep in the data, pinpointing actionable insights for clients all over North America. Pull up a seat and get to know one of our favorite office mates.

Where do you shop most; online or instore?
50-50. I am guilty of “show-rooming”, but I also like the instant gratification of having it now.

Spending all that time in the plane, what are you reading now?
Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson. Guns, Germs and Steel is my favorite of all time.

It’s Basketball season but word has it you have an unwavering support for a certain college football team?
Univ of Colo, Golden Buffaloes… The best college team in Colorado, by far. Not so good compared to the rest of the country though.

Since you’re in our Chicago office, what’s your favorite Chicago eatery?
Blind Faith Café in Evanston. Good, and good for you!

Will you eat ketchup on a hotdog?
Yes, if you pay me $5.00

Favorite Chicago Museum?
MSI, I like to watch the chicks hatch.

Favorite album of all time? Favorite movie?
Dark side of the Moon. Blade Runner

What can we find you doing most on the weekend?
Breaking down walls in my house with a sledge hammer. I love to golf and to run. I also play the saxophone…poorly!

How are you dealing with the Chicago winter? How do you stay positive in the weather?
I actually love the cold! This is awesome! (we’re going to assume you are being sarcastic for all our sakes…)

Think you’ve got what it takes to be a part of our rockstar team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions over on the Careers Page for open positions in our Chicago headquarters.



infographic: can in-store tracking be risky business to your customers?


Last time you entered a store, did you think about who might be watching you? Or how a retailer could know that you talked to two store associates for a total of three minutes, picked up three different products but purchased none of them?

Marketers are in love with the treasure trove of insights that in-store tracking can provide through the lens of customer experience–how long a customer spends wandering store aisles, lingers in front of a store window, what items are tried on, picked up or put down and other data meant to optimize the customer experience. Just imagine the possibilities of real-time tracking data, not just at the point of experience in a digital world, but tracked in an actual location… brick-and-mortar retailers could push a mobile coupon to consumers examining a product previously viewed, but not bought, on the website. Or collect feedback from customers on product color choice and then ping a consumer upon a repeat visit that they’ve heard their feedback and now the product is available in a host of additional colors. It’s a pretty powerful future to imagine and one I have to admit as a marketer, sounds incredibly appealing. But while marketers are already building campaigns around these technological advances, consumers are rebelling. 80% of them in fact.

In early March, OpinionLab assembled a panel of over 1,000 consumers, consisting of a variety of genders, ages and demographic backgrounds. We wanted to know just what this eclectic group of consumers really thought about the notion of in-store tracking and everything that topic entails. Do consumers believe it’s fair game to use wi-fi signals upon entry and continue tracking through purchase? Is one form of tracking acceptable over another? For example is fitting room tracking a no no but on the other side of the coin, is it perfectly conceivable to track wait time at checkouts? Would they willingly participate in a program of store tracking and if so why? These burning questions and more were at the heart of our study, especially given a current retail climate heavy with stories of data breaches, security concerns and new technologies that allow tracking.

And we’re not just talking secret shoppers anymore. Wi-fi, iBeacons and mobile apps are just some of the initial technologies being used to track store behavior, and consumers aren’t thrilled with the notion that some faceless entity is tracking their movements without their knowledge. In fact, a whopping 44% of consumers are less likely to shop at a retailer if they are being tracked. Think that number changes when you’re asking the same question about a consumer’s favorite retailer? 63% of respondents said they wouldn’t participate in a tracking program even with a trusted brand. The notion of in-store tracking brings up all sorts of pain points with consumers–data security, spying, parental consent concerns and most importantly, what the retailers really will do with all those data points. In fact 6 out of 10 consumers said they believe the retailer will use data to their own benefit, not the consumers.

Our data shows the best way, if tracking occurs at all, is overwhelmingly an opt-in program where consumers sign up to participate in return for discounts or free products. Some forms of tracking do meet consumer approval however, 52% of consumers say it’s ok for a retailer to track checkout counter wait times. This is an area that translates to immediate benefits to a consumer.

It’s not that consumers don’t want a better experience in-store, it’s a simple fact that retailers just haven’t earned the right. There is a lack of evidence that retailers have yet to effectively sell consumers on the tangible benefits of in-store tracking. While there are of course shining examples of brands (Apple anyone?) that have proven that customers do have a stake in building the in-store experience, the majority of the pack hasn’t shown that the link between a great in-store experience and realized benefits is in-store tracking methods. And that’s a major obstacle for brick-and-mortar stores today.

There are as many opinions on this subject as there are technologies being created this very instant to track a shopper’s movements in the store, in fact you’ll see two great opinions on this very subject (with OpinionLab data at the very core) with Fortune’s piece, “Consumers hate in-store tracking but retailers, start-ups and investors love it,” and their follow up article, “Why in-store tracking might not be as bad as it sounds”. It’s a fascinating topic for any marketer and especially since we as marketers are consumers first and foremost. At OpinionLab we’re excited to see how in-store tracking methods evolve over the next twelve months and how VoC will fit into the puzzle, but we’re most interested to hear the opinions of our peers, customers and other consumers.

Weigh in on the issue and if you’d like a closer view of the results from this panel you can view the complete infographic here.


Adobe Summit


Digital has reinvented marketing. Adobe Summit helps marketers reinvent themselves. Sounds a lot like what customer feedback can do to transform organizations.

Adobe is a pretty sweet event, one that’s always been on the must attend’s of our tradeshow calendar. Not only will the celebrity-packed (Robert Redford? Right on!) event include powerhouse brands like Audi, REI and Sephora (not to mention a ski party), but this Summit is taught by some of the most innovative marketers from top companies around the world.

We’re looking forward to the innovative strategies, expert insights and hands-on experience we’ll receive at this event, especially mingling with our talented peers and finding new ways to spread the VoC gospel to the masses. You’ll find us at Booth #201 on the tradeshow floor but you might also see us having some spirited discussions (we get pretty passionate about customer feedback) with the best and brightest minds from a wide variety of industries. You also might see our #wickedol board giveaway where we’re giving away a Burton Super Hero Board and bag. Show attendees will be tweeting pics of themselves with our Swag to win so expect to see some really great pics flooding our Twitter page. You can also follow the conversations and see what we see on our Twitter page.



opinionlab rockstars: meet Nancy


Meet Nancy, she’s a Business Analyst with a focus on iterating OpinionLab initiatives and enhancing cloud based collection features. She’s been hard at work on some of OpinionLab’s most exciting projects, including a reporting platform project and working with developers to translate business needs and user requirements. It’s quite a lengthy to-do list and a never-ending one at that. We’d definitely say Nancy has earned her spot on the rockstar list. Pull up a seat and get to know our latest employee spotlight.

What are you reading now? 
On my own: The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. With my son: 31 Ways to Change the World. Favorite book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

What can we find you doing most weekends?
Riding my horse and shuttling my son around to sports activities. Oh…and the endless renovation projects I think up.

Do you own a PC or Mac?
PCs for work and home. iPhone for on-the-go.

Shop online or in-store?
Browse for best deal online and buy in-store if necessary.

What’s your favorite trip of all time? Where did you go? What did you do? 
This last holiday season I went to Uruguay and Argentina. We did a great mix of beach, mountain, wine country and city stuff with family and friends. I don’t know which was better, the tango club in Buenos Aires, the beach in Punta del Este or the mountains and wine in Mendoza! The next big trip is probably going to be Croatia or Malta.

You’re playing tourist for the day..where would you take us?
Sempre is my favorite restaurant—it’s a great little pizza and pasta place.
When I play tourist : Niagara Falls, CN Tower, High Park and Queen Street West. Maybe I should start taking people to the (Toronto) City Hall for a real show.

What’s your go-to flick?
It’s a toss up between The Usual Suspects and El Secreto de sus Ojos. You can watch them 10 times and still get something new out of it every time. I love a story with an unexpected twist.

You’ve been with OpinionLab a long time, what’s been some of your favorite memories?
The company retreats in North Carolina were lots of fun but what happens in North Carolina, stays in North Carolina. Maybe I can share that on one occasion, we were kind of letting loose and one of our staff members reverted to speaking in her native Italian without realizing it, and I had to translate for everyone. I don’t speak Italian, but I understand a bit and with a few glasses of wine apparently it only improved. Or at least it kept the conversations going!

Why did you choose OpinionLab?
I heard about OL a few years before I came here, when it was just starting to spread its client base. It was a really new idea and the first I had heard of a Voice of Customer solution. I came on board when it was growing like crazy and everyone had to wear many hats, which was challenging but always really interesting. Now I feel like we are refining our position in the market as the elder statesman of sorts in this sector. It’s less about what is technically possible and more about what is most valuable.

Anything else we should know about you?
If I’m not very careful I will probably wind up with a 3:1 animal: people ratio in my home. I’m a sucker for anything with fur.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be a part of our rockstar team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions over on the Careers Page for open positions across all our offices.


How UMB Leverages Feedback to create unparalleled customer experience

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Recently, we sat down with Terry Kincheloe, the Senior Vice President & Interactive Marketing Director at UMB Financial Corporation (UMB) to get the scoop on how UMB uses insights from OpinionLab to provide an unparalleled, quality experience for its consumers.

UMB uses OpinionLab mainly to get feedback for its consumer online banking services. From analyzing and optimizing marketing and social media efforts for the consumer and business-to-business sides of the brand, Voice of Customer (VoC) has shown to play a big role in creating the enterprise-wide experience at UMB.

Here’s a quick look at what Terry had to say about VoC and the UMB customer experience.

Can you tell us a bit more about how UMB uses OpinionLab?
Our first project with OpinionLab was our website re-design. Prior to this project, we hadn’t updated the site in many years. It was definitely the perfect time and place for the update and we wanted to ensure it was completed right. The re-design project included elements like widening screen width, enhancing SEO and updating the overall design, to name a few. It was important to the entire team that any changes made, provided the biggest impact possible for our customers.

OpinionLab was put into place six months in advance of the site re-launch to give us a benchmark for measuring against throughout the re-design process. Having this benchmark and gathering Voice of Customer data was an important piece of the puzzle as we were planning substantial changes for a wide-ranging audience. OpinionLab provided us with the ability to capture page-specific feedback and a level of granularity that was unmatched.  We had used surveys in the past for gathering this type of data, but found it was capturing too broad of input – we needed specifics to get this right.

Interesting – what happened as a result?
This process really allowed us to make a shift from how we managed the web side of the business. We made the move from managing more reactively, from customer-to-customer, to a more proactive approach. We had also anticipated that when the site re-launched that we would see a dip in online satisfaction, however, the positive feedback from customers actually increased at the site launch and ongoing. This was really a motivator for the internal team here at UMB to keep the momentum.

As it relates to consumer online banking, the feedback from our customers has been extremely valuable to help us understand where to focus and prioritize our efforts to help our customers the most.  Some could say — adding more of a science to the squeaky wheel.

Can you tell us a bit about any other successes you’ve experienced with your VoC program?
Our online banking customers provide us with great feedback – in large amounts. This is actually a big win for our entire UMB team because not only are our customers freely providing us with their insights and feedback, but the majority of it is positive. This really helps us to see that we have the right tools in the right places for our customers to get in touch and share what they have to say. Tracking this metric also helps to motivate our team and to keep what’s most important top-of-mind as we do the work day-in and day-out.

These updates have also helped accelerate fixes and uptime for the site. We’ve seen changes range from the third-party check re-ordering process to even the tiniest alerts and bugs. While it may be a general outlier for our customers, it’s an important piece of our business. Without our feedback channels being in place, we probably wouldn’t have uncovered the need to fix these areas, if at all. It’s our priority to create seamless and fluid customer experiences and to do that, we need to ensure everything is functional and easy to use for our customers.

Who do you share the feedback with across the organization?
As with most brands, this is always a process we’re working on internally. We work very closely within our consumer organization to incorporate feedback from customers into reports for leadership so that the impact can be made throughout the enterprise. We’re also collecting information at the branch level, which provides us with tremendous insight. Reporting access is also set up so that each of the product managers get a regular look at the comments submitted specifically to their products and pages. And, since customer service is so essential, an individual on our online banking team reviews comments, and personally takes the time to reply back to each of these customers, then supplies monthly reports to customer teams for broader key learnings.

Can you tell us about any future plans or updates?
Right now, much of our customer feedback comes from the point of the customer transferring funds and paying bills within our consumer online banking app, but we’re also planning to start capturing customer feedback within our commercial banking platform.. We’re also looking toward expanding our work with invitation-based surveys – something that will really dial even further into our customers’ wants and needs.


customer opinion index performance: healthcare


Today we wrap up our 4-part series looking at findings from our most recent Customer Opinion Index (COI) report. We’ll be turning our attention to the Healthcare industry and analyzing COI trends in that space.

Healthcare customer experiences certainly went mainstream in 2013 with the advent of the Affordable Care Act. Well-publicized glitches surrounding the launch of Healthcare.gov finally got everybody thinking about the importance of getting the healthcare experience right, particularly online.

It remains to be seen whether all this scrutiny will translate into better customer experiences in 2014. Healthcare was consistently the lowest scoring vertical throughout 2013, starting the year with a COI of 248. The Healthcare COI rose to 280 in July, only to tumble down to 232 by year’s end.

Across healthcare institutions–hospitals, clinics, primary care centers, and otherwise–several key customer experience pitfalls recurred in 2013. These include:

  • Online “find a doctor” functionality rarely functioned as advertised
  • Home pages were notoriously difficult to navigate
  • Often, the primary site navigation was un-intuitive, making it time consuming for customers to find what they were looking for, even using search features
  • Appeals were especially complicated, and usually required long drawn-out calls to the contact center to get resolution
  • Attempt to provide wellness options and education often came up short, as the content rarely went deeper than basic information

All in all, it’s clear that healthcare providers must make major strides when it comes to delivering great experience to their patients and other stakeholders.

We’ll be tracking how they perform in the first quarter of 2014 when we release our next COI Report, along with a new set of accompanying blog posts. Stay tuned until then!

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