With more than 68 years of expertise in customer loyalty, management, human resources and technology, Lois Pannkuk and Nancy Anderson know that customer service is a fluid experience and it needs to be measured at the transactional level to be of any real value to companies. In 2005 they were awarded a patent on a transactional data collection method and they are moving forward now to take it to market.
“We believe that employees really want to provide good customer service, but companies don’t know how to measure it properly,” says Pannkuk, president and CEO of Vision-1, LLC. “If employers can gather information when and where the service is delivered, users will be able to discover what the consumer is thinking and hold employees accountable for their performance. This consumer feedback can then also be linked to more conventional forms of data, including financial and behavioral information.”
“We plan to revolutionize customer service industries,” she says. “Intuitively, we know that customer service is a fluid activity – that it’s constantly changing – so it needs to be measured transactionally on a continuous basis. And, baseline behavioral science theories tell us that when people are recognized and rewarded, their behavior changes.
“Therefore, our premise is that if a company captures accurate customer feedback regarding employee performance and the employee is recognized, the employee’s service level will improve and be maintained, which ultimately impacts the company’s profits and growth.”
In 2006 the Federal Reserve reported that 62 billion transactions were electronic, compared to just 30 billion by check. Electronic transactions are growing 12 percent annually while check payments are falling six percent per year. Vision-1’s Customer Response-Ability TM(CR-ATM) employee performance measurement platform takes advantage of that reality by asking a simple question via the POS/PIN (point of sale/personal identification number) pad system at the time of the transaction so marketers, owners and employers can capture actionable data at the unit/store level, where it matters the most.
Pannkuk explains that telephone surveys get global data and mystery shoppers are expensive and sporadic, so neither is particularly valid at the unit level where a manager is trying to train and coach his or her employees to deliver an excellent experience.
“We’re now capable of getting into the mind of the consumer and asking them questions about the experience while the experience is fresh in their minds – at the time of the transaction,” Pannkuk says. “It’s perpetual data measurement. Because it’s transactional, we can link it to sales data, so marketing data doesn’t have to live as a separate silo of information anymore.”
Pannkuk and Anderson believe that you can’t train your way to customer service. The huge missing ingredient is employee accountability. CR-A offers new potential to motivate employees to higher performance levels through the use of quantitative reporting and consistent recognition/reward systems that gather transactional performance data with contextual information such as employee identification and time of day.
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“You have to recognize and reward positive behavior if you want your employees to improve,” Pannkuk says. “With store-level, transactional data, employers have the option to reward good behavior in every paycheck, migrating hourly staff to a pay-per-performance compensation model.
“People get excited because they are recognized and rewarded. If they’re not doing a good job, employers can see it in the data and quickly begin to coach them to better performance, before bad habits are created.”
Proving the hypothesis
Getting from patent to product hasn’t been easy for Pannkuk and Anderson. While they were busy in their consulting business, they were also doing their homework, building relationships and working on the plans for Vision-1, which was founded in 2007. One of those relationships was with Mike Colwell and the Business Innovation Zone (BIZ). Mike and the BIZ helped Pannkuk and Anderson define some of the critical elements for a solid business plan to surround their innovative idea.
“Mike drove us to fundamentals,” Pannkuk says. “He made us look at the details, do the research about the industry and build a broad base of information on which to build the business.”
By attending a BIZ seminar, Vision-1 was introduced to Dr. Kris Johansen, SBIR/STTR program administrator for the Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at Iowa State University, who helps entrepreneurs identify and secure appropriate grant funds to grow their businesses.
“Kris was very encouraging and helpful,” Pannkuk says. “We had very little time to put together a proposal for a Phase I SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation, but she helped us identify the specific resource and guide us in the grant process that, ultimately, helped us secure the Phase I funding.”
Vision-1 was awarded the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant in November 2009 and will use the funds to develop the CR-A feasibility study. Vision-1 is currently talking with Iowa State University researchers about the details of the study to prove that customer service is a fluid activity.
“Under the NSF-SBIR grant, we plan to prove that the data changes throughout the day, and to also confirm the technology will function as planned,” says Anderson, Vision-1 vice president. “At this stage, the work is very baseline. We have put forth a hypothesis and will conduct the feasibility study to prove it.
“The academic partners would then write and publish their findings, which helps move the project forward as well.”
Once the Phase I work is completed, the company will apply for a Phase II SBIR grant to take it to a higher level of commercialization. The National Science Foundation has also assigned a New York–based company to assist Vision-1 in writing a commercialization plan, which is required as part of the Phase II application.
“The NSF wants all of their funding to result in commercialized concepts, and they have been very helpful,” Anderson says. “Mike Colwell and the BIZ have helped move us closer to that reality.”