Maximizing efficiency, reducing costs, and preparing for future successes.
Headquartered in Norcross, Georgia, A Closer Look is a customer research and data-analytics firm that provides retailers, restaurants, and hotels with unique customer experience data from mystery shops.
The company was founded 25 years ago by three entrepreneurs with an ambition to enter the competitive world of mystery shopping and customer assessment. Today, A Closer Look’s CEO, Chris Gillen, is leading the organization towards greater operational excellence, while also providing direction and guidance on all of the company’s branding, marketing, and sales initiatives.
A Closer Look has over 400 clients, with a majority penetration in the hospitality industry. The company leverages its network of more than 200,000 independent contractors from all over the U.S. to perform an average of 10,000 mystery shops per month.
Mystery shops, as Gillen puts it, “tell the real story of your company’s customer experience successes and failures”. The process is designed to uncover CX issues and empower organizations to fix them.
When assessing restaurants, for example, the company’s mystery shoppers will eat meals, check food standards, and assess the customer service while keeping a written and photographic record of their experience. After shops are completed, the feedback is combined, edited, and processed through a data analytics platform to tell a detailed story of the experience.
“This detailed data story we provide of the end-to-end experience is what sets us apart from other firms,” said Gillen. “Our data is packaged in a way that helps clients get to the root of their pain points, so the information must be presented and summarized well enough to achieve that goal.”
Along with the shoppers themselves, A Closer Look has two main operational components: schedulers and editors. The schedulers help to arrange the mystery shop with the independent contractor and the client, while the editors ensure the shoppers’ written feedback is presented in a concise and impactful way, as well as checking for errors on feedback forms and the quality of any photographs.
When Chris Gillen took over as CEO in September 2019, one of his first jobs was to address the rate of operational efficiency within client projects.
“What was apparent from the very beginning was the negative impact of our manual approach to certain processes,” he recounted, citing some glaring inefficiencies within the company’s core operations that were becoming too expensive to maintain.
At this stage, the company was paying 130 contractors for the routine editing component, without any standard guidance for pay scale or workload, making the whole setup haphazard and inefficient. Around 85-90% of all shops required editing, which meant each contractor was doing nearly 70 edits per month.
Gillen’s background in call center services and operations led him to the realization that a dedicated work-from-home customer experience provider could offer the right solution.
A Closer Look approached Activus Connect in November 2019 and launched its first program in the same month.
Activus Connect’s proposal was to hire six of A Closer Look’s independent editing contractors as full-time employees, immediately onboarding their deep expertise and knowledge in the process. The goal was to enable a much smaller team of employees to manage the same workload previously performed by 130 people, with an initial target of three edits per hour, per person.
“The whole setup was cleaner, easier to manage, and we knew we could rely on the consistency of our editors,” said Gillen. “With the full-time team at Activus, we can communicate with them directly and quickly, allowing us to focus on reducing inefficiencies even further.”
After a few weeks of incremental implementation, A Closer Look’s operational costs saw a 40% drop. The full-time team is still under Activus Connect’s employ and is now able to complete 5 or 6 edits per hour, doubling the work outlined in the initial target.
“These results really highlight the power of focused efficiency,” said Gillen. “When you have dedicated people that you can train, educate, and align with the business objectives then it becomes easier to monitor and measure the company’s overall performance, which is something that Activus quickly brought to the table.”
Activus Connect’s technology allowed the company to pinpoint where the team was falling behind on efficiencies and quickly determine how to streamline it. For example, by leveraging Activus’s text-based communications platform, A Closer Look saw a massive reduction in response times between contractors and editors, allowing them to complete and deliver client reports at a much faster pace.
After a couple of months, the operational inefficiencies that A Closer Look was experiencing became non-existent. With the associated cost savings, the company is now able to focus more on marketing and technology, expanding its presence and enhancing its service offering.
The Ongoing Partnership
Following strong results, A Closer Look expanded its business relationship with Activus Connect to contract over 1,000 Ambassadors for shopping evaluations, in addition to retaining support for its customer experience editing function. The two companies are also working to include the scheduling side of A Closer Look’s operation, with plans to reduce a workforce of 15 schedulers down to just 5 and focusing on efficiency in a similar way.
“We’re really excited about working with Activus on scheduling as it’s a critical part of our business model, so we’d love to see how Felix and the team can enhance things and help us improve in that area,” said Gillen. “With their technology, Activus is able to place a huge emphasis on monitoring and digging into metrics, allowing them to shed light on a lot of issues we didn’t even know about and provide us with quality data. This dedicated focus on performance and measurement is what sets Activus apart from the rest.”