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How the Burden of Choice Impacts Your Customers

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by Jessica Dreiling, Sr. Consultant, Integrated Insight

Choice is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. We all want options, but often become paralyzed by the number of variables present. In a similar fashion, your customers can feel immobilized by the number of choices presented to them. This concept of “choice overload” has been understood as a cognitive impairment in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options.

During a recent shopping trip to furnish a house, my husband became paralyzed by the endless choices needed to purchase a sectional: style, shape, design, upholstery, structure, and stiffness. He spent an entire weekend researching options. Several weeks later, he still hasn’t picked one.

I am certain that if I had presented him with two couch options and said, “Pick one; which do you like better?” He would have easily chosen one and felt happy about it.

While large purchases have significant trade-offs when making choices, choice overload impacts small purchasing decisions as well.

A recent consumer report discovered that 54% of consumers experience so much frustration that they abandon e-commerce sites if they can’t choose. 42% admitted to abandoning a planned purchase altogether because there was too much choice.

If consumers cannot make a decision, it is extremely unlikely that they will make a purchase.

Simplifying Products in Travel and Tourism

It is very easy for consumers to experience choice overload when planning vacations. Whether a customer is in market filling spare time or still planning a vacation, make it easy for them to choose your experience by simplifying the presentation of your products.

In most cases, we have found it beneficial for our clients to streamline products down to a few core options.  We recommend presenting options in simple, predefined packages or bundles, in a progression of features and price. Simplifying the number of options will help to reduce the burden on the consumer and clarify the value proposition. A menu of three options is easy for customers to evaluate.

product stratification

A regional tourist destination with multiple attractions illustrates this point. This destination offers a variety of attractions, themed experiences, retail, and food and beverage. The options to purchase an experience online were overwhelming, with dozens of varieties of attraction combos and upgrades being presented together. This contributed to a perilous cart abandonment rate.

By reducing the number of products presented in the e-commerce funnel to three of the most demanded product combinations, the customer was presented with a clear “good, better, best” value proposition that facilitated decision making and improved online conversion by double digits.

Simplification Can Improve the Bottom Line for Restaurants

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants were forced to simplify in order to reduce costs. Simplification involved fewer moving parts and the ability to be significantly more productive. This required less labor, fewer deliveries, lower waste, and improved execution. It also eliminated broad and complex menus that were difficult for restaurants to execute profitability and consistently.

Restaurants realized that a menu does not need to be complex to be compelling. By reducing menus down to the most demanded items, patrons spent less time deciphering options, which ultimately increased table turn time, throughput, and profitability.

Fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger has been deemed the master of simplicity with a menu offering comprised of four product categories: burgers, fries, shakes and drinks. Out of the four categories, only two (burgers and fries) require any real processing at the point of purchase.

 

11.20_InNOut_menu

Without a complex menu, the average order time per customer is reduced to around 60 seconds. Additionally, the burger chain does not have the typical variability in purchases, standardizing process flows and minimizing bottlenecks. Keeping the menu simple and streamlined has additional operational impacts, such as improved customer service, maximizing labor and machine utilization, and reduced waste.

Ultimately, trying to be all things to all people does not mean you will be more profitable.

Understanding Your Customer

So, how much choice should you provide customers? The ultimate balance any company should aim to strike is the one between consumer appeal and higher sales and revenues. Reaching that goal requires measuring what matters and taking action to improve those metrics.

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How Hoteliers Can Optimize Revenue with Post-COVID Demand

by Stephen Davis, VP of Pricing and Revenue Services

As hoteliers look to capture limited demand and maintain yields during lingering COVID-19 impacts, optimizing yield on each guest is critical. Too often hoteliers act as facilitators, ensuring a great experience but not treating amenities as potential to capture additional revenue. From bundling vacation packages during the booking process, to making it easy for guests to purchase commodities while visiting, revenue optimization strategies that stretch beyond room revenue may make the difference between profit and loss during a potentially tumultuous year. Let's look at how hoteliers can optimize revenue with post-COVID demand.

Table of Contents

1. State of the Hotel Industry

Though the recovery from COVID-19 is still ongoing, the U.S. recorded its highest monthly performance levels in May 2021 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from STR.

Gross operating profit for U.S. hotels reached 70% of the comparable 2019 level, according to STR‘s May 2021 monthly P&L data release. While demand, revenues and GOP continue to uptick, labor spending remained flat from the previous month at 64%.

 

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Travel volumes are expected to be nearly fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels this Independence Day (July 1–5) as more than 47.7 million Americans plan to travel.

While the improvement is encouraging, many hotels are still experiencing financial difficulty, and even more are seeing staffing issues as evidenced by the stagnant rate of labor costs.

Hoteliers are seeing an increase in demand but need to optimize RevPAR potential by utilizing revenue generation strategies to make the most of every guest, particularly as there is an opportunity to capitalize on the pent up demand expected in the summer months.

2. Revenue Generating Strategies to Make the Most of Every Guest

The potential to drive revenue does not end once a room is booked. On-property revenue opportunities should be a focus for every hotel and resort. Not only does it improve the bottom line, it also enhances the guest experience. Opportunities include bundling, upgradable amenities, and food and beverage optimization.

capture additional spend

Bundling

Packaging and bundling provide an excellent opportunity to create a holistic experience with added value. The package can be promoted with a savings message to the guest. Packaged vacations relieve travelers of decision making once their vacation starts, which can provide a more enjoyable experience as well as capture higher revenue per room night.

An example of a bundled package message may be, “book three nights and receive complimentary transportation from the airport to the hotel for just your immediate party.”  The inherent savings of not having to pay for a taxi or shared ride service is clear to the guest.

Another example may be, “book three nights and receive 25% off one dinner meal at our restaurant.” This is also a clear savings message that may result in incremental meals served in the restaurant. Tickets to local activities (for which you receive a commission) are a great addition to vacation bundles and can be customized based on consumer segment. For example, a local food and wine tour could be appealing to a couple traveling alone. A family of four with young children may spark to the local theme park or children’s museum.

Upgradable Amenities

Once traveling, guests are often willing to pay a little more for added perks such as late check out, a premium view, or higher-speed internet access. Review your own amenity offerings which could be considered beyond the standard expectation to identify potential candidates. Where possible, bundle upgradable amenities to avoid the perception of “nickel and diming,” and keep the number of upgrades reasonable. If half the rooms in a hotel are a premium view, and you’ve categorized them into several buckets, it quickly becomes overwhelming to guests.

When adding upgrade opportunities, be sure to assess the cost and profit potential for every sale. Offering guided running tours may sound like a great idea, but if it costs more to operate than the revenue it generates, it won’t do much good for the bottom line. Most amenity upgrades are reasonably priced, but even a $10 upsell purchased by 5% to 10% of booked rooms can have a significant impact on revenue and profitability, given that most upgradable amenities typically come at no cost to the hotelier.

hotel luggage concierge

For example, offer guests an “Upgrade Your Stay” package when they check in that includes higher-speed internet access, late check out, and a free non-alcoholic drink with the purchase of any snack item from the pantry, per night. The first two have little to no cost to you and the free drink could entice someone who did not have an intent to visit the pantry to actually make a purchase, or repeated purchases, resulting in some incremental revenue to offset the cost of the drink. At $10 per night, this upgrade could be an easy decision for many travelers, but make sure you can still turn the rooms with late check outs.

Food and Beverage Optimization

Almost all hotels have some form of food and beverage sales, whether a restaurant, bar, or sundries shops in lobbies. Opportunities to optimize revenue from these outlets often fall to the wayside.

To start, you can implement menu engineering principles to feature the most profitable and popular items more prominently on the menu to sell more plates that earn high contribution margins. To learn how to implement menu engineering, read our article, Menu Engineering Strategies for Restaurants to Optimize Revenue.

 

hotel server
3. Efficient Marketing Strategies to Drive Demand

With revenue down, marketing dollars need to be hyper-efficient. These strategies have proven to drive demand efficiently, increasing profit earned per guest.

Leverage Digital Channels

Digital platforms allow the flexibility for hoteliers to adapt marketing messages as consumer sentiment fluctuates in response to COVID-19. With revenue down, marketing dollars need to be hyper efficient. Targeted, direct communication to consumers can be a powerful asset for the hotelier looking to stretch their budget.

Target Past Visitors with a Return Offer

Past guests who had a good experience are already familiar with your product and more likely to repeat an experience than risk the unfamiliar. Target past visitors with a return offer as a “thank you” for past business with messages that make them feel appreciated and welcome.

Communicate Safety Messages

When selecting a hotel, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices are still a high priority according to the AHLA State of the Hotel Industry 2021 Report. Guests also feel more comfortable when properties communicate these enhanced cleaning practices. Nearly seven out of ten travelers report wanting to hear directly from hotels what measures properties are taking to ensure safety.

4. Sales Channel Strategies for Sustainable Growth

Third party sales channels can be a boon for business, but they also pose risks. With COVID-19 impacting demand, now is the time to assess your channel strategy and whether it is providing a net benefit.

Over time, third party agreements have the tendency to get unruly. Agreements are made year to year and often new partners are added, but many hoteliers do not perform the due diligence to optimize their distribution strategy. Below are some steps to take to ensure your strategy is working for you and not against you.

Channel strategies

Realign Commission Structure

Tie your commission structure to volume requirements by providing the most lucrative commissions to the channels that drive the highest volume.

Review Sales Volumes

Review volumes to ensure partners are performing according to their agreement. If you don’t already, create a report for third-party sales and the respective commissions to analyze if partners are living up to their end of the agreement. For channels with low volume and high commissions, consider ending those agreements.

Explore New Channels

New travel aggregators are being created daily and there are a multitude of companies regularly looking to provide value-added perks to employees such as standing discounts. Both of these options are worth exploring further and regularly looking for new players that could expand your reach.

Sales channels are often overlooked for optimizing revenues. Taking the time to assess your third party strategy could reveal significant opportunity to increase yields and drive incremental demand.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, the lingering impact of COVID-19 could continue to make profitability a challenge for much of 2021. Hoteliers will need every tool in their revenue management toolbox to be successful. While there may not be a silver bullet to demand generation, use these proactive strategies to set you up for success.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

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Basic Guide to Process Improvement: A Structured Approach to Optimizing Your Operation

The most successful companies are those that can continuously adapt to meet the changing needs of the consumer and their business. Optimizing business processes can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where and how to start. However, problematic and stagnant processes ultimately cost companies money.

Inefficient or ineffective processes result in many different issues: excess turnover because of employee frustration; increased production costs as a result of defects and waste; lost customers due to long waits, miscommunication, or poor quality.

Likewise, optimized processes have many benefits: higher employee engagement and productivity; a streamlined operation with lower inventory costs, fewer required resources, and minimal errors; improved customer satisfaction, transforming loyal customers into brand advocates.

We can look to lean manufacturing and Six Sigma for a wide range of tools, techniques, and methodologies to improve business processes. Two of the most well-known frameworks for process improvement projects are PDCA (plan – do – check – act) and DMAIC (define – measure – analyze – improve – control). These each take an analytical, structured approach to process improvement, with slight differences between the two methods.

Following is a guide to process improvement, leveraging the key steps within PDCA and DMAIC, as well as other methodologies. The key takeaway is that improving your business is a continuous process, and the more defined the process, the better.

 

Basic Guide to Process Improvement
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    guide to process improvement
    1. Observe

    Decide which process you want to improve. Candidates with the most opportunity will typically have long lines or waits for customers, low profit margins, or a high number of customer or employee complaints. After selecting the process, the first step is to observe the operation in person. Create a process map or value stream map to document the process, including any possible variations. This ensures you fully understand the steps of the procedure and the required resources and people, as well as provides a document to ensure all team members are on the same page for which process is under review.

    2. Aim and Define

    Next, develop a SMART aim statement to define the scope of the project and articulate the mission. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. An example of a SMART aim statement could be “Reduce processing time for XYZ by 25 seconds by the end of Q3” or “Increase hourly throughput during peak hours by 10% at Restaurant ABC by May 31st .”

    3. Plan and Analyze

    After clearly defining the business goal of the project, develop a list of possible causes for issues and challenges. This list should be formed through a combination of direct observation of the process, interviews with multiple front-line operators and available data to determine the relative impact of each. Host a brainstorming session with key stakeholders and select front-line workers to create a plan of modifications and solutions, focusing on changes that are the most feasible with the highest impact. Including front-line employees in the planning process will help with change management upon implementation.

    4. Test and Check

    Pilot the selected changes in controlled, small-scale scenarios to identify problems and work out the details. Simulation can also be used to test changes in a virtual environment, particularly if pilots are infeasible or cost prohibitive. Gather results from the piloted change to analyze the effectiveness of the tested solution(s). Make any tweaks based on feedback from front-line operators. If needed, re-test the solution. Compare the expected gains to the aim statement to ensure solutions are on track.

    5. Improve

    Roll out widespread implementation of the optimized solutions. Depending on the scope of the project, a phased roll out may be the least disruptive and allow targeted focus during each phase of the implementation.

    6. Control

    Process modifications are only useful if they are maintained. Develop controls to ensure any changes stick. This includes documenting the new procedures, updating training materials and standard operating procedures, and providing refresher training as needed. Continue measuring and reporting on the impact of the modification to keep it top-of-mind.

    In Conclusion

    Processes can become out-of-date quickly, so it is prudent to regularly revisit, reanalyze, and improve procedures. This allows for continuous improvement of the operation, enabling an efficient operation for the long term.

    Improving business processes can be a formidable challenge. Using a structured and analytical framework can provide a repeatable and scalable approach to solving these issues.

    How Can We Help?

    Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

    Read More Insights

    How the Burden of Choice Impacts Your Customers

    Your customers can feel immobilized by the number of choices presented to them. The ultimate balance any company should aim to strike is the one between consumer appeal and higher sales and revenues.

    Read More

    How Hoteliers Can Optimize Revenue with Post-COVID Demand

    As hoteliers look to capture limited demand and maintain yields during lingering COVID-19 impacts, optimizing yield on each guest is critical.

    Read More

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    Loyalty programs have become commonplace for retailers in today’s market. Determining the correct program to implement can make a difference in the value of the loyalty program for consumers and your business.

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    Building It Right The First Time: A Guest-Centric, Analytical Approach to Capacity Planning

    by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

    New experiences and facilities require a high upfront investment, and often are difficult and costly to adjust after building. And so, strategically building the right amount of capacity for the right guests can save a number of headaches later. This article lays out the major steps to planning capacity using a guest-centric, analytical approach.

    1. Understand Demand

    Always start with understanding the guest. Market research can determine potential market size, demographics, and estimated annual attendance. Spread the annual demand to the daily level – seasonality due to weather/school schedules result in a very different average and peak day attendance. All of these demand factors will heavily influence the amount of supportable investment.

    2. Develop Design Standards

    After understanding daily attendance, determine for which attendance level to build. First, define the desired service levels of the provided experience. Service level standards examples include: every guest experiences a marquis attraction, keeping average or max wait times to <X minutes, or guests can experience X total things across their visit. Then, determine how many days/guests you are willing to expose to compromised service levels. The goal is to have few high-attendance days/times with a less-than-ideal experience and many days/times where the development will be more than enough to accommodate demand.

    3. Quantify Capacity

    The capacity required for any individual business unit or location is typically based on the peak instantaneous demand.

    For example, restaurants are busiest at meal periods, whereas ticketing and entry facilities are busiest at park open.Focus on all guest and employee needs such as breakrooms, storage, restrooms and guest services; often it is easy to just focus on the core product and revenue sources.

    4. Evaluate Demand - Capacity Balance

    Continually iterate to ensure the resulting program is compelling enough to drive the expected demand while meeting the desired service level standards.

    Other aspects can influence demand or capacity: marketing can increase awareness (and thus guest demand), mitigations such as brining in food trucks can offer short term flexes in capacity, or pricing can influence demand such as mid-week ticket discounting.

    5. Design a Layout

    After determining the optimal amount to build, lay out the facilities in a logical, efficient way from both the guest and employee perspective. Simulation is a great tool to evaluate design before physically building. Benchmark industry leaders to see what does and does not work in their park flow. Consider the placement of complementary functions, and balance the guest experience to enhance guest flow and reduce congestion.

    Conclusion

    Determining the proper amount of capacity requires a rigorous, analytical approach to understanding the guest and their behavior. But, building it right the first time will reduce the cost of rework while maximizing the guest experience.

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    Case Study: Market Assessment & Feasibility Study for New Attraction

    by Stephen Davis, VP of Pricing and Revenue Services, Integrated Insight

    Table of Contents
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      One of the toughest decisions for any business is often when to start and when to expand. Making the decision to develop a new attraction or to expand into new markets is always exciting. Creative juices flow and big plans get made, but when the rubber hits the road – what is the right decision?

      Our experience shows that it can be hard to avoid the emotional pull of a particular concept. Temptations to take a sweetheart development deal or follow “gut instincts” are risky. There can be major pitfalls for businesses that forego an objective evaluation of competition, environmental forces, risks, and opportunities for business development. Spending the time, and money, to get things right from the start can eliminate more costly efforts in the future.

      To take the emotions out of the equation, an objective and data driven market assessment and feasibility study is needed that leverages both quantitative and qualitative factors in the decision making.

      Market assessment and feasibility studies can answer questions as macro as, “what market should we expand into?” and as micro as, “which neighborhood should we build in within a 25-mile radius?” For a recent client, both of those questions and more were addressed in a comprehensive assessment.

      Background

      A eclectic art experience looking to expand into new markets engaged Integrated Insight to conduct a market assessment and feasibility study.

      Objective

      For potential markets, Integrated Insight prepared an in-depth opportunity assessment that included four components: (1) market sizing and analysis of resident and tourist population, (2) competitive assessment that identified competing activities and pricing in the relevant market area, (3) physical site assessment for potential locations, and (4) primary market research to understand concept appeal and pricing leverage.

      Component 1: Demographic and Market Analysis

      The demographic and market analysis helped the client better understand the expected market size of residents and tourists. Market demographic and sizing analysis included details around the resident population such as incomes, age distribution and presence of families. Overnight tourist visitation behaviors were also compiled from secondary sources to understand what types of tourists are coming into market.

      Failing to understand the makeup of an expansion market can be a costly oversight. If your business relies heavily on adults 18-24 but expands into a market with an older demographic, performance may stall before it even gets going. Similarly, if there are not enough income qualified households in market you may find yourself constrained by the socioeconomics around your location.

      Component 2: Competitive Assessment

      The competitive assessment inventoried similar experiences and activities for each market. An in-depth analysis of venues was created which profiled amenities, pricing, market share, consumer appeal, and interior features.

      An inventory of competing activities in market included price points and pricing structure. Potential client experience pricing was compared across a number of market competitors to provide a perspective on price positioning and the implied value proposition.

      Evaluating your existing competition in market is essential to a successful launch. Entering into a market that is overcrowded means building awareness will be a challenge. Conversely, understanding the competition for time and wallet could help identify synergies between existing businesses in market.

      Component 3: Physical Site Assessment

      A site evaluation was performed to identify and compare potential locations for a new client installation. Sites were assessed at the micro level for each market, as small as a unique 3 to 5-mile radius. A standardized group of criteria were analyzed and scored for each site. Factors included, among others, availability of parking, culture/synergy for arts and entertainment, lack of crime, public transportation, neighborhood population, and local incomes. By measuring the same variables for each site, they were compared objectively relative to each other.

      The selection of the physical site is one of the most critical when looking to create a new business or expand an existing one. Locations can make or break return on investment and should be a central consideration for feasibility. And the details matter. Even if your location has great visibility, all the visibility in the world won’t make it a success if it is difficult to physically reach your business and parking is not available.

      Marketing budgets will always be necessary, but making a smart decision on location can give a boost in awareness early in the life cycle of your business. For example, understanding where there is beneficial foot traffic or existing business synergies, can put you in the heart of the action. Paying more for the right location now likely means paying less later to try and market your way into success – which is usually an uphill battle.

      An example of a physical site assessment failure can be found in a national indoor sky diving experience. Without careful planning, the experience expanded quickly across the country chasing favorable land deals instead of making measured decisions. The results were challenging – unprofitable locations, poor foot traffic and high price points made some new operations unfeasible.

      Component 4: Market Research

      To further assess market feasibility for the eclectic art installations in consideration, primary market research was conducted to understand the appeal of the proposed project, price expectations for the experience and the potential unconstrained demand each market could support.

      Entrepreneurs and expanding leisure experiences no doubt believe strongly in their product. But market research clears away any preconceived notions about how the general public sees a new experience and gets real answers from real consumers. What may “feel” like a great concept may not truly resonate and knowing this before investing heavily in a new market can prevent a costly mistake.

      Primary research identifies the exact residents and tourists who have an interest in your product and speaks directly to them, quickly eliminating those who are rejectors and providing sizing of the interested target market to penetrate. Speaking directly with your consumers means you have the opportunity to learn about their demographics, leisure behaviors and overlapping interests. These learnings allow for customer segmentation and glean insights for communication and marketing strategies.

      Beyond just assessing appeal of the new experience, our study identified price expectations among potential customers to gauge pricing leverage. This was measured across multiple markets to understand which may have the most pricing power. Failing to align the value proposition of the experience with the price can leave money on the table if priced too low, or limit demand if priced too high.

      Through an understanding of who is likely to visit a new experience in a particular market, what they like about the experience, and what they’re willing to pay, an estimate for unconstrained demand can be reached. Knowing unconstrained demand helps assess the revenue potential and supportable investment a new market can offer – providing a clear answer to “will this market be feasible?”

      Result

      The market assessment in conjunction with the site evaluations and market research were able to provide a holistic view of the potential markets in consideration. This eliminated most of the unknown risks associated with expansion, providing the client with the information needed to lead with their consumer and move forward with confidence in their potential new markets.

      How Can We Help?

      Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

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      How the Burden of Choice Impacts Your Customers

      Your customers can feel immobilized by the number of choices presented to them. The ultimate balance any company should aim to strike is the one between consumer appeal and higher sales and revenues.

      Read More

      How Hoteliers Can Optimize Revenue with Post-COVID Demand

      As hoteliers look to capture limited demand and maintain yields during lingering COVID-19 impacts, optimizing yield on each guest is critical.

      Read More

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      Read More

      Re-Evaluating Labor Needs in Post-COVID World

      by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

      COVID-19 has affected customer expectations and behaviors, as well as resulted in constraints on capacity. As businesses re-open, it’s time to revisit staffing levels to ensure locations are meeting customer needs. Particularly amid furloughs, budget cuts, and uncertain futures, analytically assessing the right number of staff are in the right place at the right time is crucial to achieving a good customer experience while minimizing labor costs.

      Developing workload models based on customer demand profiles allow businesses to staff and schedule locations efficiently. These models will be most effective in operational, transaction-based roles, and include the following steps:

      1. Identify customer demand.

      How many customers do you expect? How does this vary by time of day, day of week, or time of year?

      As with any operational business problem, always start with the customer and their needs.

      Understand the volume of customers demanding the product or service at any particular time of day. For example, a restaurant may see sixty groups dining per hour during the busy lunch period, with less than ten groups mid-afternoon between meal periods.

      There’s likely historical data that’s already available which can indicate demand such as historic point of sale transactions, wait times, customer entries into a venue, etc. Analyze how this demand changes based on different seasonal offerings or customer demographics.

      While COVID has affected customer demand, comparing data from the past couple months with historical data from 2019 and earlier can provide useful context for the transition back to “normal”.

      2. Measure capacity required.

      How long does it take to process each customer?

      Next, calculate how many resources are needed to meet customer demand. This is accomplished by understanding the amount of time it takes to process each customer or party, known as the transaction time. Be sure to analyze both the distribution of transaction times as well as the average. Understanding what creates a long transaction could be an opportunity for process refinement.

      Ideally, transaction time would be tracked systematically – for example, recording the time the first item was scanned at a POS and the time payment was completely finished to represent the start and finish of the transaction time. However, in-person observations can be used if this information is not available, and also used to validate the system-based transaction times (e.g., bagging items may not be captured in the system transaction time but does require the employee’s time).

      Apply these expected transaction times to the respective customer volumes to translate this to workload. Also be sure to capture any additional non-transaction-based workload, such as restocking or time pre-opening/post-closing.

      3. Understand business nuances.

      What business rules must be met? What service levels are desired?

      There are typically external or business constraints that may affect staffing levels. This may include the minimum or maximum number of hours an employee can work, requirements on certain certifications, or minimum staffing levels. These nuances will vary by line of business, so ensure you seek counsel from operational leaders.

      Service levels will also inform how much capacity is needed. What is an acceptable wait time for your customers? What is the maximum wait time customers will accept? Be sure the capacity noted can accommodate natural fluctuations in demand to avoid excessive wait times.

      4. Staff and schedule appropriately.

      Do the scheduled labor resources match the workload need?

      After understanding the customer demand, required capacity, and business nuances, create a staffing plan and schedule.

      Ideally, the staffing levels throughout the day should match the forecasted calculated workload. This may require a mix of part-time and full-time shifts to meet the peaks and valleys of the customer demand.

      5. Maximize operational efficiency.

      What pain points in the process can you reduce or eliminate?

      Take the staffing model to the next level by optimizing the process. This could include opportunities like:

      - Adjusting/shifting demand: Influencing customer demand can spread customers more evenly across resources or throughout the day.

      - Reducing transaction time: Increase the number of customers that can be processed by a single employee by reducing the time it takes.

      - Eliminate delays: Identify times where customers or employees are waiting for a process, and brainstorm ways to reduce or eliminate these delays.

      - Modify facility layouts: Often, slight changes to a facility layout can make a process more intuitive for a customer, and then can result in a lower transaction time.

      - Optimize communication: Add signage or increase communication to reduce frustration and ease decision making, creating a better experience for customers.

      Ultimately, customer demand, expectations, and behavior will continue to evolve over the next year or so. As additional data becomes available and as customer volumes begin to stabilize to previous numbers, continually revisit staffing models so they reflect the most recent operation.

      How Can We Help?

      Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

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      Building It Right The First Time: A Guest-Centric, Analytical Approach to Capacity Planning

      New experiences and facilities require a high upfront investment, and often are difficult and costly to adjust after building. And so, strategically building the right amount of capacity for the right guests can save a number of headaches later. This article lays out the major steps to planning capacity using a guest-centric, analytical approach.

      Read More

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      Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation

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      Foundational Approaches to Achieve Operational Efficiency

      by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

      Operational processes can become out-of-date as customer expectations and technology continue to evolve. This inefficiency results in excess costs, unnecessary frustration for both customers and employees, and lower quality products or services. While operating efficiently is an obvious goal, front-line employees are often too busy fighting fires to dedicate time and resources to improving or are caught in a “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.

      The risks of operating inefficiently are too great to ignore:

      Increased transaction times, longer waits for service: The longer it takes to process a customer, the longer all customers must wait.

      Diminished quality: Processes prone to errors or rework ultimately result in an erosion of product quality.

      Poor customer experience: Waiting longer for an inferior product usually results in lower customer satisfaction.

      Poor employee experience: Inefficient processes are frustrating to all involved, employees included, as they strive to do their best.

      Increased costs: Errors and delays cost real money, both in terms of wasted product and additional holding costs.

      Decreased sales: The universality of online product reviews and social media means one poor customer experience can deter multiple future customers.

      Identifying potential improvements can be done through structured observations and data analysis. Observe the process in person with key stakeholders to be sure they can visualize opportunities. Analyze historical system data to understand the impact of the issue. See “How to Conduct an Efficiency Summit” for more details.

      Often companies focus on “big picture” initiatives, resulting in company-wide standardization or major organizational changes. But there is always opportunity to make incremental progress by optimizing lower-level processes as well. Types of changes, both big and small, could include:

      1. Organizational: Align roles in the organization that can result in a streamlined process. For example, a centralized scheduling group may be more efficient than a dedicated scheduler within each business unit.

      2. Transfer of responsibility/information: Often times the ball can get dropped as product fulfillment or customer service is handed off from one department to another. Clarify responsibilities and standardize communication to prevent issues.

      3. Technology: Ever-changing technology may mean some processes are now obsolete and can be eliminated. Or, there may be newly-available software that can automate processes currently done manually.

      4. Resources: Quantify the amount of both labor and physical resources needed to ensure there is sufficient capacity available to meet customer demand, at your targeted service level.

      5. Facility: Optimizing customer or product flow may require adjustment to facilities. Quantify the cost/benefit of such changes to see if warranted.

      6. Layout: Even minor layout changes can make big differences. Do employees have to walk 3 steps to pick up materials to finish a transaction? Is there an opportunity to move those supplies to within reach of the register?

      7. Communication: Identify what aspects are currently confusing to customers, and improve communication through signage, mobile alerts, and how employees are trained to explain products and services.

      8. Production/Inventory: Evaluate production levels to make sure the right amount of inventory is available at the right time.

      Creating lasting change takes work, so be sure to set your company up for success from the start. Ensure front-line operators have buy-in from the beginning by including a representative on the project team. Pilot and test any changes before widespread implementation to work out all the kinks and avoid negative perceptions from the consumer or employee. Retrain all employees on the new process – and make sure they know WHY the change was made, not just WHAT the change is. Update any training documents or SOPs to reflect the new method so employees have the right information. And give them permission to STOP doing what is no longer necessary.

      Achieving operational excellence doesn’t just happen from a one-time analysis. Regular maintenance is needed to avoid stagnation. Regularly revisit and observe processes and create forums where front-line employees can share their improvement ideas. Recognize and reward innovative ideas, as well as the employees who are advocates of changes. Measure and report out on progress, both so employees can see the impact of the change and also hold the right personnel accountable to the new standards.

      proven approaches to achieve operational efficiency

      Operating efficiently is not easy – it requires active work and input from all organizational levels. But the results are worth it: improved customer experience, minimized costs, and increased employee morale.

      How Can We Help?

      Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

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      How To Conduct An Efficiency Summit

      by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

      Improving operational efficiency is a team effort. One way to identify these potential improvements is through an “efficiency summit.”

      What is an efficiency summit?

      An efficiency summit is a gathering of key stakeholders with the specific goal to identify opportunities to improve operational efficiency. This is accomplished through structured observations and data analysis.

      This is a concept found in “Lean” manufacturing under a slightly different name – a “waste walk.” The goal for a waste walk is to identify and eliminate any of the eight wastes: defects, overproduction, waiting, unused talent, transportation, inventory, motion, extra processing. But both “lean” and “waste” can have negative connotations among some, and this verbiage may act as a turn-off to front-line operators. While this concept comes from manufacturing, it can be applied to any system that services customers.

      Who should be there?

      Front-line operators are the most important representatives. Not only do they know the process better than anyone by living it day-in and day-out, but it will be crucial to eventual buy-in to have this point of view. Choose employees who are known for doing their jobs exceptionally well and open to change. Also include someone who knows the data systems well, as they can identify which aspects can be easily quantified with existing data.

      Management presence emphasizes the importance of the initiative to the company, but make sure any leader joining has an open mind and is visibly engaged (put the phone away!). Including a different operator who is unfamiliar with this particular process can also provide a “fresh eyes” perspective.

      What should you do?

      The first step is to observe the operation in person. Walk through each step of the process as if you were the product or the customer and discuss as a group what you see. Draw out a process map so everyone is on the same page in regards to operational flow.

      The next step is to collect data. Ensure everyone understands what the data means and how it will be used to identify issues. Example data could be transaction times, including noting if a delay occurred.

      Throughout the observation, write down any observed inefficiencies, pain points, or delays.

      What types of topics should be discussed?

      1. What is most confusing to the customer?

      Here at Integrated Insight, we always start with the customer perspective and understand the product through their eyes. Eliminating frustrations by changing the process or improving communication results in an improved customer experience.

      2. What are the most common errors or delays?

      This list can be used in a brainstorm session to ideate solutions both big and small.

      3. What is most frustrating about the process?

      Employees also get annoyed with an inefficient process. Identifying and reducing these frustrations can increase morale.

      4. If you had $1M to make any changes, what would you do?

      Too often we feel crunched by budgetary constraints, so we don’t even consider the major modifications that can truly transform a process. While the proposed change may appear to be financially unfeasible, the return on investment may determine it’s a viable option. Use the data collected previously to help analyze return.

      5. What operational changes have happened across the past several years?

      The operation has probably altered due to changes in technology, leadership, regulations, etc. Discuss how these adjustments have impacted operational efficiency and be sure to record the dates the changes occurred.

      What happens after?

      Use historical data to measure change, understand trends and see how productivity has improved over time. Compare this with the list of operational changes and dates.

      Take the list of common errors and delays, and brainstorm different solutions. Analyze the transaction time data recorded during the efficiency summit to determine the impact of each solution and quantify the potential value if this issue was reduced or eliminated.

      Create an action plan and report out on progress. Include multiple organizational levels on the communication to maintain visibility, emphasize importance, and ensure accountability.

      How Can We Help?

      Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

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      Customer Loyalty Programs: The Ultimate Guide

      by Stephen Davis, VP of Pricing and Revenue Services, Integrated Insight

      Loyalty programs have become pretty commonplace for retailers in today’s market. It’s estimated roughly 7-in-10 adults are a member of at least one loyalty program.1 From simple punch cards to elaborate point structures, you can find them in just about every industry.

      Loyalty reward programs are powerful tools for businesses. Offering perks for loyal customers improves retentionand encourages new customers to engage.

      Let’s first answer some common questions about loyalty reward programs. Then we’ll jump into tactical components and strategies to help make sure you’re getting the most out of it, regardless of the type of program.

      What Is the Goal of a Customer Loyalty Program?

      Determining the correct program to implement can make a difference in the value of the loyalty program for consumers and your business. There are three key goals loyalty programs aim to meet:

      One of the key targets of a successful program is the ability to retain customers. According to a study by Marketing Metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is at least three times higher than selling to a prospective customer.So maximizing retention means an easier sell.

      A successful program should be structured to incent more purchases among loyalty members in a way that doesn’t “give away the farm.” More than 60% of loyalty program members report modifying their spending to maximize loyalty benefits.3  Achieving this goal is attainable with the right structure in place.

      Loyalty programs provide more than one “win-win” for businesses and consumers. In addition to providing more value for customers and more revenue for businesses, loyalty programs also provide critical insights on customer behavior.  Convincing customers to participate in a program provides a way to learn more about them, including what they like and how they shop. Gaining clear insight on loyal consumers provides opportunity for meaningful engagement, which results in a better customer service experience.

      It has become an expectation, not a differentiator, that companies put the wealth of data consumers share with them to work on their behalf.  In a business environment that has become less personalized towards the consumer due to technology, tracking consumer habits presents an opportunity to engage customers on a personal level once again.

      In recent years, companies have taken this a step further by tracking purchases of customers and creating customized offers for those who use services. For instance, the CVS ExtraCare rewards program tracks purchases and prints coupons on receipts based on transaction history. Data from Bond Brand Loyalty shows that 87% of participants in loyalty programs are interested in having purchasing behavior and activity monitored in order to receive personalized rewards.

      What Type of Loyalty Program Should I Use?

      Let’s break down a few of the most popular loyalty programs that businesses use to increase customer base and encourage incremental purchases. There are benefits and limitations to each, so certain types of programs may work better for your business depending on products sold and available technology.

      Punch cards are a tried and true loyalty program tactic. But the days of carrying around scraps of paper with unique punch holes are behind us. Today, nearly all consumers would much rather interact through modern technology.In recent years, punch cards have gone digital as businesses have published apps. Even those companies that have not published their own apps have been able to use third-party apps for their rewards programs.

      Going digital with punch cards offers a few advantages. In addition to eliminating the need for keeping track of paper punch cards, a digital approach can reduce fraud by eliminating the ability for a customer to punch their own card and take advantage of the business. Additionally, it can lower cost to businesses in the long run and allows business to collect data to profile customers – one of the key goals of a loyalty program. Digital programs provide real-time data with each use, whereas punch cards only provide insights once customers complete earn all punches and have earned a reward.

      The goal of the punch card style program is to incent incremental purchases with the offer of a free or greatly reduced purchase in the future. However, setting a fence around those reward items can help make a punch card even more efficient. For example, rather than allowing a customer to get a broad discount on their 11th purchase – create a structure so that the award after 10 purchases is an array of potential items, or discounts, fenced to specific products. A loyal customer is likely to use an indiscriminate discount on a product they’d already purchase. However, offering products that need a boost or are not frequently bought by customers can help incentivize trial purchases of other products you sell and avoid dilution.

      Points systems are one of the simplest loyalty reward structures. Customers spend X number of dollars to receive Y number of points, which can then be used as a currency at your business. The points system is great for capturing many types of customers because it is based on the dollar amount that is spent. This means that all customers receive the same incentive relative to the dollar amount spent. 

      The key to a successful points program is setting a structure that transparently communicates how customers earn points, what their value is, and what they can redeem. Being transparent about the entire structure upfront builds trust and helps customers see why the program is a benefit for them.

      Paid subscriptions and memberships create a system in which only people who participate (pay money) for a service or privilege can access products or deals offered by a company. Companies like Sam’s and Costco use these memberships and offer huge discounts for products by selling in bulk. Online retailers, such as Amazon, also use this system in which members have access to special benefits and services, such as free shipping. These memberships are often profitable because they have low cost for customer acquisition while giving substantial benefits to customers. This allows these companies to attract consumers to buy subscriptions or memberships at a high volume.

      It’s easy to see how a paid membership could pay off for a retailer. Receiving money up front regardless of usage is attractive, but that’s not the end goal. Retailers with paid loyalty program memberships have to leverage the relationship to pull members into higher levels of spending, but when faced with strong savings, there is little benefit for customers to shop elsewhere.

      Many larger businesses pair with credit card companies to create cards which have added incentives for spending at a brand’s location. While a typical credit card may offer 1-3% cashback at retailers and restaurants, these cards often offer upwards of 5% cashback. This brings in customers as they are fundamentally receiving a discount from purchases at the brand, though they can spend the money received through cashback perks anywhere.

      The real value of brand credit cards for a business though are the referral payments for getting a customer to sign up for the card. Though this can be very attractive, it typically only pencils out for major retailers with a national brand.

      Conclusion

      Picking a loyalty program method will depend on the nature of a business and technology capabilities. But in nearly all instances, a loyalty program can be designed with the right value proposition to drive desirable behaviors.

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      Q&A: Get to Know Terry Dolan, Managing Research Director of Research Operations at Integrated Insight

      terry_pic-2

      This article tells the stories of Terry Dolan, a seasoned research professional and Managing Research Director at Integrated Insight. With a breadth of knowledge and interesting anecdotes dating back to his time at Disney, Terry shares his successes, challenges, and ironies of a career in research.

      1. What made you decide on a career in market research and more specifically research operations? 

      Interestingly, my career path to research operations happened quite by chance. Back in the late 80s as I was beginning my career, I was fortunate to land a role at Walt Disney World. After working for about a year in Epcot park operations (by far my favorite Disney theme park!), I learned from a friend about a position in the “Research and Statistics” department—still sounds very intimidating to this day! At the time, the department was very small consisting of less than ten people. What I didn’t know at the time and would quickly learn is that the fledgling department would see exponential growth during my 27-year career in research at Disney.

      To provide some perspective on how much growth, when I left Disney nearly 6 years ago, the team I lead alone consisted of nearly 150 data collectors, coders, survey programmers, and account service managers supporting worldwide theme parks and resorts, Disney Cruise Line, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online.

      2. Ok, so everyone who’s working in an industry for as long as you have had some interesting stories. Do you have one you can/are able to share?

      I’ll never forget my VERY first day taking surveys way back in 1988. In the good ole days, we collected surveys on paper, and on this particular day, we were collecting Theme Park Entry surveys among guests entering the park. Nervous and apprehensive about intercepting people, I marched out to the main entrance at Epcot with my clipboard, pencil, and 80 surveys.

      I positioned myself as though I was a hungry grizzly in an Alaskan river waiting for the salmon to swim upstream to me, and after only a few moments intercepted my first victim…I mean respondent.

      I confidently introduced myself and started the survey. As I completed the first several questions, I prepared to flip the paper over and at that moment, a gust of wind blew through and all 80 surveys blew off of my clipboard scattering all over the main entrance of Epcot. If you are familiar with Epcot you know that the area under Spaceship Earth is a bit of a wind tunnel. At that moment, I recall thinking, I’m not going to make it to the end of the day. I was mortified. I immediately began collecting all of my surveys and it was at this moment, I remember thinking to myself, you’ll never be as bad at this as you are at this moment.

      3. What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of?

      Wow, this is a difficult question for someone who’s worked in one industry as long as I have!

      There are several for sure, but here are a few that stand out:

      The first would have to be the implementation of a daily survey program in support of the massive Guest Satisfaction Measurement program Disney implemented in the mid-1990s. Before this rollout, we collected ‘snapshot’ surveys–think surveying one week out of the month and that week represented the entire month. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with Joni Newkirk who at the time was the Director of Research at Disney, now CEO at Integrated Insight. I distinctly remember her asking me what it would take to implement and I paused, chuckled nervously, and sort of flippantly said I’d run the staffing numbers, but that it would likely take a 100 Cast Members to make it happen. Joni calmly said, “Do it!” Within two months, we successfully hired and trained a team of Cast Members and successfully implemented a survey program that would quickly grow to over 500K in-person surveys per year.

      Another accomplishment that I am incredibly proud of is the behind the scenes work we did as a leadership team while I was at Disney to put in place the ‘on-boarding’ and training infrastructure to support the rapidly growing operation we were building.

      With our rapid growth, we quickly realized that our turnover was very high. It became evident that we needed to identify and develop ‘right fit’ talent for data collector roles. As a result, we worked with partners in Disney Casting to help them understand and hone in on the attributes that make data collectors successful. Things such as an outgoing personality as well as the ability to work well independently in a quota-driven environment to name a few. We then began working with Human Resources partners to build a thorough two-week training program that consisted of both hands-on as well as classroom learning opportunities.

      Once we implemented these strategies, we saw our turnover plummet. In addition, we saw our Cast Excellence survey results (an annual survey Disney conducted among employees) increase dramatically.

      Lastly, there is a more recent accomplishment I am particularly proud of and that is the work we did to safely and successfully re-launch in-person surveys for our LaGuardia Airport partner a few months back. For a few years we have been fielding ongoing passenger satisfaction surveys at LGA using iPad devices however, as a result of the pandemic, we paused data collection in mid-March of this year. Timing being what it was the beautiful new terminal opened in June and our LGA client wanted to safely re-launch ongoing data collection and more specifically, needed to obtain passenger feedback on a daily basis for a two-week period immediately after opening to understand perceptions of the new terminal.

      After several conversations, we developed a plan that would enable us to safely re-launch with some significant changes to our intercept approach. First, we purchased a URL and we created a QR code. This enabled us to move away from using our iPad devices and enabled passengers to complete the survey using their device; thus avoiding the need to repeatedly clean our devices. We also needed to create a way for our data collectors to remain a safe distance from passengers. To aid with this we created large card stock images of the QR code and URL to enable our data collectors to hold up the image while maintaining a safe social distance.

      With our new approach, we’ve actually been able to increase the number of surveys we complete each day, even with lower passenger volume due to COVID-19. So, it’s been a win-win for passengers and our partners at LGA.

      4. Tell me about a particularly challenging project you have been a part of. What made it challenging and how were you able to successfully complete it? 

      Geez, another hard one!

      Again, there are several I could mention, but one that stands out is a combined quant/qual study we conducted for a major cruise line client a little over a year ago.

      Our client was interested in understanding some complex pricing as well as passenger perceptions around some potential products they were considering offering across a variety of ships.

      With this in mind, we knew going in communication and flexibility would be key to our success and we’d need to be prepared to make changes to our sampling plan at a moment’s notice on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

      I’m proud to say that by listening to our client to deeply understand specific needs, we were able to make all of the required adjustments and we successfully delivered on the project.
       

      5. Over your 30+ years in research operations what are some of the most significant changes you’ve observed and how have you been able to adjust?

      By far the most significant change I’ve observed over my thirty plus years in the field has been the overwhelming influence technology has had on our industry. As I noted earlier, when I started my career in-person surveys were collected on paper and online surveys were unheard of.

      Technology has had numerous positive impacts on data collection from improvements in the quality of data collected to dramatically improved efficiency with online and SMS surveys.

      There aren’t many firms today that are successful in both worlds – leveraging the latest in technology-based and online methodologies, while also staying grounded in high quality in-person research. I’m excited to see more of our partners planning for a post-pandemic world, and I’m looking forward to working with them to meet their evolving research needs.

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