Age of cellphone survey has arrived

Savvy business owners and marketers understand the importance of customer feedback. But traditional methods of gathering this crucial information are fraught with pitfalls.

Printed customer survey forms often reflect poorly on the very staff tasked with collecting them, so they have a disturbing tendency to go missing.

Focus groups are time consuming and expensive, particularly if the business concerned wants a big enough sample to make the results statistically significant.

Consumer complaints websites, by their very nature, are far more likely to generate negative comments than equally useful positive feedback, and lend themselves to abuse by unscrupulous competitors and individuals.

Smartphone applications have the advantage of providing a direct link between the customer and the company and offer near instant feedback. But in a developing country like South Africa they have one huge disadvantage – only a tiny fraction of the population owns these high end handsets, with the vast majority still carrying more basic feature phones that can’t run apps.

This is why a new partnership between Durban-based tech firm Always Active Technologies and surveys company Tellpeach is such exciting news for businesses that take customer service seriously.

“As far as I am aware, Tellpeach powered by AAT mobile technology is the only service to offer such comprehensive, instant mobile customer feedback via any cellphone, smart or not,” said Alan Haarhoff, AAT’s Business Development Manager.

That’s because it uses USSD, or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, a technology that gives even the most basic feature phone the ability to receive and send data. An example of USSD at work is the series of stars, numbers and hashes prepaid customers key into their handsets to check available airtime.

But the Tellpeach/AAT offering takes this to a whole new level.

Current clients of the service include Spar, African Bank, The Sharks, Lil-Lets, uShaka Marine World, 2Oceans Aquarium, Engen and the 3 Cities Group.

Working with AAT and Tellpeach they’ve put the USSD based mobile tech to a huge range of uses, including:

  1. Gathering customer feedback using tailor made, easy to update questions which translate into valuable, simple to view data;
  2. Running competitions and promotions which boost sales, generate customer goodwill and capture a wealth of valuable information from consumers thanks to second tier questioning;
  3. Database mining of entries from previous competitions and surveys to build richer, more powerful customer profiles, broken down by region, language, age, purchase drivers, and other categories.

According to Tellpeach owner, Peach Piche, that’s just scratching the surface of the service’s capabilities. “It’s such a powerful tool. The exciting thing about it is that it’s only limited by our imagination.”

Other uses include:

  1. Roadshows providing feedback and profiling of attendees
  2. Voting for brands, bands, flavours and the like
  3. Exhibitions, with feedback on exhibits and a database and profile of visitors
  4. Publications like magazines and newspapers can survey readers and get feedback on articles and advertisements
  5. Supplementing, or even replace, a customer care line, giving customers a 24-hour feedback channel
  6. Staff satisfaction recognition tools as well as HR applications, accessible by all staff from cleaners to the CEO, regardless of whether they have internet access.

“Until recently, reaching the numbers and broad scope of your customer, or staff, if even possible, was extremely costly and was, frankly, a logistical nightmare, followed by the statistical nightmare of making sense of all the data,” said Piche.

“Now, the costs are negligible by comparison, the data pours in, in real time, via USSD and is all automatically sorted and made instantly available, and more importantly, actionable.”

For example, a franchise owner can know the instant there’s a problem with service or stock at one of the franchises and take immediate action to rectify the problem.

“This takes the old fashioned customer survey form out of the realm of damage control and catapults it into the 21st Century, where businesses stand or fall by how pro-actively they meet the needs of their customers,” said Piche.

AAT developed the mobile survey technology several years ago and branded it Mobile Cow. Piche, a long-time advocate of customer care and consumer feedback immediately recognised the service’s potential and persuaded AAT to licence the technology to her for use under the brand name, Tellpeach.

“Since then, two things have happened,” explained Haarhoff. “As a Team we’ve refined and strengthened the service’s capabilities. And Peach has grabbed it with both hands and run with it, pushing it to its limits and providing invaluable feedback which, in turn, we’ve incorporated into further refinements.

“Recently it became apparent that we could best serve our growing customer base by formalising our working relationship. To this end, we’ve retired the Mobile Cow brand and signed a partnership agreement with Peach’s company. From now, all our mobile surveys will be offered under the Tellpeach brand.”

Piche was equally enthusiastic. “It’s heartening to work with a partner who is as committed as I am to spreading the message of good customer service. Separately we’re been making waves among companies who share those ideals. Together we can only go from strength to strength,” she said.

Companies, hospitality outlets, in fact ALL businesses are missing out if they are not capitalising on using this “Mobi for the Masses” technology!


This article featured prominently in the Sunday Tribune’s Business KZN supplement on 17 November 2012. We have included it on our site with kind permission from Independent Newspapers KZN. Picture by Alan Cooper: @alanqcooper

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