Church's formula for sales success: Mystery shoppers + competitive upselling

| by S.A. Whitehead
Church's formula for sales success: Mystery shoppers + competitive upselling

Church's Chicken saw a golden opportunity: Its' value program included meals with no drink orders attached. It was an upselling opportunity waiting to be tapped, but the problem was getting employees up to speed quickly in the "art of the upsell" in order to tap that aforementioned "gold." 

Enter Market Force and its' popular mystery shopper program. Church's leadership loved the program, and after some brainstorming and little realigning they hit on what they thought might be a really solid vein of potential new sales volume. Combine the two challenges of enhancing both sales and workers' upselling skills, then introduce them to mystery shopping and you just might have struck veritable QSR gold. 

The quick-serve chicken brand and its Market Force team realized they could potentially find answers to both challenges by unleashing a group of mystery shoppers on Church's locations whose orders would be naturals for upselling opportunities.  

The thinking was that team members - newly trained on an array of techniques  would jump at the opportunity, knowing that there were some pretty nice monetary rewards coming to the teams that generated the most upsold orders. 

If it worked, the program would not only boost the bottom line, but also generate the type of camaraderie and workplace incentives that keep employees engaged and wanting to remain with the brand. 

Recently, QSRweb talked with Church's Senior Manager of U.S. Restaurant Support Luis de la Torre and Market Force Information Chief Customer Officer Brad Christian about the endeavor that evolved from Church's "Cups of Cash" incentive program and is now entering its third year. 

The two organizations provided lots of actionable advice in our interviews that other restaurateurs will find useful and might even be the kind of triggers that set off some pretty cool ideas for your brands.  

"It takes a leap of faith by leadership to recognize that when we incent the behaviors that they want to see, it pays dividends. Those executives that recognize the importance of catching someone doing something right can truly move the needle."

Q. First, can you tell us the kind of data analysis undertaken before rolling out this initiative?
We designed our suggestive sell system to get the most of the guest purchase intention (and) our 'One Best Question' program helps our cashiers to clearly identify which product they can suggest depending on the guest order, avoiding overwhelming them with multiple questions. 

The drink upsell is a critical part of this system (our discounted meals are not attached to a drink). We saw the opportunity to both increase drink sales and reinforce the upselling culture among our cashiers by rewarding their good behaviors. 
We decided to use ... Market Force as the vehicle to assess the effectiveness of our upsell program through their mystery shopping services. This enables us to approach the upsell assessment in an unbiased fashion. 

This program was created as a team effort. Market Force showed us their mystery shopping approach, and we adapted to our needs by not only measuring the drink upsell, but other important metrics such as speed of service, friendliness and accuracy, among others. The main idea is to score up to 100 points during the mystery shop visit, and depending on the score, immediately reward with gift cards not only the cashiers, but the entire team working on the assessed shift.
Q: How many QSR brands has Market Force worked with on similar programs and how do those experiences inform your process with each new restaurant client?
Market Force:
Market Force has worked with no less than a dozen foodservice brands on these types of crew incentive mystery shopping programs. The primary focus of the program is always on how effectively crew members are upselling either drinks, the purchase of a combo meal or a specific limited-time offer that a restaurant might be promoting. 

In addition to the execution of upselling scripts, we also measure key restaurant operational attributes, including customer service, speed of service, order accuracy, food quality and cleanliness. Market Force has (also) provided a breadth of customer experience management services such as mystery shopping, customer satisfaction surveys, contact center services, store evaluation reporting, social media monitoring and a customer experience analytics platform to more than 40 other QSR brands.

We invariably pick up on key areas of opportunity for our clients. The primary learning is that consistent execution of upselling at the location level drives higher levels of financial performance for each restaurant. When performance on upselling is clustered in quartile or decile analyses, we always see that the locations that consistently upsell substantially outperform (financially) their peers that do not. 

In addition, we find operational gaps in performance that vary by brand and by project. One client uncovered that their order accuracy was really poor for one specific promotion -— stores were running out of a complimentary sauce that came with the promotional menu item. ... In still another example, we helped a client uncover the fact that their ability to deliver against their required speed of service standard was severely impacted when at least one person was in line ahead of our mystery shopper(s).
Q. When Church's introduced this program how did your customer-facing employees react and what kinds of rewards have you offered employees over the years? 
The reaction was positive. All of our cashiers were excited to know that if they upsell the drink, they and their team members would be immediately rewarded. I am not aware of any pushback from any manager or employee.
During 2015, we offered instant rewards of $10 gift cards for everyone on the shift. In 2016, we offered the same, but the cashier who executed the upsell received a gift card for double the value. 

In 2017 we incorporated two new types of prizes. One of the prizes was to reward the team members who showed good behaviors during the ... dates. Each restaurant received 20 lottery-style scratchers that rewarded employees would receive to win one of 17 Church's-branded promotional items. 

As an additional incentive, a second prize was awarded to one company-owned and one franchised restaurant that grew their soda volume the most. Both locations receive(d) a $200 Nike gift card for every team member and the management team. 

Q: How and why did you decide this was the best approach to take to reach Church's goals for the brand? 
Market Force: 
In collaboration with Coca-Cola, we were able to review case study examples of other brands that had executed similar programs and discuss the financial uplift those brands experienced before, during and after the crew incentive mystery shopping program. 

What is interesting about these programs is that when a restaurant announces to its staff that a program is forthcoming, crew members begin demonstrating the desired behaviors even before the start of the program, which creates additional revenue that the brand might otherwise miss if the stores weren't told that someone might be dropping in to check on them. 

Obviously, the revenue continues to grow during the promotion when actual mystery shoppers are in the restaurants and recognizing and rewarding crew members for their upsell behaviors. Also interesting is the fact that there is a lag effect where crew members don't necessarily stop the new behavior right away once the program ends. 

Sales continue to grow throughout the term of the program, typically 30-60 days, and sales slack off after the program is over, but incidence levels (the percent  of meals sold that include a beverage) are elevated for a short period thereafter.

Q: What kinds of results did Church's obtain?
The mystery shops scores are growing each year. We started with average scores of 65 percent in 2015, and reached 71 percent in 2017. 

The buy-in and the engagement of the team members are remarkable. We saw that beyond the program, our cashiers continued to conduct upselling efforts organically.

We learned that an immediate reward matters. We are increasing the number of Cup of Cash programs per year to maintain the momentum. 

Turnover is our enemy and we need to retrain new cashiers constantly. We also discovered that offering too many prizes does not increase the results. We have seen it to be more effective holding multiple contests with prizes as opposed to one ... program. Our employees are more motivated when they know that another opportunity to win is around the corner. 

Market Force:The specter of having people watching for specific behavior has a very strong impact on people. What gets measured gets done. 

However, the results that Church's has experienced (are) two-fold: The same-store sales growth that they have seen during the targeted promotional windows has been consistent with what we see in other client programs, (but) the consistent increase year-on-year of beverage incidence for the brand has been remarkable. 

Church's has effectively leveraged this program twice per year to train the system on how to more consistently execute on this behavior.

Q: Can you provide any information about how costly these types of programs are to create and run for restaurant brands?
Market Force: The investment required for the program is approximately $50 per restaurant per shop, which covers the cost of the shop and the reimbursement for the food. There is also a cost to reward team members, which can vary. 

In some cases, a client will reward a single crew member with a $10 gift card. In other cases, they might reward that same crew member $25 for doing the right thing. In addition, we have some clients that reward multiple team members in those denominations while also compensating management for their store's success.

Q: What would you tell your fellow QSR operators about undertaking this type of approach to issues they'd like to move the dial on at their operations?

Church's:Hold two limited time contests per year. Publish the rules in advance so everyone understands the mechanics of the initiative. Plan training sessions to ensure the managers know the program and set expectations. Reward instantly to create momentum and celebrate the winners by publishing their names once a week via your preferred internal communication system.

Q: How would you advise restaurant brand leaders to assess whether some of their own sales problems could be helped through efforts like this? 
Market Force:
These programs are expensive to execute. There is the cost of the shoppers, the cost of reimbursing the food and drink purchase, and there is the cost of rewards and prizes for winning team members. 

It takes a leap of faith by leadership to recognize that when we incentive the behaviors that they want to see, it pays dividends. Those executives that recognize the importance of catching someone doing something right can truly move the needle. 

But it takes a little nudge to allocate funds that might ordinarily be used for additional promotions to focus those dollars to ensure the effectiveness of existing promotional plans. The question that they have to ask is whether a 5-10 percent increase in same-store sales during the promotional period is worth the investment.

Photos: Church's Chicken

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Chicken, Customer Service / Experience, Drive-thru, Financial News, Human Resources, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Operations Management, Staffing & Training, Workforce Management

Companies: Market Force

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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