Recession, schmecession. John Sperry can thumb his nose at the sluggish economy. The CEO of Mindshare Technologies just celebrated 100 months of consecutive revenue growth—all powered by customer complaints. No, clients aren’t whingeing about Mindshare. Instead, the company provides real-time survey and feedback solutions to the likes of such national chains as Great Clips and Café Rio Mexican Grill.
The way it works is simple. Participating companies will be notified immediately if there’s a problem that needs addressing. For example, you walk into a bathroom in an Arby’s location. It’s a mess and there’s no toilet paper. You, the customer, can report that via phone or online. The local Arby’s manager is then sent that feedback in real-time so he can mop the floor and replenish the rolls ASAP. Using Mindshare allowed Café Rio to snag the No. 1 spot among Quick-Serve Restaurant (QSR) Chains in the nation, beating out Chipotle, In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A, and Pei Wei—all known for their attention to service.
"The core focus is in the value of one," Sperry tells Fast Company, and too often customer experiences are averaged. But if you take your significant other out to dinner and don’t have a great experience, "How many times does that need to happen to you to make it statistically accurate?" Sperry answers his own question: too many times. The sample size of one is a way to connect customers directly with the store manager, Sperry maintains. "Corporate doesn’t matter. Money is made at the store level so greater involvement is needed in the store delivery equation."
To that end, Mindshare has 250 clients and collects about 200,000 pieces of feedback per day, bringing the total to over 1 billion customer insights and more than 60 million surveys.
It's more impressive, considering the company started during a time when Sperry, like so many other tech entrepreneurs, was pounding the pavement after the dotcom bust. Both he and a friend refinanced their homes and took out balloon mortgages to pool together about $40,000 of their own savings to start Mindshare in 2002. Their first 10 employees went without pay and even chipped in some of their own funding.
"We went from gluttony to the starkness of no money," Sperry says. "But innovation comes from starvation. It’s not something you buy, it's something you earn."
Now that the 85-person shop is on track to post $18 million in revenue for 2011, the painful bootstrapping years are in the rear-view mirror. Sperry says that while Mindshare is just as focused as ever on being a leader in the customer feedback industry, retailers and service providers are just beginning to understand the need to listen.
Sperry says the service sector experiences a 300% turnover in staff, which makes delivering consistently great customer experiences difficult. Mindshare’s platform is working to disrupt that by providing even more analytics with voice recognition software akin to that used by Watson, the supercomputer that competed on the game show Jeopardy! earlier this year.
"We are making leaps with predictive technology," Sperry says. By merging that with single comment analytics, Mindshare presents a finely honed picture of what a business should offer its customers to maximize revenue. It makes it easy, for example, for chains to customize product and service mixes based on location. "You would have a different store in a college town that you would in an [urban] downtown," he explains.
Says Sperry, "The customer is king right now. They will take you to the promised land if you can listen to them."
[Image: Flickr user What What]