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game changer

Steven Kroon at Trylikes

Thijs Manders’ company TMI is investing in Trylikes: a new customer experience survey tool that is revolutionising the way retailers understand how they are performing. We talked to co-founder Steven Kroon to find out where the idea came from, and what personal philosophy drives his pioneering attitude.

A thirst for customer satisfaction

Customer service has always been hugely important to Steven. ‘I’ve worked at a lot of supermarkets and restaurants,’ he says. ‘And though I didn’t like it much, I really wanted to serve customers well and make them happy.’ He would get annoyed when people serving in retail outlets and restaurants didn’t show any enthusiasm. But then one day he took his kids to a McDonalds, and was amazed at the great service in this particular outlet, which was unlike any other McDonald’s he’d ever been to. ‘I like to tell people when I think they’re doing a good job. I thought, “how nice would it be if everyone could easily share their customer experience?”’

Starting small

Steven doesn’t have a background in electronics. He used to be a car mechanic. But, as an enthusiastic self-learner, he taught himself basic electronics and software engineering. ‘The first Trylikes prototype was very crude,’ Steven says. ‘I got some cardboard, scissors, hot glue and wires and I built an interface that allowed people to answer one question by pressing a thumbs up or a thumbs down.’

At the first retail outlet he and co-founder Janneke van den Heuvel took the Trylikes device to, they expected to start with a low number of responses. ‘We thought that the maximum number of customers responding would be 10%. But 60% of customers used it. We thought, “Okay, people actually love doing this.”’

Deep understanding from simple questions

What makes Trylikes different to other customer survey methods is its simplicity. ‘Most retailers survey their customers’ experience with secret shoppers and long questionnaires. They might only get 10-20 people a month willing to fill one in, giving them limited information. With Trylikes, we’re getting up to 12,000 people a month responding to single questions like, did we serve you with a smile? Were the fruit and vegetables fresh today? We carefully choose questions based on the retailer’s Key Performance Indicators. The combination of ease-of-use for the customer and carefully targeted questions gives retailers information they can use to make small incremental changes that together add up to a much more effective, and profitable, business.’

Revealing management flaws

In one retailer that used Trylikes, Steven saw that on every day of the week, 90% of people were giving the thumbs up for service, except for Thursday evenings when only 10% would click the thumbs up. It happened week after week. Steven investigated and discovered that on Thursday nights – when the store was open late – too many of the staff were taking a dinner break at the same time. The manager changed this, and instantly, they went from 10% thumbs up to 55%.

Learning from failure

Steven believes that great products and services come from an iterative process of testing, failing and learning, each new version of the product improving slightly on the previous one. ‘We kept improving Trylikes every time we tested it out with more and more retailers. Now we’ve got a very powerful and professional tool that’s being used by more than 25 businesses, including large corporates such as McDonald’s, Albert Heijn, Heineken and Jumbo supermarkets.’

Steven has applied this same philosophy to lots of start-up companies he has run. ‘I’ve experimented a lot, and often set myself up for failure, but I’ve learned so much from each of those failures. Now, when I see a similar situation coming up, I get goosebumps and I know how to deal with it.’

The vibe at TMC

When Steven first visited TMC, he was amazed at the atmosphere there. ‘There’s this vibe going round. Everyone is so enthusiastic. I wondered how it was possible to create this culture in an organisation. I talked to a lot of cool people there and I realised that the principles behind TMC’s success is the same for the retailers I’m working with: to have satisfied customers, you have to have satisfied employees.

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