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Interview With Market Force CEO Karl Maier

Overview: Market Force is a privately owned mystery shopping and customer intelligence company, co-founded in 2005 by three successful businessmen, Karl Maier, Paul Berberian and Rushton McGarr. It is based in Louisville, CO and serves over 350 of the leading brands in the restaurant, grocery, retail and financial sectors, and the movie theatre and motion picture industry. Market Force ranked in Inc. magazine’s 2013 list of the Fastest-Growing Companies in America for the sixth year in a row. The BBB gives them an A+ rating.

According to a Market Force spokesperson, shopper’s fees are set to align with the shop complexity and the expected time required to complete the assignment. Many shoppers report waiting for the fees to increase as the month progresses. From my experience, the reimbursements adequately cover any required purchases. The reports require a minimum amount of narrative and completed reports are reviewed quickly.

Shoppers are able to self-assign shops, subsequent to successfully answering a list of screening questions. Payment for shops completed during the previous month are paid, via direct deposit or paper check, during the current month-around the 10th for direct deposit and no later than the 20th for paper checks.

Registration is on the Market Force website www.marketforce.com.

MSM talks with Karl Maier, CEO:

MSM: From its inception, Market Force was quite unlike the typical start-up mystery shopping companies, which usually begin as small, family-run businesses and slowly expand over time.

In contrast, Market Force’s co-founders all brought extensive business experience and possessed impressive credentials. Through raising venture capital and securing debt financing, Market Force quickly acquired several other companies and, almost immediately, became the largest mystery shopping company in the world. Why did you choose this radically different route?

Karl: When we started the company, we believed that mystery shopping was a critical function for retailers around the world and that we could bring more innovation and a broader spectrum of solutions to clients if we could create a larger-scale business. The best way to create that would be to find some of the best mystery shopping businesses around the world and pull them together. That approach had three big benefits:

  1. We could standardize on the ‘best of the best’ practices, processes and services found in each of those companies—making the combination even more effective than the original companies.
  2. It created a business of sufficient size and scale that would let us invest in more technology and analytics innovation than the smaller scale companies could do.
  3. It would enable us to expand our solutions beyond mystery shopping into other complementary services such as C-Sat, Contact Center, E-Sat, Research and advanced analytics.

As a result, we repositioned the business as a Customer Intelligence company, offering a complete set of solutions for retailers looking to improve their customer experience and their growth.

MSM: How has Market Force evolved since its beginnings, almost a decade ago?

Karl: In 2005, the mystery shopping industry in North America was highly fragmented, with a number of smaller companies providing services to retailers. We believed that if we could consolidate some of the best of those companies, we could also help transform the industry with new approaches to technology and analytics. Over the past decade, we’ve done that.

We’ve created a breakthrough Big Data technology platform called KnowledgeForce℠ that enables us to easily integrate and analyze multiple streams of data—mystery shopping, CSAT, internal audits, financial metrics. What’s especially unique about the platform is that those data streams can come from any source, whether we collect the data, a third party vendor does, or it’s generated internally. This gives executives a dashboard that pulls all that data together to let them instantly identify where their problems are, and how to take action.

We’ve also invested heavily in our analytics capabilities, with what we believe is one of the best retail analytics teams in the world. Why analytics? Because at the end of the day, what retailers want to know is, ‘What matters most to my customers, and if I invest in making those things happen, how much revenue will it help me generate?’ Getting to that answer requires very sophisticated modeling, and we’ve developed that.

So we’ve grown a lot in the past 9 years. We’ve gone from a company with 4 employees, no revenue, and no clients, to a growing business that is servicing retailers in more than 60 countries around the world. We’re really proud of the Market Force team and honored to serve those clients, and grateful for our large network of shoppers.

MSM: On the Mystery Shop Forum, Market Force is most frequently cited as a safe starting point for new shoppers. The simplicity of the reports and the minimal amount of required narrative are the primary reasons mentioned. How are you able to maintain the balance between keeping reports so streamlined, while still gathering sufficient information to satisfy the clients’ needs?

Karl: We have a team of experts that work hard to make it easy for shoppers to collect data, while collecting the information that the retailers need to improve their operations. We have questionnaire design workshops, and are constantly looking for ways to make the shops meaningful, but easier to perform

At the same time, shoppers will also start to see some fun improvements to our shopper portal, making it more mobile-friendly, making the application process easier to complete, and letting shoppers more easily upload data.

MSM: The most provocative posts on the Mystery Shop Forum involve a shopper stating Market Force has suddenly deactivated them. Some say they assumed it was because they reached an undisclosed “maximum number of shops allowed” threshold, others state they were notified that it was due to “known associations” and others assert they have no idea why. These posts have left a lot of current Market Force shoppers apprehensive, with many saying they know eventually their day will come. Could you please demystify the deactivation enigma and possibly provide a list of causes for a shopper to become deactivated?

Karl: Our shoppers are so important to us. We appreciate what they do for our clients. There is certainly no ‘maximum number of shops allowed’. Some of our best shoppers do amazing work for us and shop consistently and often, which we appreciate.

Clients typically use the mystery shopping program to improve their performance, and for individual locations and the people who run them, a lot can ride on the mystery shopping results. That introduces an incentive for a small fraction of retailers to game the system. They may look to have friends, employees, or relatives sign up to be a shopper to ensure that they score well. That’s why, on some shop forms, we may ask questions about affiliations. If we find potential conflicts of interest, we’ll disallow a shop for those entities. In a small fraction of cases, we have shoppers that try to submit shop information when they clearly haven’t done the shop, or provided poor or inconsistent information on multiple shops. We may choose to deactivate a shopper when those more unusual circumstances occur. We try our best to send warnings before this happens, but there are egregious situations where we have to remove someone immediately. When we can explain what happened, we will make every effort to do so.

MSM: Another frequent question on the Mystery Shop Forum concerns reactivation. Under what circumstances might a shopper be reactivated at a future date?

Karl: We always encourage shoppers to re-apply if they feel that they’ve been suspended ‘without cause.’ Our Shopper Help Desk [HelpDesk@marketforce.com] can often walk them through the process.

MSM: What do you see as the future of mystery shopping?

Karl: We believe that as long as there are retailers selling goods, there will be a need for mystery shopping. Today’s retailers care more than ever that the shopping experience is consistently excellent. Mystery shoppers provide that window into their operations that they can’t get any other way.

Karl, on behalf of the staff at Mystery Shopper Magazine, thank you so very much for taking the time to answer these questions.

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