It’s impossible to know if the pool of customers hired by market research firm Corporate Research International (CRI) would have pegged Speedway SuperAmerica LLC as the leader in customer service five years ago.
The Enon, Ohio-based marketer wasn’t even among the handful of convenience store chains whose customer service was evaluated quarterly by the research firm’s pool of mystery shoppers. And it was five years ago that Speedway launched something of an overhaul in its customer service program.
"That was a top-down approach," said Dave Heppner, Speedway’s vice president of operations. "It was making sure everybody understands that customer service is a top priority for Speedway SuperAmerica at every store."
Somebody got the message. Speedway edged 19 of its competitors to top the list of c-stores in providing customer satisfaction, according to results from CRI. Conducted in the first quarter of 2008, the customer service survey showed Speedway’s overall service bested that of Chevron, BP, Shell and 16 other c-store chains in the U.S. and Canada.
CRI specializes in mystery shopper surveys gauging consumer perceptions on companies in 16 retail industries. A pool of 2,266 consumers participated in the most recent survey, said Brad Holdgreve, vice president of CRI. The respondents were given a list of a few hundred companies and asked to rate each company’s customer service on a 10-point scale. Only if the respondent had used the company’s services or products in the past 90 days were they permitted to respond.
Respondent demographics ran the gamut, including consumers of all ethnicities ages 18 to 100, male and female. The results uncovered few dramatic shifts in consumer perceptions on c-stores as compared to previous surveys, but this was the first time Speedway was involved in the survey since the program started in 2005, Holdgreve said.
Speedway, which operates 1,600 stores in the U.S., earned a score of 7.2 based on averaged ratings from 751 respondents. Chevron earned a 7.03 rating from 1,117 respondents, followed by BP and Shell sharing third place with a 6.99 rating from 1,334 customers and 1,456 customers, respectively.
ExxonMobil Corp. was fifth on the list with a score of 6.89, but it also had the most CRI respondents (1,573) visiting its c-stores in the three months leading up to the survey.
Heppner credited Speedway’s success primarily to its revamped training program and its renewed emphasis on customer service at all levels within the company.
"From our perspective, we are extremely honored with this recognition and we take a lot of pride in our company," Heppner said. "Even though we came out No. 1, the rating we received is not exactly where we want to be. We always strive to be the best."
Filtering CRI’s survey results by demographic profile, Circle K was the highest-ranked c-store (7.65) among 18-to-35-year-old males, a critical consumer for the convenience store industry. Other leaders for that demographic included ConocoPhillips (7.39), Chevron-Texaco (7.35) and Speedway (7.13).