Solving the Whodunit

Mystery shopping is the act of evaluating employee performance without their awareness. You know the old saying, When the cats away, the mice will play! What are your employees doing? How are they truly treating your customers?

A mystery shopper is also known as a secret shopper, private shopper, consumer researcher or market evaluator, not to be confused with my dream jobthe personal shopper who spends the day in the mall spending someone elses money.

Mystery shoppers are often considered the unbiased eyes and ears of an owner. The result of a secret evaluation can determine whether or not an employee is upholding company standards, abiding by policies and representing the facility in a favorable manner. Your employees are the company to your customers. So, is your organization dressed for success or does it look like its out for a morning jog? This service gives you outside insight.

Another main purpose of mystery shopping is to identify training weaknesses so operators can improve their instructional techniques. The aim is not to discourage the employee; in fact, staff members are typically rewarded after a good shop.

Who Was That Masked Shopper?

Mystery-shopping companies will assist an organization with guidelines for determining the grade of a shop, and customize the evaluation based on individual needs. The appraisal will highlight benchmark questions so your organization can be compared to industry standards and ranked among peers.

All types of businesses are using mystery shoppers: department stores, restaurants, movie theaters, banks, hotels, salons, grocery stores, theme parks, apartment-management companies and storage companies. With such a broad list of organizations, its obvious there must be something to gain from both perspectives.

Most shoppers are trained to assess the levels of customer service and are educated on sales and product knowledge. The shopper is also looking for closing techniques used by the employee; most important, did they ask for the money? Did they follow up with the customer?

Most consumer-research companies require potential shoppers to complete and pass a test before they can start an evaluation. Candidates are tested on their customer-service skills, attention to detail and ability to follow directions. These tools and others assist them in making a fair and honest evaluation. Resources may include mystery-shopping manuals and open forums for networking and questions.

The mystery is not that competition is growing and becoming very aggressive. Its how other facilities are successful and where you measure up. You cant afford to let a single customer walk away, which may happen if they arent provided with good customer service.

Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell a handful of people about their great experience, while unhappy consumers will triple that number! Above all, excellent service impacts the bottom line. Once a client returns, they are considered a loyal customer and loyalty is profitable. Just a 5 percent increase in customer retention can boost profits by as much as 125 percent.

Shopping the Shops

The most common types of mystery shops are physical, telephone and Internet. Physical shoppers travel to different organizations and attempt to portray themselves as actual customers. They may even go so far as making a purchase or returning an itemwhatever it takes to see how the employee interacts with them.

Reasons Customers Leave

  • 69% poor service 
  • 13% product dissatisfaction 
  • 9% the competition 
  • 5% friends bad experience 
  • 3% move 
  • 1% die

Source: Servicecheck.com

Some mystery-shopping companies, with the permission of the facility, offer video or audio taping to be used later for training purposes.

Telephone shoppers contact the business by phone. The telephone shop is beneficial because, as we know, consumers use the telephone as a form of elimination. Most prospects compile a list of businesses they plan to visit, and call to narrow the list to a few worthy of a trip. If theyre not treated well on the phone, theyll assume theyll get more of the same in personwhich means theyre not coming in.

Mystery shopping via the Internet has proven to be highly popular; its one of the least expensive methods and results are quick. Believe it or not, Internet-response rates are surprisingly low among facilities. An employee is obviously quicker to answer the phone than check the Internet leads or company e-mail.

Customer Service Tips

The basics of solid customer service should be no mystery. Standard behaviors a mystery-shopping company will look for include the following. Are your employees passing muster?

  • Always stand, smile and greet the customer.
  • If youre with another tenant, always acknowledge new customers by smiling, greeting and saying, Ill be with you in a moment.
  • Never act rushed. Slow down and make time for the client.
  • Always stop personal conversations when a customer walks in.
  • If on the phone with a client and someone walks in, smile and acknowledge them.
  • Always be polite and professional.
  • Listen closely to the customers needs.
  • Summarize with prospects as to their exact request.
  • Follow up.

Its time to solve the mystery of who did it, who done it, and who does it best. Invest in your people. Remember the four Ps of marketingpeople, price, product and promotionand you can be sure people account for 90 percent of the whole. 

DJ Hobek is director of marketing for Simply Self Storage, which owns and develops self-storage facilities. The company is a subsidiary of OB Companies and headquartered in Orlando, Florida. For more information, call 407.248.7878; email [email protected]; visit www.obcompanies.com.

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