A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
Faux Shopping for Real
Imagine all consumers are mystery
shoppers because, in a sense, they are.
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (February 21, 2011)
There used to be a show on the Travel Channel,
Travel Spies, where three mystery shoppers assume faux
identities and visit hotels, resorts, cruise ships, and theme parks
to see how well each does in the customer service department. The
chosen properties agree in advance to a Travel Spies
inspection, but they have no idea what the spies look like, or when
they will visit the property.
In one memorable episode, the Travel Spies
visited the Library Hotel in New York City, a hotel that dedicates
each of its guestroom floors to one of the ten major categories of
the Dewey Decimal System. Each of the hotel’s rooms has an
individually chosen collection of art and books that relate to the
category of floor it belongs to. One of the Travel Spies, for
example, was in a room with a fashion theme, so all of the art and
books in the room had a fashion theme. The hotel also offers a huge
amount of amenities, including a video library of the American Film
Institutes top 100 films.
During their stay the Travel Spies rate every aspect
of the hotel and generally do their best to drive the staff nuts.
They critique the lobby; their accommodations, including its
furnishings and extras; the room service menu; how long it takes for
food to arrive; the quality of the food; and of course the staff.
They also make out-of –the-ordinary requests.
One of those requests was a call to the front desk to
request that a temporary toilet seat be installed for a boss who
prefers to travel with his own seat. "Can you temporarily install
this toilet seat?” the Travel Spy asked. "It’s for my boss. He won’t
use any other; it’s his personal seat." And the front desk clerk
accommodated the spy’s request to install that seat with the little
yellow duckies printed on it. And he did it himself.
During the visit, the Spies make lots of faces and
snide remarks, and before they leave, they give the hotel manager
their critique. Their subjective critique. Sure, it has numerical
ratings for each category, but it also includes their own comments.
We cringed when they told the owner of another hotel that they found
his room décor lacking. He thought he had successfully put together
rooms that were unique to his resort theme. Judging from the photos
he showed, it looked like a pretty cool place.
Can you imagine what it would be like if every
customer criticized your business using similar criteria? Yikes!
Methods of Mystery
We’re no strangers to mystery shops; we do them, too.
And we also assume faux identities. In fact, we try to morph into
the typical customers that you see every day. We’ve been
well-dressed and complete slobs. We’ve been wealthy and
cash-challenged. We’ve been nice and we’ve been downright
self-absorbed. We’ve shopped with one of us in a wheel chair, a suit
that adds 100 pounds, and we even have professional make-up artists
turn us into 70-somethings. When we can’t pull off a disguise, we
hire someone who can. But we’ve never purposely set someone up with
a ridiculous request. We believe that there is more to it than
judging what a business is doing wrong.
Using a mystery shopper service is a good thing
because it let’s you uncover how the average customer perceives your
business. And we all know that the customer’s perception is our
reality, whether we like it or not. Most mystery shoppers are hired
by a shopper service to anonymously shop the business, make a
purchase or a return, and then report back to the service on how
they were treated. Mystery shoppers also rate the business on
cleanliness, merchandise and merchandise presentation, policies,
even how the telephone is answered. Good mystery shopping reports
include more than just a numerical rating; they also include the
shopper’s personal feelings about how they felt in the business.
Our mystery shopping report covers these areas:
Exterior Appearance, Interior Appearance, Customer Service,
Associate Abilities, Purchases, Refunds, and Overall Visit. We also
include a demographic profile so that the mystery shoppers can
describe the associates who helped them. You can hire a mystery
shopping service; you can do it yourself, or ask your friends to
objectively shop your business for you. You might even hire mystery
shoppers on a temporary basis for pre-determined the length of time.
Drop us an email and we’ll send you more information about
conducting your own mystery shops.
Everyone's a Mystery
Our overall focus, of course, should be to assume
that every customer who walks into your business is a mystery
shopper. If you treat every customer equally well then you’ll have
nothing to worry about. These five tips will help you set the focus:
1. Offer each customer a
warm and sincere greeting. The sincere part is important; according
the body language gurus, we take 55% of our cues from a person’s
body language, 38% from their tone of voice, and only 7% from the
words they use.
Instruct your associates to acknowledge each customer
every time they encounter them. This acknowledgement might only be a
smile and eye contact, but it makes the customer feel valued.
Implementing our 7-Tile Rule -- acknowledging each customer each
time you come within seven floor tiles (7’) of each other -- is
always a good idea.
2. Offer to help each
customer. You can smile and say hello, start a general conversation,
or talk about product the customer might be interested in. A great
ice breaker is to ask, "What brings you to see us today?" If the
customer has a specific need at hand, they’ll tell you. If they are
just there to learn more about what you do, they’ll let you know
3. Your store must be
spotless, and your sales floor needs to be easy to shop. Make a list
of closing duties that need to be completed each night before
everyone leaves. Each night, take a copy of your closing check list
and assign someone to each task. And every morning make a 60-second
pass through the store, noting anything that needs to be done before
you unlock the door for business.
4. Unless they are talking
about something that pertains to business, encourage your associates
not to engage in idle conversation when customers are around.
Customers do not care what you did on Saturday night. They do,
however, care that you are discussing what you did on Saturday night
in front of them.
5. Sincerely thank every
customer for stopping by, letting them know that you are always here
to help. Even if they left empty-handed. How your customers are
treated determines whether they return to shop with you again.
The bottom line is that every customer may not be a
mystery shopper who is as picky as the Travel Spies, but they are
definitely evaluating your store at each visit. The big question is
this: will you pass their test?
K&B At the Yarn Market News Retail
Rich and Geoganne will lead a seminar, "The Crackle Factor: Taking
Your Business Off Auto Pilot" at the annual Retail Conference
sponsored by Yarn Market News. The conference is Mar. 13-15
in Portland, OR. For info, visit
(Note: Meetings & Conventions
magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their
favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the
list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka,
Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin
Powell, and others.
To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand
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