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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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Faux Shopping for Real Results

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 that, too.

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 Conference

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 www.yarnmarketnews.com.

(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 column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

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