Mystery Shopping

During the recent economic downturn, retail stores have been following the philosophy that, “Time is Money.” However, avoiding customer calls or directing customers to online resources, rather than providing one on one communication, may not help your bottom line. According to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, a survey conducted in the U.S. and nine other countries, “70 percent of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.” So if you are looking to make a sale, make sure you check your service. Marketing a sale works best with a smile.

Ron Welty, VP of Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), the largest professional trade association dedicated to improving service quality, believes that using a mystery shopper may help independent retailers better evaluate their customer service. Unlike a customer survey which often receives emotional responses and opinions, a mystery shopper is trained to research specific service areas, providing an unbiased evaluation. With over 400 member companies worldwide, the MSPA’s diverse membership includes marketing research and merchandising companies, private investigation firms, training organizations, and companies that specialize in providing mystery shopping services and mechanisms to measure and improve levels of service.

A nationwide survey conducted for the Consumer Reports July 2011 edition reveals that, “64 percent of respondents said during the previous 12 months they had left a store because service was poor, and 67 percent had hung up on customer service without having had their problem addressed.” Would a mystery shopper reveal the same problems in your retail business? Members of MSPA are enthusiastic about studies like the Consumer Reports and American Express surveys, because they demonstrate that businesses must pay close attention to the level of service they deliver to customers. According to MSPA President, Lynn Saladini, in response to American Express’ recent study, “Mystery shopping enables businesses to measure the extent to which they are delivering on their brand promises through their customer experience, and to identify and correct deficiencies. Time is not money, customers are money, and your customer service could be the key to opening their wallets.”

Top quality service is the best marketing, so tell your staff, “You never know who might be a mystery shopper,” and provide them with the following steps to help clean up their demeanor and service:

1) Smile when greeting a customer. In person and on the phone, customers know when you are genuinely smiling, as well as genuinely concerned about their wants and needs.

2) Never judge a book by a cover. Regardless of your customer’s age or appearance, keep judgement out of the store. The only differences you should acknowledge are the different shopping needs of your customers.

3) Find out if you don’t know. You don’t need to have every answer. However, if a customer asks you a question you don’t have an answer to, you should do your best to find out.

4) Learn to read body language. Body language is worth a thousand words. If your customer appears pensive, perhaps they have a question, giving you an opportunity to ask.

5) Smile while saying goodbye. Even if your customer walks out without a shopping bag in hand, he or she leaves with the impression of your welcoming and friendly attitude. That impression might be what keeps them coming back.