I was asked recently for my take on the Mystery Shopper program - hiring anonymous people to be shoppers in stores and rate those stores on their appearance, helpfulness, and all other aspects of retail.
The idea behind these is that often what a shopkeeper thinks is great customer service is not perceived that way by the customer. This is true. As Roy H. Williams has often said, it is hard to read the label from inside the bottle. It is hard for a shopkeeper to be objective about the customer service his shop offers.
What I see as inherently tough about the Mystery Shopper program is getting the buy-in from the retailer.
Because of the aforementioned problem, many of the retailers who could benefit from a Mystery Shopper program won't partake because they don't believe anything is wrong. Denial is a river in Egypt.
Other retailers, those not on the river, will be afraid to partake because they don't want to be judged. We know we have faults. We don't need someone else to expose them. Those retailers fear the results more than they fear the lost customers from not improving.
Still other retailers will sign up, be shopped, and then explain away all the criticism. We were short-handed. They got our newest employee who was still in training. The store got really swamped. The shopper didn't know what she was doing. The shopper wasn't fair. No one does it that way...
So although a Mystery Shopper program might have value, at the end of the day, few retailers will take advantage of that value and fewer still will make significant changes.
What if there was another way?
I am working on a different way for local independent retailers to help improve customer service - Group Therapy.
The concept is simple... A group of other shop owners goes together into a local business who has signed up for this critique. Using a simple checklist worksheet, the group of owners critiques the store from the front door on. For instance, they may be instructed to...
Look at the front door. What catches your eye? Are the hours clearly posted? Does the front door/window/signage tell the potential customer what to expect on the inside?
Walk through the door. Note the odors. Note the lighting. Is it appropriate for the type of store? Note what catches the eye first. How deep can you see into the store?
Walk around the store. How easy is it to navigate? How good is the signage? How easy is it to find an employee if you have a question? How logical is the arrangement? How tidy are the displays? How enticing are the displays?
By having a group of peers doing this, they will be better able to communicate any criticism in a way the business owner will be more receptive to hearing. And by knowing that the business owner will get his turn to critique, he will be less defensive and more open to discuss ways to improve the overall shopping experience.
What do you think? Would you allow your store to be critiqued by a group of your peers? Would you trust what they have to say more or less than a Mystery Shopper? If you were given the opportunity to critique, would you be able to be constructive? Would it be helpful if there was a checklist of things customers might notice that you could use to do your own self-evaluation?
I plan to have the checklist finished by the end of January. I will let you know when it is posted.
PS If you don't want to wait until the end of January, I can tell you right now that the checklist would follow many of the same concepts or thoughts found in my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW. You can use that as a way to see where you can make improvements right away.
PPS Some of you may have already noticed the other benefits of Group Therapy. Think of the camaraderie that will be built by a group of shop owners working together like this. It will become the start of a great referral program better than any networking event might offer. Plus, you will all become invested in each other's success.
PPPS Thanks, Travis, for asking the question about Mystery Shopper programs. It helped me clarify my own thoughts and was just the push I needed to pursue this idea.