It’s just business: SECRET SHOPPERS

// Using this tried-and-true practice can provide a wealth of information to business owners, and help your employees grow as well

It’s pretty much a given that if you are an entrepreneur, you are a very busy person. For those who have families to tend to, multiple business locations to maintain or other areas in life that don’t allow for spending every working hour of the day on site, it can be difficult to keep an eye on things at work when you’re not there. But there is help and they’re called secret shoppers. I recommend any business out there to use them.

For the uninitiated, secret shoppers, sometimes called mystery shoppers, are folks that business owners hire to pose as customers and report back with information owners specifically ask for. For example, was the employee polite? Did he/she ask to see ID when presented with a credit card? Did he/she up-sell as instructed by management? These are the types of questions that secret shoppers can help to answer and, in turn, help lead to a better bottom line and a better quality of employees.

The spirit behind using secret shoppers isn’t to bust your employees or to make for a “gotcha!” moment when the employee may not handle things correctly, but rather to see whether your own policies are being implemented and if not, why not. If an employee isn’t checking IDs for credit cards or is giving bad service, isn’t that an indicator that they’re probably not doing their job on other levels as well? If they’re not doing their job for small requests, I have to assume that they’re not doing their job for the bigger things either, which means that it’s time for me to have a chat with that employee.

Secret shoppers simply report back to me what things I need to know to help my employees improve. It’s not for firing purposes or to dole out discipline, but rather it gives me a reason to talk to the employee to determine if the way they work can be improved upon. Now, after being talked to multiple times and there is no improvement, then termination is likely necessary, or course, but that’s not the point. I don’t do this to target people; I do this to determine whether employees are implementing the various methods of operation required in my workplace. Customer service is always one, but I know that my people give good service so I’m looking more for their speed, friendliness, product knowledge, whether they are checking IDs with credit cards and whether they are following the rules we have in place to make our company efficient.

In the big picture, secret shoppers provide me with specific details of what I’m explicitly looking for. I don’t send them in blind to randomly spy on my employees; rather, I discuss with the secret shopper what I want them to test, which is why it’s important that you choose secret shoppers that are closest to your customer demographic. They need to know what your customers want in order to have insight into whether the employee is living up to what is expected of him or her. For this reason, I apply my usual method of hiring employees to find secret shoppers that I feel good about sending in to test my employees. Heck, I’ve even secret shopped my own three-tier interview process that I have discussed here in past columns and it helped me tap into what we’re doing wrong and correct it.

I would like to organize a network of small businesses in Tacoma that want to use the secret shoppers that I’ve vetted to go around to their businesses and secret shop. I have offered this to business owners through the years because after more than a decade of working with secret shoppers, I’ve realized that it’s not always easy to find the right ones. I know of no secret shopping companies to recommend, but please contact me and I can help you develop a secret shopping program for your business. Also, if you want to be a secret shopper, get hold of me and we can go through the process to vet you. William Manzanares: