Elmo, owner of Elmo’s Pizza Shack, opens up his local newspaper Saturday morning and is surprised to find a review of his restaurant; he had no idea a critic had come into the place. Unfortunately, he is shocked even more by what the critic has to say.

“Upon hearing a great deal of grumbling from a few friends about Elmo’s, I decided it was high time to pay him a visit. Although I was greeted with a pleasant smile by the hostess and promptly shown to a table, the overall warm fuzzy feeling ended there. The wait staff was slow and inattentive at best, with facial expressions that clearly showed their desire to be elsewhere.

“When my order arrived (two slices of pepperoni and bell pepper), there were several traces of onion that remained, telling me that someone had made a mistake. It was delivered to my table without flair or even a question as to whether everything was satisfactory or I needed anything further. My glass remained empty for 10 minutes before the waiter took notice, and the bill came back incorrect.

“Overall, I would like to say that the décor in Elmo’s is classic, stylish, and comfortably warm. I cannot, however, say the same for the service.”

Elmo hadn’t even known there was a problem. No customers had complained, and he had not noticed anything negative or different about his staff. However, now that he thought about it, business had seemed slower recently, and upon checking the financial statements, he could see that profit margins were slightly down from the previous period.  Had someone just told him of the issue, he would have corrected it immediately. He would have even compensated meals for such mistakes and displeasure in an attempt to retain customers. Where had the communication broken down, and what could he do now to reverse the damage?

The Secret is Customer Service

In many businesses, the secret to success is excellent customer service, followed closely by image and presentation. When a customer is pleased with his or her experience, they will return for future visits and offer more business, adding to company profits. Unfortunately, when customers are displeased, the only way they show their lack of contentment by not returning and passing on negative recommendations.

In order to seek out the problems and kinks in a business that might be causing a lack of acceptance on the part of a customer, it’s become necessary to consult an outside, objective source that can help point out flaws and help create plans for improvement. Certainly customer surveys can offer some insight, but these are subjective opinions. Instead, the mystery shopper has become an important part of today’s market research.

What is a Mystery Shopper?

What is a mystery shopper, and how can this new form of research change the way that companies analyze their business transactions and customer service? Is it really a worthwhile investment in which the market research will return a greater profit margin as an end result?

A mystery shopper is exactly what it sounds like – an individual who enters into a business transaction or customer service situation as if he or she were a normal customer and evaluates his or her experience. This can range from calling to ask a question to shopping and analyzing prices to evaluating employees on their customer service.

No one, including the store owner or manager, knows who the mystery shopper is and therefore cannot show preferential treatment in order to obtain praise or better results. What this means is honest feedback according to the specific time and day in which the visit was made. This objectiveness can easily be skewed in other situations and offers a unique opportunity to create a natural environment identical to that in which a regular customer would experience under the same circumstances.

Mystery shopping companies use the information gathered by the shoppers they employ and send out to evaluate businesses to put together programs that assist those businesses in finding ways to maximize their profits. This is usually done through the streamlining of processes and organization of customer service processes and product displays, among a plethora of other aspects of the business that could be negatively affecting the bottom line. Such input is critical and often truly priceless in terms of creating the highest level of profitability for your company.

The outcome of an evaluation by a mystery shopper should lead the store manager, owner, director, or other executive into a direct plan of action in which new processes and perhaps training courses can add to the company’s ability to create a better experience for customers in the future.

Whether you’re selling a slice of pizza or a mansion, it is imperative for you to be able to measure the customer experience and make adjustments accordingly. Do not make the “Elmo” mistake of saying, “If I had only known.” Be proactive and find out what is important to your customers. It’s your move!

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