Are you evaluating firms to design and implement a secret shopper program at your business? With more than 600 firms offering these services in North America, it’s a tough choice. Here are the top questions to ask, whether you choose Coyle Hospitality Group or another company as your hospitality consultant.
1. Are they knowledgeable about, and committed to, your industry?
Mystery shopping programs break down into several segments. The largest ones are hospitality, foodservice, retail, healthcare and financial services. If your business falls into one of these segments, the sub-classifications are quite dramatic. For instance, gas stations, supermarkets, pharmacies, clothing stores and big box retailers like Target all fall into the retail segment. But what if you’re a luxury retailer selling handbags and accessories that cost $600 and up? What if a meal for two people in your restaurant typically costs $150 or more? Do you want a restaurant secret shopper whose main experience is evaluating ‘grab and go’ shops and fast food restaurants? Choose a company that has access to professional, quality hospitality consultants and experts in the field, who know and are involved in the industry. Coyle Hospitality feels that true partnerships are created when vendors have ‘skin in the game’ and don’t merely look at you as part of their diversification plan.
2. Can the firm set up actionable quality metrics?
When designing your mystery shopping program, you need to make sure the measurements and actionable outcomes of the program give you an advantage over your competitors. If you want to set the bar higher for your team, the hospitality consultant you hire to help design the program should know where that is and be able to provide data that accomplishes these goals. Find committed hospitality consultant partners that can build sustainable, actionable quality metrics. It’s an art form requiring a partner that truly understands your vision and your customer dynamic. If you select a firm that serves ‘best of breed’ competitors in your market space, you have a much greater chance of creating a smart and sustainable program.
3. Does the firm have adequate liability insurance?
A reputable firm will carry more than the minimum in business liability insurance and will name you on the policy if you request it.
4. Who are the firm’s evaluators?
The firm you choose, except under special circumstances, should not be outsourcing its function of screening, vetting and selecting the independent mystery shoppers who will conduct the evaluations of your business. Secret shoppers are almost certainly independent contractors, so there needs to be screening and security checks in place, ones that the firm can explain fully. The more experience that secret shoppers have within the industry, the more valuable and trustworthy will be their research findings.
5. Does the firm use third-party scheduling companies?
Some firms use third-party scheduling companies to staff their secret shopper programs. These companies are paid based on fulfillment. This means that a major motivation behind servicing your account is simply getting someone, anyone, to conduct the mystery shopping evaluations. These companies ‘borrow’ secret shoppers and have little or no knowledge of their performance, background or skills. The least desirable part of this arrangement is that the secret shoppers are allied with the scheduling company, not the firm, because they want more opportunities down the road and the scheduling company is the source of those opportunities. At that point, you, the client, are twice removed from the person doing the evaluation.
6. Can the firm guarantee 100% fulfillment?
There are many firms who can serve clients in large, urban locations like NYC, LA or Chicago. If you have stores in remote areas, however, make sure those locations get the same quality of care as the easier-to-fulfill, urban locations. Demand 100% fulfillment for all of your locations. Good firms will not have a problem with that.
7. Will the firm re-refer secret shopper evaluators to any of your locations?
Nothing undermines good mystery shopping programs faster than secret shoppers who are recognized while doing an evaluation. The research findings that follow are worthless if the shopper is ‘made’, and your staff ends up having less respect for the program.
If a shopper was on-site six months or even a year ago, it is too soon to return. Someone on your team will remember and recognize them, rendering the findings worthless and undermining the value of the mystery shopping program. Employees tend to vividly recall secret shoppers when the findings are shared with them. Good firms have the resources to make sure repeat referrals never happen.
8. Where is data stored and how secure is it?
Make sure the firm is following standard data security protocols and that your sensitive data is handled with care. If they use a third party to store your data, have that company issue a statement about its security and back-up procedures.
At Coyle Hospitality, our data servers are monitored 24/7 and data is backed up every hour. Our client data is protected by a Cisco firewall and backed up redundantly every 24 hours off-site. Coyle guarantees that if its servers are down for 48 hours, we will provide hard copies of any secret shopper research findings a client requests. A reputable firm will give you similar assurances.
9. Can you check if employees are stealing?
Proceed carefully if you are looking for someone to specifically look at areas of employee theft. When shoppers observe employees for that purpose, it is no longer considered by many state authorities to be mystery shopping, but a form of surveillance. The rule of thumb is that anyone conducting surveillance needs to be licensed to do so in that state. Consult your attorney, and beware of firms that offer these services without being licensed.
10. Are the reports available online?
The best hospitality consultants that offer mystery shopping programs provide a complete online solution. Gone are the days of getting static attachments that ‘silo’ your data. Moreover, your firm should offer a full-service suite of queries and custom reporting.