APPLETON, Wis. — When my husband and I bought our house, the kitchen had the ugliest overhead light I have ever seen. I vowed, “This is the first thing that we are going to throw away.” Fast-forward four years. We are selling the house. Guess what? The ugly overhead light is still in the kitchen.
Owners are great at ignoring the obvious. Mystery shopping—the practice of secretly evaluating a business through personal experience and reporting to its ownership—exposes what customers can clearly see. Here’s what mystery shopping consists of:
- It is a survey (“Drop-off, Pick-up, and Cleaning Evaluation”) with a set of structured questions designed to mirror a customer’s experience
- An in-store evaluation (”shop”) of that experience, with points for each question. The number of points assigned per question is based on that aspect’s importance to the overall experience
- The results of these shops are tracked over time
- These shops are performed by professionals who are objective in their evaluations
Mystery shopping is, at its core, actionable. A comment such as, “The store was dirty,” is subjective. What can you do about dirty? What is dirty? Your dirt might not be my dirt. A competent mystery shopper will write, “There were handprints on the windows, lint on the floor, and the counters were covered with clothing.” A-ha! Now, a cleaner can understand what to do: clean the windows, vacuum the floor, and clean off the counters.
Of course, mystery shopping isn’t just about facilities, but it is surprising how many mystery shops come back month after month with evaluator comments such as, “The hole in the ceiling still isn’t fixed.” Or, “The parking lot was absolutely terrible with potholes and loose gravel.” More than 95% of the time, the actual cleaning of items is not at issue.
A dry cleaner shouldn’t use mystery shopping as a tool if he or she isn’t prepared to make facility changes (or improvements) and train (or confront) employees. The “mystery “about mystery shopping isn’t what a customer service representative (CSR) is supposed to do. That responsibility falls directly on management to clearly convey what is expected at the counter.
Some basics for non-negotiable behaviors from CSRs are:
- A pleasant greeting/general conversation
- Use of the customer’s name
- Knowledge of dry cleaning/laundry
- Ask questions regarding possible stains/spots/repairs
- Identify cross-selling opportunities
If these are the top five aspects, questions related to them will be weighed the most heavily in scoring. On the other hand, if CSRs don’t have control over something, it’s counterproductive to score them. For example, if CSRs do not direct the snow removal from around the dry cleaning business, exterior maintenance should not be a part of their overall customer-service score. However, it is important to know if ice is a foot deep at a location because it gives a full picture of the customer’s experience.
Dry cleaners can use mystery shopping to evaluate, identify and change CSR behaviors at the counter. The best mystery-shopping program is conducted over the long term and tracks results over time to ensure improvement. It conveys to employees that there are consequences to actions, documents problem resolution, and provides data for reviews. Mystery shopping rewards individuals when they consistently receive excellent scores over time.
When problems do arise at the counter, mystery shopping, by design, is a training tool. Dry cleaners can draw on mystery-shopping results (objective reporting) to talk with a CSR about what to do next time. It is much easier to review a poor mystery shop with a CSR after the fact than to try to train them while confronting an irate customer.
Mystery shopping is real event training without the downside of customer complaints—written, verbal, e-mails, blogs, broadcast blasts, and web videos. From a management perspective, it can provide valuable insight into how a customer is treated.
Shopping each location at least once a month is advised. When looking for a mystery-shopping firm, keep in mind that there is a Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA); its international membership is required to sign and abide by a code of ethics. Finally, it makes sense to seek out a mystery-shopping company that has experience in the dry cleaning industry.
What do you want to know about your customer service? What aren’t you seeing? Mystery shopping can put you on the customer’s side of the counter.