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Mystery Shoppers Revealed


Mystery shoppers are supposed to remain anonymous while they are evaluating businesses. However, some companies will choose a slightly different route for their shops, which are typically called “reveal shops.”


These are typically shorter evaluations that are not traditional in the sense that they are evaluating the entire shopping experience; often times, they will be looking for one or two key behaviors – perhaps asking for identification from a customer purchasing liquor or tobacco, or a cashier mentioning a specific promotion.


Once the shopper completes their task, they are then to “reveal” themselves to the staff. Most times if the staff does well and meets the criteria, the shopper rewards them with an on the spot bonus, gift card, or other incentive as provided by the client.


This is a good (and fun) way to spot check specific performance points, especially when done well. I’ve seen this done several ways – sometimes the shopper only reveals him or herself if the employee does well and is to get an incentive; other times I’ve seen where the shopper is revealed no matter the outcome, which can be a little trickier. Years ago, Chuck E Cheese had an internal program in which the “shopper” was given red and green cards and were told what to evaluate. When they saw an employee doing what was expected, the “shopper” was to hand out a green card, and when they saw something that didn’t meet standards, they were to hand out a red card. The staff was then responsible for turning them into their manager. This was probably the one method I really didn’t like – it’s an awkward situation for both the shopper and the receiver of the red card, and I often times wondered how often the “red” employees were turning in their cards! Because it was an internal program and not handled through a mystery shopping provider, I wondered how well managed it was.


There are some things to consider if you want to try a reveal program:


1. Don’t replace your current program: reveals shops are meant to look for one or two specific things. It should not replace your full blow program because you won’t get the same detailed data.


2. Decide how to implement the reveal: some companies prefer to keep it truly positive, only doing the reveal when the employee does well and receives an incentive. I like this approach best because it’s more positive, is more comfortable for both the shopper and the employee, and employees will be more “on their toes” waiting for their opportunity. When employees don’t meet the standard, calling them out publicly in front of coworkers and the shopper, who is a stranger to them, can create a negative vibe for the program.


It’s also necessary to decide how the reveal will happen and if the shopper will reveal themselves to the employee they interacted with or the manager. It may depend on if you choose to reveal both positive and negative, or just focus on the positive. After all, it would be great fun for the employee to be rewarded on the spot – it could make their day!


3. Think through the effects of not being rewarded: this is especially true if you choose to have the shopper be revealed no matter the outcome. A few years back a shopper had to visit the bar in a restaurant to see if she was carded. She was then to reveal herself to the manager at the end of the visit no matter the outcome. Unfortunately, the bartender did not card her and she had to let the manager know. Instead of waiting for the shopper to leave, the manager confronted the bartender in front of the shopper and other customers. The bartender became visibly angry and got confrontational with the shopper to the point that she asked for an escort out of the restaurant.


This situation was handled poorly on many levels, but it’s good to learn from. Especially in cases where the staff doesn’t meet standards, it’s good to not only wait for the shopper to leave the building, but to handle it in a more private setting, perhaps after the shift is over.


I’ve also seen a case where a negative reveal was handled in a positive manner. A quick serve restaurant wanted to implement a reveal program in which the shopper would reveal his or her presence to the employee at the end of the shop no matter the outcome. However, they wanted the staff to know that not meeting the standards was not the end of the world, but it was something to be aware of and make better in the future.


To alleviate embarrassment and negativity, they provided the shopper with a very small trophy that depicted a plate of nachos with an inscription that read something along the lines of “it’s just ‘nacho’ day” (say that out loud and you’ll get it). It’s a fun way to turn a negative into a learning experience.


Reveal shops can be a quick way to check specific aspects of the experience and get the staff pumped up and excited to do well for you. If you’ve ever used a reveal shop, please share – we’d love to hear your thoughts!


QSR’s May Be Missing Sales

“Would you like fries with that?”


A simple phrase can generate 10% to 40% more sales, according to a recent study in which 12 QSR’s were evaluated as part of a mystery shopping study.


While this study was limited in scope and it does not appear that sufficient data was collected necessarily (each of the brands were shopped twice at different locations for this study), it does bring home an interesting talking point. Results point to the fact that 54% of the interactions did not lead to an upsell or cross sell.


In talking with others about this topic, there are many reasons for failure to upsell or cross sell:


1. Employees (usually the younger crowd) may not feel comfortable doing this on a consistent basis. In QSR, often times teens are hired for their first job, and they need to learn skill sets to effectively cross sell and upsell. This is simply a matter of training and encouraging confidence when interacting with customers.


2. There may be cases of inadquate training. If employees aren’t familiar with the menu and/or promotions before being put on the front lines, they may not have the tools needed to be able to do this effectively.


3. Customers are always seemingly rushed these days, and employees may not want to “bother” them. Similarly, they may have attempted to upsell or cross sell to an unpleasant customer, which leads to a negative experience and they are leery to do this going forward.


4. During busier times, there may not be enough staff available, and employees are rushed to serve customers as quickly as possible and may “cut corners” by not upselling or cross selling.


During training of new staff, it is important to fully equip employees to be able to do this as a natural part of the conversation when interacting with guests. Continually review of menu options and promotions can help as well. Customers are more open to upselling attempts when it’s done in a natural manner that “makes sense” – if a customer is dining along and orders a value meal for dine in, asking “Would you like to add a second meal for only $3.00” probably isn’t the way to go. However, mentioning promotions or adding a dessert or larger beverage option might go over better.


Not sure how cross selling attempts can impact your bottom line? Take a look at our interactive cross sell chart to see the  numbers for yourself.


QSR’s have a good advantage with regard to upselling and cross selling over other verticals, such as retail or banking – take advantage of the opportunities and help your staff to consistently upsell and cross sell. It can go a long way for your bottom line.



Growing Pains?


When a business expands, there is a lot to consider. When you’re franchising, there’s even more at stake. You want to be sure that you survive the growing pains as easily as possible, but it can be difficult making sure that the new locations and franchisees are branding appropriately and holding their staff to the same corporate standards that you do.


This is where mystery shopping can really help. We see a lot of clients coming to us for help when they reach 8-10 locations, or they start expanding out of state. Travel expenses can add up quickly, leaving you without the chance to check in on new locations as frequently as you’d like. You also can’t get a true sense of what is happening when you visit anyway – they are likely to know you’re coming and will prepare to put their best foot forward during your stay.


Mystery shopping can be an objective, third party evaluation of a business, making sure that a franchise or new location is measuring up to expectations. This can be anything from:


  • Uniform compliance
  • Brand messaging within the location
  • Promotional signage
  • Menu consistency – shoppers can take pictures of their meals to ensure they are presented correctly
  • Pricing


It’s a cost effective method for ensuring uniformity during the periods of growth. In our experience, this has been useful for many companies and franchise shopping has uncovered many situations the clients would not have been aware of otherwise. Below are some examples:


1. A fast casual chain conducted mystery shops on their franchised locations as well as the corporate owned locations. Two franchised locations were found to be experiencing issues. The first would not adhere to business hours; shoppers would visit close to opening or closing time, only to find the location closed. The second location had a more serious issue – over a brief period of time, corporate noticed that their mystery shopping scores plummeted. Upon further investigation, they found that the franchise owner was no longer interested in running the business and was letting it run without her supervision. It was clear that this needed to be addressed immediately, and was likely handled sooner than it would have been without these measures in place.


2. A retail chain found that one of their retail locations was surpassing all of the others when it came to performance scores on their mystery shops, as well as overall foot traffic and customer satisfaction. Because the report contained a narrative detail of the shopper’s experience, they learned that this location implemented steps that were not originally part of corporate expectations that went above and beyond. Seeing the success with this, they were able to have this franchise owner assist in developing this standard across all of their locations, making their brand even better.


3. A business that was just starting to franchise and expand across state lines was nervous about maintaining uniformity. They implemented the mystery shopping program and used the scores from their corporate locations as a benchmark by which to measure the franchised locations’ performance. This objective, third party metric was helpful in guiding new franchisees as they built their business.


Growing pains can be tough, but thinking ahead and planning to put the right steps in place to alleviate some of the potential issues can help make expanding successful in the long run.