In today's competitive retail business environment, with many stores offering the same or similar products, the success of a store depends on the kind of service provided. The service will determine the kind of buying experience that the shopper has and therefore entice the shopper to visit the store again or even to recommend the store to others, thus increasing the client base.
The level of service provided will depend on the kind of products being sold and the profile of the customers visiting the store. Technical products will require demonstrations. High-end clothing outlets will require store personnel to be available in the background to provide an opinion if asked, or to identify merchandise in different sizes or styles. High profile customers generally want a little more "space" to make their decision. Above all, courtesy and an ability to establish a bond with customers are crucial to successful store etiquette.
A business owner would enlist the services of a secret shopper to do spot or random checks on store personnel. This could be either to make a general assessment of the service being provided, or to anonymously investigate after negative feedback has been received.
The identity of a secret shopper is confidential. The secret shopper is briefed in advance about the aspects of service that have to be evaluated. In most cases the secret shopper is even given a standard questionnaire covering various service aspects to be evaluated. A specific questionnaire ensures that the pre-determined service aspects are evaluated in a standardized manner. This is especially useful if the service is being evaluated across multiples stores in a chain.
Using a secret shopper gives a business owner unbiased feedback and a realistic picture of the level of service being provided. This information can then be used to modify service standards to better meet the needs of the customers. A secret shopper gives a business owner invaluable insight into how customers perceive the store.
The main aim of a sales outlet is to maximize sales and profit. The feedback of a secret shopper helps a business owner evaluate different types of customer experiences. The services of a secret shopper can be used in any outlet that directly caters to the public, whether it is the local gas station or hardware store or even a restaurant.
The concept of using a secret shopper to assess customer service is becoming more and more common, especially in retail chains where there is centralized management and decentralized sales. This is the management's way of staying in touch with the customer.
Demand and the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association)
With the growing demand for secret shoppers, the MSPA has been set up. It the largest professional trade association dedicated to improving service quality using anonymous resources. MSPA has over 150 member companies worldwide and they have a diverse membership including marketing research and merchandising companies, private investigation firms, training organizations and companies that specialize in providing secret shopping services.
A secret shopper has flexibility of working hours. They may require a little training to familiarize themselves with the service aspects to be evaluated and the questionnaire to be filled in. The advantage for the secret shopper is that they not only get paid for their professional services, but any expenses they may incur are also covered, thus allowing the secret shopper to enjoy the experience without spending their own money.