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Mystery Shoppers give unbiased opinions

There are many things we do within our company to help us stay on the cutting edge of specialty retailing. We use computerized point of purchase and accounting, state-of-the-art sales training, creatively display merchandise, attend advertising and marketing forums, etc. But one of the most eye-opening tools we recently added was having our store Mystery Shopped.

Before I get into what is involved and what we learned from this experience, let me tell you about a few of my pet peeves. Consider this: Have you ever come out onto the sales floor to find a customer roaming around by themselves? Seeing this, you walk up to your most seasoned and professional salesperson and ask, “Are you taking care of them?” but only hear in response “I already asked if they needed help; they just want to look.” Or perhaps you hear a page over the intercom for a sales call and, while sitting at your desk, watch the hold light flashing and flashing. And you think “Why doesn't the receptionist pick up and take a message?” or “Why hasn't anyone on my staff picked up the phone?” And, this is a big one, you come out of your office to find a customer standing at the checkout counter and you ask “Has anyone helped you?” and their response is ”No, I walked in and there was no one around.” Please tell me someone out there relates to these!

It's one thing to see or suspect this going on, but having a professional shopper rate your store on phone etiquette, appearance, staff responsiveness gives pinpoint criteria. As members of the CFR, we recently signed up with DSG and just received the reports on all three shoppers. The results? We found that we did some things really well. Things like all three shoppers commented on the layout, attractiveness and cleanliness of the store and bathrooms. Two of the three gave us high marks on phone etiquette, while the other rated it lower.

We were fortunate to have three different salespeople help these mystery shoppers. What we found was that we have the right person as a manager and that the other two were helpful, but did not follow through on several key tasks, which we harp on all the time. One of the sales staff in the survey is our company's most recent hire so we understood why she did not perform as well. The other one had no excuse.

Over the years, I have relied on what I see to correct problems. But it's different this time because the criticism is not coming from me. This is coming from a person who has never met them before. These are unsuspecting people with very clear directives. And they are judging them on every front. It has weight and this was evident when I sat down with them to discuss the findings. They are listening and hopefully learning how to do it better the next time.

We didn't use this to belittle or demean our staff. We simple want them to know that on any given day, at any given moment, this is what the public sees and experiences when they come into our store. We use this to help them understand there is always room for improvement.

As manager and part owner of our company it is my responsibility to always be on the look out for ways to improve our look, our sales staff's professionalism, our etiquette on the phone and ultimately our relations with our customers.

Again, this was an eye-opening experience for my staff and myself. We have found this to be so instrumental in running and improving our company that we will be sending in our request for the spring season ... and we will have made adjustments to ensure that our reports come in much more favorably.

I am sure that the more we get shopped, the more we will adjust our means of doing business.

In the end, we will ultimately serve our customers at the highest level, which is a legacy that was left by the founder of our company, my grandfather, Percy Guidry.

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