Mystery or Not? Guaranteeing Customer Satisfaction

080408secret I generally don’t opt for mystery shopping. Why? Because I’ve found owners with their feet on their desk as many times as I’ve found employees engaging in the same sport.

But when the opportunity came to do mystery shopping for several fast food restaurant chains, I jumped. Why? Because statistics indicate that if your business is less than eight years old you will probably never make it. On the other hand, if you own a franchise, the odds are 95% in your favor that you will survive—and thrive. The key is standardization of tasks and policies. It is clear that if you know what you are doing, and it is effective (ie. makes a difference) and you do the same things over and over, there is an excellent possibility that you will be successful.

I thought it would be fun to get paid to eat, and interesting to go outside the industry and see what others think is important. Do chains look at things differently or is it all pretty much the same?

The first thing I noticed is that time seemed to be of the utmost important. How quickly the customer is noticed, when they walk in the restaurant, how quickly they are seated, get their water, get their meal, refills, and the check. The add-on, “Would you like dessert” also seemed to be of utmost importance. I wondered: do flooring retailers also “jump?” I’ve done several surveys where customers reported that the salesperson “was on the computer.” Well let’s give the salesperson a break, it may not mean he/she was on a disreputable site — they may have just been looking up an order.

The time element struck me as critical, so I did some research. Quick Service Restaurant magazine (QSR), notes that McDonald's estimates that six seconds at the drive-thru means a l% move in sales. For the average McDonald’s franchise—with $1.6 million in annual sales—that 35 seconds translates to to more than $93,000 a year! Wow, I thought, does that mean we should be curbing the amount of time that our employees spend in the bathroom?  I don’t know, but it does bring up an interesting point about the use of time.

If your employees are doing their own measurements, for example, how long does it take? How long should they be spending at the customer’s house? Shouldn’t the closing (estimated amount of floor covering and approximate amount based on that estimate) be done in the store so the purpose of the visit to the customer’s house is purely for how much it will take and what it will cost? Being in front of the customer that hasn’t yet made a purchase is the key to doing more business. Completing the measure is just to tie up the loose ends. I know some of you won’t agree with me and may think the closing is done in the customer’s house. Skilled salespeople are able to narrow down the choices for the customer as well as estimate the price—in the store. In addition they are able to get a deposit before they go to the customer’s house. (Not all of course, but the majority of the work has been completed in the store.)

How long does it take to close the customer regardless of locale? Is it important? We know that skilled salespeople take less time to close customers than do unskilled salespeople. Why? Because they know the right questions to ask, they know where they are in the sale and they know how to close. I always say in training, watch the people in your company who are peak performers—they know how to do it, are able to build great relationships with the customer in half the time. Watch how long it takes to close a sale, determine what it takes and you will cut down the time. The more customers you have at any one time, the more will be waited on. Also, the fewer salespeople you will need to adequately cover your floor and take care of your customers. Important for those on commissions.

How about writing up an order? Are you doing things twice? Do you still have paper in file cabinets, in the desk and on the desks? Do you have salespeople write the order and someone else enter it into the computer? Let’s get efficient. Salespeople should be taught to enter their own orders, this way we have less opportunity to screw up and it gets done immediately.

How quickly do we wait on customers? Do we get up for every customer? How quickly should we say hello?

How much leeway do you give your salespeople and installers to fix their mistakes? When my server was slow with my salad, he offered to get me a dessert for ½ price. Several high-end hotels authorize any employee up to $2000.00 to fix mistakes with customers. I would think that you have to sell an awful lot of salads for profit but he was authorized to do it. I don’t think you should be giving away ceramic tile to every customer who has a problem on the door but a gift of thanks that costs the store $5-10$ should be standard—not just the delivery of a gift because you screwed up but because you think the customer is special and want them to know that.

By the way, on the subject of gifts to customers – cleaning supplies have never been a standard gift for women. Consider giving them a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure or a dozen roses.

I noticed after my secret shopper adventure that the surveying company wanted to know what I thought about everying — right down to the bathroom. I was asked to check the bathroom when I went into the restaurant, note what I considered to be unacceptable, and then check back in  20 minutes to ½ hour to see if anything had changed. I decided to take notice of the three pieces of paper outside the trash basket just for giggles—lo and behold, when I came back there was the sign, “floor just washed” and the papers were gone! I guess immaculate, not clean bathrooms are important for them.

How’s your bathroom? You're not housing the mop in the toilet are you? Yes I saw one. On the other hand, I’ve seen bathrooms that just cried for me to move in, they were so beautiful and had everything I needed from the essentials to hair product, hair dryer, feminine products and perfume. Don’t let me forget the place to change my baby.

Did they have their name tags on, did they introduce themselves, did they smile, did they seem interested? And most importantly, were they dressed according to standard—clean hands, nails, clean or dirty clothes, and could you smell their breath? Hey I was really impressed; there’s always a snicker in the house when I talk about cigarettes.

Statistics say customers like it when we wear name tags. My friend Herbert Hildebrand, COO of Great Lakes Carpet, has his employees where name tags “all the time”, in the street! They have great conversations with perfect strangers and get good leads. Hmn, wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world wore name tags?

As for the restaurant, what was the staff doing when they weren’t working with customers? I was given a list of things that they were supposed to do—yep, they were checking the sugar, salt and pepper and straightening the menus. I guess this can all be translated into cleaning up the showroom, putting the display pieces away and generally cleaning up and making phone calls to past customers looking for referrals or following up on a job.

Everyone wants to know how they did. At the end of the meal in one of my shops they asked if I would fill it out while they waited—questions about the food and was it hot—after I completed it they gave me a phone number and a code to authorize if I would answer a couple of additional questions.  Of course I did it, and they gave me a free appetizer. It was all automated and took less than six minutes.

In one of my other shops I noted that I did not receive my entrée in 15 minutes, it actually took 21 minutes. (They were really busy, I figured they probably would let that one go.) Sure enough, I received a call to come in for a free drink. Of course I had one month to do it in but the thought was great. In another instance when I said to the server the broccoli just wasn’t like mother used to make it, (when asked what I thought), she said we’ll take it off the bill. No, no I said it’s okay, mom isn’t cooking today. Again she said, you need to like our food or you won’t be back!

So what are the standards you use in your business to measure progress?

  • Does everyone understand the standards?
  • Do you evaluate the standards monthly to see if they are being followed?
  • Do you leave a comment sheet with customers to get their ideas and reactions?
  • Do customers who fill out comment sheets get called occasionally to check on their attitudes?
  • Do you reward employees who live up to the standards?
  • Do you reward customers who submit comment sheets.

We all know that unhappy customers buy and eat elsewhere; and those that have been wowed consider you for their next visit.

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