A crew of trained customers can help you inspect what’s really going on inside and outside your business.

When we have sales, operational and technical standards in place, but without verification from the real world, we don’t know for sure what is and isn’t happening in the field. George Brazil once told me, “Don’t expect what you’re unwilling to inspect.”

That’s why you need a Mystery Shopper Program. Mystery Shoppers are your chief inspectors. They help verify that your sales and operational standards are actually being performed in the field or inside the office at the high-level of performance you desire.

Who would be good candidates for Mystery Shoppers? Well, they could be family members that at least don’t share a last name your staff would know. Or they could be your friends, just as long as no one knows they’re your buddies.

More times than not, however, your dissatisfied customers make good Mystery Shoppers. The program itself can be a valuable tool in converting dissatisfied customers into an asset to the company.

Perhaps you can give them a refund on a disputed bill. Or you could give them a discount on future work. One way or another - and this goes for all your Mystery Shoppers, no matter the source - this group will feel better about your company knowing that you have high standards, and they’ll feel honored knowing you need them to help maintain those standards.

Recruiting Shoppers

Here’s a sample script that you can use to convert a dissatisfied customer into a Mystery Shopper.

“Let me be the first to apologize. But apologies alone are not enough at Appleseed Plumbing. We go to great lengths to ensure our customers receive great service consistently. And unless we get feedback from customers like you to let us know when we don’t deliver on that promise, we can’t hope to stay the great company we are.

“So, thank-you for bringing this matter to my attention. We’ll be happy to make this right - whether that means a refund or whatever we both agree it takes to make this right. But, there is one request I have of you - that you join our Mystery Shopper Program because we need people like you who can tell us what we need to hear, both good and bad.

“The Mystery Shopper Program is designed to verify that our people are following the systematic process we’ve written in our manuals and that they’re constantly being trained on in our ongoing meetings in our own training center. Customers like you are needed to fill out a simple one-page checklist after we’ve performed service at your home.

“The techs never learn who is and isn’t a Mystery Shopper, so they have to be on their best behavior with every customer they visit.

“If you’re willing to be a Mystery Shopper, we promise to provide future service at a 15 percent discount from whatever the price the tech quotes you. We do this after the call is done and you’ve sent me the one-page completed checklist.

“May I count on you to help?”

Once you have Mystery Shoppers in place, you’ll need to rig up a problem, have a Mystery Shopper call for service and report back what your tech does and what he recommends.

For example, loosen a thermocouple on a two-year-old water heater and find out if the tech tries to sell a new water heater or if he makes an easy repair, but also makes a good add-on sale while he’s there, such as a water filter or a recirculation line.

No Stings

I don’t think there should be any “gotcha” to this. Your staff needs to know that Mystery Shoppers exist. But not only are you watching out for the bad, you also want to “catch” people doing well, too. Your staff needs to know what they’re in for if they are caught doing something wrong. But you should also announce an award for the people who perform to your accepted operating standards.

Of course, you need to properly train the Mystery Shopper on what to expect. As our script mentions, training can be as simple as running through a one-page checklist for when a tech comes to do a call. You may also want to consider further training your Mystery Shopper to ask questions about pushing a sale just to get a commission. It’s the answers your staff gives on the spot that will tell you how well they respond to what you may have only role-played before in a friendly training center.

Mystery Shoppers can also be trained to simply call your office to verify that your customer service reps are complying with your operations manuals and, in particular, using standard scripts to deal with incoming calls.

Again, train your Mystery Shoppers for the calls and provide a CSR checklist that can help you verify what your CSRs do well and what they didn’t do so well.

Finally, here are some words of advice from one of my contractor clients:

 “Keep a running list on the computer of the Mystery Shoppers and make sure there is enough information in there so you don’t fumble trying to figure out who this person is the next time he or she calls.

“I have decided to make a Mystery Shopper Packet that I will send to the new Mystery Shopper as soon as he or she agrees to become one. That way if the customer needs service immediately, he or she will have the information [checklist] needed in hand to score the tech.

“Doing it this way adds extra value to doing business with our company.”