Financial Travel Tip #63: Subsidize Your Travels as a Mystery Shopper

Click here to view the original article featured on: The Professional Hobo - January 12, 2013, by Nora Dunn

How to Subsidize Your Travel Costs by Secret Shopping

I was recently introduced to a new way to subsidize your airfare, accommodation, and meals; by being a mystery shopper around the world.

EvaluateIt by SQM is one such mystery shopping service that connects mystery shoppers with businesses wanting to ensure their customer experience is top notch.

Once you’re approved as a mystery shopper, you can browse available mystery shopping missions such as flights, meals, attractions, and hotel stays. Apply for the mystery shopping opportunity you’re interested in, and once accepted you (usually) make the purchase outright, and on receiving your evaluation afterwards, they’ll reimburse you up to 50% of the cost. (In a few instances, EvaluateIt will acquire the necessary tickets on your behalf).

I’m signed up as a mystery shopper (it’s free), but none of the opportunities have been a match for my location or itinerary as yet. It appears that the majority of the missions are North America-centric, but there are opportunities to review accommodation and flights around the world. It might even be worth a slight reroute of your itinerary to nab a long-haul flight at half price.

I’m looking forward to exploring this new money-saving travel opportunity. Yet another way to make full-time travel financially sustainable!

Has anybody else tried their hand at mystery shopping?


Staff Training

Why is it Important to Invest in Employee Training?

Employees being trained at work is an investment

Make staff training an investment rather than an expense, by focusing on appropriate training, debriefing and monitoring.

Almost everyone agrees that training restaurant staff is important. After all, how is somebody supposed to learn to swim if they're not taught? But restaurant owners often become disillusioned with training, assuming that they're "simply throwing money away".It's true that if not done properly, 60 percent of what is taught during a training seminar is forgotten when the trainee leaves the room, and an additional 30 percent is lost within the next seven days. That means 10 percent of what the company spent thousands of dollars trying to teach their workers is retained, making training seem like a waste of time and money.

But training should be considered an investment, not a cost. And while 10 percent doesn't seem like much, it doesn't have to be that way. If done correctly, with well-planned initiatives co-ordinated with company objectives and customer satisfaction in mind, money spent on training will bring a return on investment. Remember too that inadequate training can lead to higher turnover, a negative work-place environment and unhappy guests. A restaurant loses 68 percent of its customers because of an employee with an indifferent attitude. That indifference is often the mark of an ill-equipped, dissatisfied worker who lacks the motivation and skills to do their job well. But simply sending an employee off to be trained isn't enough. Ensuring that employees retain what they're taught required briefing, debriefing, monitoring and reinforcement by the operator.

3 Tips to Make Training Effective!

1) PreTraining: Brief Employees

Employees scheduled for training courses should be briefed beforehand so they understand why the training is necessary and what they will be expected to do differently afterward. Determining what needs to be taught varies from job to job, from the front of the house to the back of the house, and from restaurant to restaurant. In fact, what may seem crucial for an employee to learn from the owner's perspective may be entirely different from that of the customer's viewpoint.

For this reason, it's crucial that restaurant owners first determine their customers' needs and determine whether they're being satisfied. Conducting various customer-service surveys will help uncover these needs, how well they're being met, what areas are lacking and how they can be improved. That information should be kept in mind when planning training sessions and should of course be passed on to trainees.

2) Post Training: Debrief Employees

Immediately following the training session, employees should be debriefed to ensure they learned what they were supposed to. Debriefing also helps reinforce the reasons why new skills and behaviours are necessary. Most owners will spend thousands of dollars on training programs, but only a fraction of that amount - if any at all - on monitoring and reinforcement. It's important to remember that it takes six months to replace an old behaviour with a new one, and the only way that can happen is through constant monitoring and reinforcement.

Training is as important at the top of an organization as it is at the bottom, and all levels should be participating in new training programs equally. Senior managers may not feel they need to be taught certain skills, but going back to basics is a good opportunity for them to brush up on things they may have forgotten. It will also enable them to effectively follow-up and reinforce those behaviours and skills in their subordinates. At the same time staff will look to their manager so see if they're practicing the required attitudes, skills an habits. If upper management doesn't practice what it preaches, the effectiveness of any training is diminished, as staff loses confidence in their leaders and become increasingly frustrated.

3) Reinforce Positive Effects of Training

Customers also act as reinforcements. If employees recognize that customers are more satisfied than they were before the training, they will be more likely to make the extra effort to maintain that level of satisfaction. Sometimes the smile on a customer's face is enough, but occasionally it will be necessary to conduct customer-service surveys either verbally or through comment cards. All this customer information should be passed on to employees as well so that they know the learned behaviour and skills have made a difference.

Mystery Shopping is another great way to monitor and reinforce the effects of training. To employers, mystery shoppers are merely customers, and as such these unbiased, third-party inspectors should feel free to give staff on-the-spot feedback. For example, agreeing to order a dessert upon a server's suggestion encourages and reinforces training for upselling. Mystery shoppers could also tell the server they really appreciated the friendly and honest suggestions he or she made before ordering. Instantly knowing they did a good job reinforces the learned behaviour and helps retain the training. Reports generated by Mystery shoppers provide even more feedback and will help management develop the next training session based on areas that still need improvement.

Properly trained staff and management truly are assets to any operation. For this reason, well-planned training programs and proper monitoring and reinforcement save time, costs and customers - a far better alternative than the sink-or-swim approach.

For references #2 

Increasing ROI

Graph Showing an Increase in Sales Successful upselling can significantly boost the bottom line, while actually improving customer service.

Would you find it hard to believe that within a one-year period it's possible to increase your revenue per customer by $3, and realize a 300-per-cent return on investment? All operators are concerned about maximizing and increasing profits, something that will often be accomplished by increasing the average check, usually through a price increase or by switching to lower-quality ingredients. Those are good ideas - if you're hoping to lose customers. After all, loyal customers easily become discouraged when a visit to their favourite restaurant suddenly requires a bank loan. Instead of paying a premium for the same meal they once thoroughly enjoyed, they'll take their business to your competitor. The more effective way to realize a substantial gain in profits, and actually improve customer service, without a price increase or skimping on quality, is to upsell.

Upselling, also known as suggestive selling, can be implemented quickly with minimal investment and will produce immediate results. Aimed at getting more money at the point of sale, upselling is simply offering a suggestion to an already receptive buyer to enhance the value of his or her purchase. And most customers will appreciate a server's thoughtfulness and honesty when they offer them suggestions to make their experience more enjoyable.

Wait staff should make suggestions to guests without being overbearing. Their suggestions should be helpful, without meaning to pressure. For instance, a customer who seems unsure of what to order may appreciate the server saying: "That's not bad, but it's not what we do best. Can I suggest one of my favourites from the menu?" Other examples could include "is there an appetizer/dessert you had in mind, or would you like a suggestion?" or "The apple pie is great here. Would you like some with ice cream, or without?" These are key phrases in leading a customer to order something they may not have thought to on their own, but would still thoroughly enjoy. Honesty is important; servers should be sure not to lead the guest astray.

For references #1

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