Quick Tips: Uncovering Good Service

As seen in the October 3, 1996 Human Resource Executive

It's often said that in today's competitive marketplace, a company can differentiate itself from its challengers only through excellent customer service.

So Canadian retailer Tip Top Tailors and Pittsburgh-based Interstate Hotels use mystery shopper programs to help employees develop their customer service skills. The mystery shoppers, provided by Sensors Quality Management Inc. of Richmond, Ontario, visit the mens' wear stores and hotels disguised as ordinary customers and guests.

At Tip Top Tailors, the shoppers assess store employees on factors including how promptly they acknowledge customers, selling behaviors and the overall appearance of the store. All the Toronto-based company's 1,6000 workers are aware of the program, says Barb McDowell, manager of customer relations. Store employees never know exactly when mystery shoppers will show up at their location, but they do know it will be a minimum of once a month.

The company doesn't use the program to catch associates in the act of doing something wrong, explains McDowell. The shoppers are a performance improvement tool. "A lot of companies do mystery shopping but they don't give direct feedback to the associate," she says.

Tip Top has its store managers review the shopper's report individually with assessed employees. The workers then may receive additional training on skill they were graded poorly on. The company even has designed incentives around the mystery shopper program to recognize stores that are tops in customer service.

Interstate Hotels uses a mystery guest program four times a year at its two Canadian hotels. "It's a fantastic tool," says Diana Oreck, director or quality improvement. During their stay, mystery guests complete a 100-page assessment of the hotel staff and services - reporting on their treatment from the moment they reserve a room to the moment they check out.

Hotel managers then discuss the report results with their hotel staff. The "candid, honest feedback" has proven useful, Oreck says. In the four years since the hotel began using the mystery guests, customer service among the 500-plus employees at the two hotels has improved, Oreck says.

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