No matter your business if any company starts pulling ahead of the competition so dramatically it makes the news, you can’t wait to learn more. How did they do it? Is a new corporate guru working magic? Is there a groundbreaking seminar or book you missed?

Probably not. There’s one reason this maverick is leaving the competition in a cloud of dust and kicking up a storm of cash: customers. Sure, you have customers but not enough, never enough, and you’ve tried everything to boost your numbers.

Well, maybe not everything.

Mystery shopping has helped many of the world’s most successful companies achieve that coveted status. How? By accurately and honestly assessing what customers want and delivering it. Face it: if your customers aren’t loyal, they won’t come back and since repeat customers – not new ones – are key to you reaching the top of your game and staying there, that’s the ultimate goal.

With a mystery shopping program designed specifically for your company, one developed to clearly clarify your strengths and weaknesses, you can spot problem areas and easily develop solutions. No more second-guessing. These programs provide the analyses you need to improve your operations and train your employees to bring in new customers and keep your regulars singing your praises to their friends and families.

Here are seven ways a well-designed mystery shopping program can increase your profits and keep them soaring:

1. Pinpoints training essentials. You can’t watch every employee all the time but a mystery shopping program easily keeps you informed if protocols are being followed for greetings, upselling and cross selling opportunities, and customer engagement. All of these greatly affect customer retention.

2. Employee awareness and education. Even the most well trained employees learn ways to improve through mystery shopping programs. Shopper reports highlight service and product issues many employees never before considered and helps resolve them.

3. Site/operational analysis. Customers enjoy an efficient, welcoming environment almost as much as respectful and warm service. Mystery shopping reports include objective observations of your operations that are often overlooked.

4. Increased customer awareness. A well-constructed mystery shopping report doesn’t ask subjective questions like, “Looking back at your checkout experience, how satisfied are you with the length of time between arriving at the register and completing your purchase?” Instead, they ask “How long was your wait at checkout?” This question is objective and is appropriate for either a written or video mystery shopping survey. Armed with these objective comments you can quickly implement solutions.

5. Builds employee character and knowledge. Receiving feedback from actual customers – which mystery shoppers technically are – hits home for most employees and typically elicits more of an effort to improve than reviews by supervisors they may view as biased. Pride is a strong motivator and knowledge is power.

6. Provides first-hand customer satisfaction feedback.  Online surveys and customer comment cards are mostly ineffectual. Surveys attract people who are generally more interested in receiving a discount coupon for their feedback than giving you helpful commentary. Comment cards are subject to customer moods and attitudes on particular visits. Conversely, mystery shoppers are trained professionals whose sole job is to provide you with objective feedback you can use to improve your company and increase profits.

7. Makes performance and promotional assessment easy. Through questions that identify each employee and target if promotions are being highlighted, you can easily spot who might need coaching and if your promotions are working or just lacking proper presentation.

All these aspects should be part of the mystery shopping program you choose but be sure to research any company before you enlist their assistance. Ask for references, review sample reports that directly relate to your industry, explore mystery shopping options such as phone and video reporting, and make sure the company you choose is in good standing with professional, reputable, independent mystery shopping associations.

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