A Secret Shopper Shares Customer Service Tips


Michele Trice

As chamber professionals, you are in your member business establishments routinely. But have you ever wondered what impressions those businesses make on their customers when the employees don’t know those customers personally? In retail, customer service is a valuable tool.

Our November ‘TRC Talks’ guest, Alysia A. Cook, PCED, IOM, knows. One of the services she offers through her company, Opportunity Strategies, LLC, is secret shopping. Cook goes into businesses and shops, evaluating and rating business on a variety of things, customer service most of all.

YGM recommends chamber professionals take the information in this blog (and in the TRC Talks video) and create a holiday prep or a secret shopper toolkit (similar to this Temporary Closure Toolkit created by Robins Regional Chamber in Warner Robins, Ga.) and send it to their member businesses ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.

As we approach the vital holiday shopping season, she shares with us some of the key components to quality customer service experiences she shares with her secret shopper clients and her Customer Service Workshop attendees.

Where Should Merchants Start?

“Make sure your hours and days of operation are listed properly,” Cook says. These need to be accurate on your website, Google, and across all of your social media platforms. If a merchant has adjusted hours due to Covid or has special holiday hours, those need to be reflected accurately on all platforms.

“Owners also need to claim their businesses on Google,” Cook says.

If you search ‘coffee shop near me,’ only registered businesses will appear in the search. Registering with Google is an easy process that only takes a few moments for the owner.

“We need to remind businesses that this may be the perfect time to return to basics,” says YGM CEO and Principal Consultant, Jason E. Ebey, IOM.

What Are the Basics?

Cook suggests that even if owners aren’t able to send employees to extensive training sessions, they can do their own customer service training. Employees need training on things such as:

  • How to greet customers
  • Telephone etiquette
  • Active listening
  • How to assist customers
  • How to thank customers
  • How to invite customers back
  • How to make people feel welcome

It is these basics that may seem like common sense but that are often neglected and that often cost merchants customers.

Cook says that first impressions are important. Even if employees are busy with another customer or are on the phone when a customer enters, a quick wave or a smile acknowledges the customer and lets them know the employee will be with them shortly. Cook says customers should be greeted in one way or another within six to 10 seconds of entry within the business.

Who Can Secret Shop?

While professionals like Cook are valuable resources, not all businesses are able to bring someone in to do a professional secret shop. But everyone has the ability to ask a friend or family member (who employees do not know) to be a secret shopper. Give them a list of items to look for and have them serve as your secret shopper. Ask more than one, in fact, in order to evaluate employees at different times of the day and different days of the week.

Also, it is important to have secret shoppers in the business at times when the owner is not. “Business owners are mistaken if they think their customers get the same level of customer service when they are in their shop versus when they are not in the shop,” Cook says.

What Should a Secret Shopper Look For?

Encourage your merchants to consider – and have their secret shoppers look for – things that enliven the shoppers’ senses.

  • What do you see when you walk in the shop? Do you see smiling faces? Are things attractively merchandised? Do you see live plants or dusty fakes?
  • What do you smell? Is your shop warm and inviting?
  • What can you taste? Are you offering samples – especially during the holidays? “There is something psychological about food and drink, about sustenance,” Cook says. “Reciprocity often comes from sustenance.”
  • What do you hear? Is there music playing? Does the music fit the shop’s esthetic?
  • What can you touch? What can you feel? Is there something with a tactile attraction?
  • Is the shop clean, inside and out?

Both Ebey and Cook hail from Louisiana, where the term ‘lagniappe’ means ‘a little something extra,’ and Cook talks of how merchants need to find their own lagniappe. “Every merchant has something they can do or say or provide that makes a difference,” she says.

Find a little something extra that you can provide to your customers that will make them remember you.

If you have questions about her secret shopping or workshops, please email Cook directly.

You may also sign up to receive her newsletter.

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