Why Canadian Retailers Shouldn’t Use Secret Shoppers to Solve Problems

  Photo: Wikipedia.

Photo: Wikipedia.

The secret shopper is a charismatic creature. Slinky and crafty, it presents a pair of faulty socks like a gauntlet, just willing your employees to mess up.

OK, secret shoppers are people, too. But there are some big downsides to outsourcing your quality care that shouldn’t be ignored. For a start, secret shoppers can hurt your employees’ morale, undermining the trust they have in you and in themselves.

  Photo:   twicsy.com

Photo: twicsy.com

What’s more, they offer short-term, inconsistent solutions, and they can only report on a random business day that may not represent your company’s true problem area. Finally, secret shoppers have limited scopes. So while they can pick out mistakes, they’re not positioned to actually fix the problems, which is the real goal.

There is a better way to diagnose and fix issues in your company before they become long-term problem areas. The answer is simple: Mobilize your existing workforce. These are the people who work with your brand every day. They know each other, they know your product, and they can catch problems quicker than any secret shopper could. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Make your employees ambassadors. Empower your team members to take the company’s success into their own hands. By eliminating the need for secret shoppers and trusting your employees to take control of their own progress, you make them ambassadors for your brand. Let’s face it — nobody knows your brand better than your employees, so treat them like the experts they are.

  2. Support peer-to-peer reflection. Send your employees to work with other teams at scheduled times, then ask them to reflect on what they’ve found. Feedback from peer-to-peer reflections will be much more effective because it’s immediate and relevant. Have a set process for how the scheduled visit will happen, provide an outline of what’s expected of each visit, and offer guidelines that everybody can follow for giving and receiving feedback.

  3. Reflect little and often. One of the downsides of employing secret shoppers is that they’re usually a once-a-year tactic or a short-term solution for ongoing needs. To get a real sense of your business’s pain points, reflect on issues and achievements little and often within your team. This will create a company culture of honesty and self-improvement, which will solve problems better than an annual check-up.

  4. Use feedback tools. You don’t have to rely on anecdotes and gossip from your team to solve problems. Instead, set up a network of tools to automate and regulate how you collect feedback. For example, use remote monitoring tools to help you record activities in other locations, and use a survey schedule to make your employees feel comfortable about reporting problems, suggesting improvements, and receiving feedback.

  5. Utilize the daily huddle. You don’t actually have to huddle, but setting aside time every day to get together as a team and briefly discuss problem areas, as well as recent achievements, will empower your employees. And make sure you end with a motivating statement that will give everybody energy.

Quality control isn’t something that should be championed externally. When you mobilize your workforce to manage its own performance, you’ll boost morale, increase unity and loyalty among your team, and create a pattern for catching and resolving issues before they grow. It’s a win-win for you and your employees.

Sam Bahreini, a seasoned operations officer and agile entrepreneur, is co-founder and COO of VoloForce, a company that helps enterprise retail brands understand organization implementation through automation and simplification.

Today's Retail News From Around The Web: December 2, 2014