Mystery Shopper – Circuit Q&A
Nick McCarthy interviews Linda Eastwood.
Linda, we became ‘friends’ recently via an online networking portal, exchanged a few messages and then met up at a networking meeting. I was very impressed by your story and your success and thought that Circuit Magazine readers would enjoy your story and the somewhat unusual business that you have.
Thinking of a business start up? Listen in. Interested in a business that could thrive in the new world economy? Want to utilize some of the skills that you already posses and equipment that you own….then this story is for you. This story also demonstrates the power of effective networking!
NM: Linda, can you give us some background about yourself and how you got into Mystery Shopping?
LE: Once my children had started school, I got myself a part time job working for a local department store, which used mystery shoppers. I had never heard of mystery shoppers and wrongly thought what a wonderful job it would be – to get paid to go shopping! I researched mystery shopping and found a few agencies on the web and registered, and soon jobs began to trickle in. I then began carrying out assignments in various locations, mainly for High Street chains. I could see the benefit organisations got from seeing their business through the eyes of the customer, although I became increasingly frustrated at the ‘ticky box’ questionnaires I had to complete, as I wanted to give a real in-depth, fully detailed report on the customers’ buying experience. I was also aware that an awful lot of the Mystery Shopping agencies focused mainly on larger retailers and I felt that surely all organisations no matter how big or small needed to know what their customer service was like. I discovered there were very few Mystery shopping companies in the North of England, and even less who provided fully detailed reports, so …… The Secret Service was born.
NM: Many of our readers aspire to be business owners themselves, how did you find starting off and what advice could you offer them?
LE: It was quite scary and very daunting to be honest. I spoke with a friend who had their own business and they invited me along to a local Networking group, where I met other local business people who all met on a regular basis offering each other advice and support. Talking and listening to those people gave me the confidence to go with my idea of starting my own ‘Mystery Shopping Company’ which would concentrate on North East businesses – not just retail. As I strongly felt that all businesses that have customers should focus on their own customer service, giving them the edge over their competitors. So basically my advice would be go and chat with people who have been there, go to a Networking event, there are lots to chose from, so find one that will suit you.
NM: Overall, how pleased are you with what you have done and where do you see The Secret Service going over the next 5 – 10 years?
LE: The Secret Service started off small – me! I began with a small restaurant who wanted to use my services, but I couldn’t complete all the visits myself (as the staff would soon start to recognise me) so would ask friends to go instead of me. After a while I managed to secure a contact with a property developer who focused on the student market, so I eventually began to take on ‘contractors’ who could carry out assignments for me, while I went to networking events and basically door knocked. I then quickly discovered I needed someone in the office to look after the admin the contractors created as well as look after the enquiries I got from prospective clients, so Michelle became part of the team, followed soon after by Christine who now looks after all the accounts. So the answer to the question is – I’m very pleased how things have developed. As for the next 5 to 10 years ….. who knows? Hopefully we will be in a bigger office with one or two more office staff with a few more long term contracts!
NM: Can you describe to us what services you offer and how you go about it?
LE: Our clients want to find out more about how their own staff represent their company, and we help them accurately measure, learn, and get feedback insight from real customers, empowering organisations to make a real and positive difference to the person who matters most … the customer.
All our reports are bespoke and fully detailed, we don’t believe in just ticking boxes. We have recently invested in new technology, which has enabled our clients to log in to our system and read results of a mystery shopping exercise that happened that day. Our compact size and friendly approach has always enabled us to be more responsive to client needs and perhaps more than most people, we realise how important it is to not only satisfy expectations, but to try to exceed them where possible.
We also provide customer service training. Our customer service/mystery shopping training can be adapted to suit your needs. No two organisations are alike. Even though they may be engaged in similar tasks, the personalities and challenges vary.
If several people or a team train at the same time, they can exchange notes, and a common body of knowledge is formed.
Our training days combine presentations, practical exercises and discussion. Delegates leave with clear guidance on how to implement what they have learnt.
We also offer an Ad Hoc Sales Prospecting/telemarketing service to Companies that cannot justify a full time sales person. We will do your prospecting and canvassing on an ‘as and when needed’ basis; we don’t bind clients to long-term agreements. A lot of people’s perception of telemarketing is call centres in far off lands with lots of people bothering you at the wrong moment – that is not us. Based in the North East of England, The Secret Service provides a professional resource to develop new channels of communication with your customers. If you have never had a tele-sales function in your business before, outsourcing allows you to experiment and find out whether this is an effective means of promoting your company and will also support your other marketing strategies.
We specialise in:
• Appointment and Lead Generation
• List Building, Cleansing and Database Development
• Bookings and Event-Building
• Follow-up Calls
• Mystery Shopping
Relationship building is fundamental to the success of any telemarketing campaign. Only by gaining feedback from your prospective customers can you make the strategic decisions needed to develop your business. The Secret Service will work in partnership with clients, passing on any feedback and developing the relationship between prospective customers and client. We will provide your business with a direct channel of communication with prospective clients. The telemarketer will focus on driving new opportunities, developing cold canvass leads and new contacts, building and increasing your contact database and gaining appointments with new prospects
NM: Some people may say “what a cow, she is trying to get people into trouble by doing this!” What would you say to that?
LE: Ha, Ha, Ha, No, we do not only identify where training is needed but we also highlight on what is done well. What better way to improve staff morale than to get a fully detailed report from your supervisor to tell you that you have delivered exceptional customer service?
NM: In terms of a client base, would you say that you work for small business owners or large businesses’ with 100’s/1000’s of staff? Is there a ‘type’ of business that you target?
LE: We work with a diverse range of clients from solicitors, engineering, hospitality to retail, some of our clients include – Nexus, Sainsbury, The Black Door Group, Fenwicks, Sinton Solicitors, Soil Machine Dynamics, DM London, Krimo, Bang & Olufsen, Movecorp, to name but a few. We work with sole business owners who want us to find out about their competitors to much larger organisations. There isn’t a specific type of business we target, as long as they value and want to improve their customer service, The Secret Service will help.
NM: Many of us in the industry love our technical kit, what sort of equipment do you use in order to record evidence to present to clients?
LE: I personally strongly recommend the PV-500EVO with the BU18 button camera. If you’re looking to make high quality covert recordings in just about any lighting condition, the BU18 camera coupled with the PV500 eco will give the best quality video without stepping up to high definition levels. You get the BU18 button camera with all the outer lens cover accessories for disguising the camera as a button or a screw head. This equipment can also be hidden in a handbag or small holdall, although I would probably recommend a pinhole camera for that. PV900 HD Spy Phone, is also ideal, and can be used in most situations where you can have the camera on a table e.g. a restaurant.
NM: What attributes do you think you need to be successful in your particular business and do you think it is more suited to women than men?
LE: You need to have an eye for detail. You need to value customer service and need to know what to look for; however we will provide you with all the information you need before you carry out your first assignment. Both men and women are needed as we are all ‘customers’. Anyone can be a mystery shopper – It could be the little old lady with a blue rinse, the mother with three children or the man in jeans and T-shirt. You just never know when you’ll be visited and who it will be, and that is why it’s so effective!
NM: Do you get direct feedback from your clients about the impact your visits have had on their business? Have you helped increase people’s bottom line?
LE: Oh yes, our testimonials speak for themselves! We worked with national jeweler DM London and we managed to help raise their weekly turnover in one store from £800 to £10,000 purely by pointing out weaknesses in customer service. When I visited, all the time I was in there was one of the shop assistants talking to the rest of the colleagues sitting in the back of the office, not paying any attention to me and letting customers come in and leave without offering any help at all. The area manager later told me he had an idea this was happening but couldn’t prove it as all the staff behaved impeccably when he visited. There were a series of changes I recommended which obviously really went on to make a difference. When people want to buy a watch why didn’t the staff ask if they wanted a matching bracelet? Or if someone comes in for a refund why don’t they see if the customers would like something similar rather than just returning their money. All quite obvious recommendations to make, but when your working within a routine in a business it is not quite as obvious to see where you’re going wrong.
NM: I presume that once you present your evidence you get some pretty shocked clients! What is the general reaction and do you try and present it in such a way as they can see the positives that can emerge from your visits?
LE: Our clients are aware customers can switch suppliers and take their business elsewhere with very little effort. It is less expensive and more profitable to sell to existing customers than it is to go and find new ones. Our clients know that if they can keep their customers happy their business will thrive. Some of our clients do get shocked when they see the reports, but by highlighting their mistakes they are able to do something about it and they are aware of this or they wouldn’t have hired The Secret Service.
For more information go to www.thesecretservice.co.uk or contact one of THE SECRET SERVICE team on 0844 414 0904 or firstname.lastname@example.org