It’s no secret…TC Secret Shoppers can give you an edge over the competition

TRAVERSE CITY – You know your employees are doing a great job when you’re not there to supervise them.

Or are they?

What does your store or restaurant look like in the eyes of a customer? Is it really clean? Is the atmosphere inviting? And just how easy is it to steal from your business?

If you’ve ever asked yourself one of these questions, you may need a “professional shopper” to point out your strengths, weaknesses, and which employees really shine on the job. TC Secret Shoppers is a new local service that can answer these questions and many others.

Deb Chapman, co-owner and operator, started TC Secret Shoppers about six months ago after seeing a late-night infomercial. Deb wanted to be her own boss, and knew her keen organizational skills and eye for detail matched the requirements to be a “professional shopper.” She sent for the information, laid out a business plan, recruited assistants to help with the work, and is starting to grow a business.

“Competition is at an all-time high,”Chapman noted. “No longer can businesses compete solely on prices. Most businesses are using service as a means of differentiating themselves from the competition, and businesses can’t afford to pay lip service to customer service without backing it up.”

“Secret shopping” has been around for awhile, but has been used primarily for loss prevention and to catch dishonest employees. TC Secret Shoppers are average-looking people of all ages and backgrounds, who work as independent contractors to evaluate everything from customer service and price comparison shopping to loss prevention assistance.

“Some businesses are hostile to competitive shoppers; it takes discretion,” Chapman explained. “We find out what’s on sale or what the regular prices are on items both stores carry, and add that to our report. For loss prevention, we test a store’s security–we literally try to steal from the store. We receive full authorization from the store, as well as provide a letter of intent in the event one of our shoppers are caught ‘stealing.’ Even with scanning bars and video cameras, we’ve gotten items as big as stereos out of stores. We know many tricks to shoplifting, and we want business owners to know them, too.”

Though it has its serious moments, Chapman says being a secret shopper can be fun and rewarding.

“I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person, but I know I can make a difference in my own way,” she said. “I can blend into a crowd, but the whole time I’m observing employees, looking at specific areas of service, and making notes to add to my report. All this, and I get to do something I’ve always loved: shopping!”

The reports are quite detailed and tailored to each business. For a restaurant, the report gives details on wait staff service, interior and exterior cleanliness and timeliness of bill processing. The “patron” even considers if the music was appropriate to the setting.

“Our service isn’t meant to be negative,” Chapman pointed out. “We look for areas of strength, as well as areas that could use improvement. It’s really great to reward excellence, and to give good marks on a report. Employers can use our reports to motivate employees. We know of one restaurant that posted our report for the employees to read because they had received high marks in every area. That made everyone from the owner to the dishwasher feel good.”

Sandy, Deb’s assistant, recalls a lingerie store that earned high marks by distracting her two small children so she could try on clothing.

“We weren’t doing a secret shopper report on them that day, but you can bet I told them how much I appreciated it,” she said. “Customers have more power than they realize, and they can influence the way businesses treat people.”

For now, Deb, Sandy, and the other Secret Shoppers are working part time, but as word spreads and their reports continue to hit the desks of managers in the Grand Traverse region, they’d love to make shopping a full-time job. Plans to offer personal shopping services and more secret shoppers are in the near future, too.

“We have a Secret Shopper motto here: ‘Don’t expect what you don’t inspect,’ and we’d like every business to consider what they’re overlooking without us. We’re really here to help, and any improvement you make gives you an edge over the competition.”

TC Secret Shoppers can be reached at (616) 946-8956. BIZNEWS