In the retail industry, customer service is considered the most important differentiator. You may be selling a quality product, but if you provide poor service, this may make customers hesitant to do business with you in the future.
This customer-business relationship is even more important in the restaurant and foodservice industry.
More than the food and the location, people place importance on the customer experience. It is the secret sauce to achieving longevity and a high rate of return customers in the industry.
How can you improve your customer service and make sure the experience you provide remains consistent in the future? One way to assess this is by getting involved in a mystery shopping program created specifically for restaurants.
Here are some of the benefits you’ll get by evaluating your restaurant through a mystery shopping service.
Unlike online reviews where you’ll mostly see uninformative details regarding limited areas of your business, reports written by mystery shoppers are replete with information you can actually use in making management decisions.
Comments on customer service, staff behavior, food presentation, hygiene and ambiance are some of the areas mystery shoppers include in their reports. Photos of the food, bathroom and dining room may also be provided with the written report. Some clients may even ask for video clips in certain situations. Your requirements can be customized for your business needs.
The behavior of employees is also taken into account. Noteworthy individuals who made the dining experience much better may also be forwarded to the client. The same goes for staff who are showing unprofessional work ethics.
Reports are usually required to be submitted within 24 hours after their site visit. This ensures all their observations and experiences remain fresh on their minds while they’re writing it down. This quick response time will allow you to immediately fix minor problems before real customer reviews show up online.
You can control what to assess
Waiting for an online review to tell you the areas you need to improve in your business is like hoping to win the lottery. You don’t know what customers will write about and you might miss some points that they haven’t taken into consideration.
Does your bartender check IDs to make sure your establishment doesn’t serve alcoholic drinks to minors? Is the restroom large enough to make it comfortable to use for those who are in a wheelchair? Is the lighting good enough for taking quality pictures of the place and the food? These are some questions typical customers may miss in when completing online reviews.
Survey respondents and online reviewers will post or respond only to what they remember the most about eating in your restaurant. They may not notice the design of your tablecloth, the ID pin employees wear, or the choice of decorations surrounding the interior. On the other hand, mystery shoppers know what to look for since you’ll specify the things they should look into during their visit.
Having your restaurant assessed by a mystery shopper is more manageable and reliable. You can establish the points you want to be evaluated to make sure they’re aligned with your needs and objectives. Even the smallest details are welcomed by market research agencies. In fact, they love it if you can pinpoint the exact items you want to be evaluated.
Usually, as a restaurateur, you want to know how your business is doing in relation to the following factors:
- Interior and exterior appearance of the establishment
- Appearance of employees
- Attentiveness in welcoming new guests
- Cleanliness including the smell wafting inside and outside the restaurant
- The time it takes for food to arrive
- Food temperature, appearance and portion size
- Knowledge and helpfulness of staff regarding menu options
- Restroom hygiene
Assessments are not limited to physical store visits alone. Secret shoppers can also do mystery calls to assess the response time of staff in receiving calls. The way employees handle phone reservations and process deliveries may also be taken into account. The time it takes for the order to be delivered can also be measured and compared with competing businesses to know the efficiency of your restaurant in this area.
You’ll get objective measurements
Having your friends, families or employees evaluate your business creates highly subjective and biased results. They may hold back on giving negative comments because they think these may hurt your feelings. Besides, they’re not skilled professionals who objectively assess things, unlike mystery shoppers who receive training from their respective agencies.
Mystery shopping companies use a professionally developed report, complete with a formal rating system. This makes their assessments more objective and scientific, especially if done a number of times by different shoppers.
Mystery shopping can also help you determine if your restaurant remains consistent in serving customers. By doing a monthly or quarterly assessment, you can spot check if something has declined in the quality of your service.
You’ll see your restaurant from a customer’s perspective
Some business owners use their own staff and have them play the part of the customer. However, this method has proven to be ineffective, unnatural and biased in many ways. For one, your ‘customers’ already know the protocol as an employee and they won’t be able to get it out of their system in a snap. They know the right buttons to press to receive the positive response you’re hoping to get.
Customer experience is important across all retail businesses but it’s a vital component for those who are in the restaurant industry. Restaurant customers spend a lot more time in the venue, giving them a more direct and intimate interaction with the staff. You can’t expect to receive real reactions if you fake the process by role-playing.
Hiring the service of secret shoppers will give you unfiltered access to information because they’re actual customers. They’re not affiliated with your company and they don’t know your protocols, giving them the neutral perspective of a real customer. Their sole concern is to simply assess the points you’ve raised and nothing else.
You can act on feedback before they get online
You don’t have to wait for customer feedback on review sites to identify the weak points of your restaurant. By the time you read it online, it may already be too late. You won’t know how many potential customers changed their minds after reading a negative review of your establishment.
With the help of market research agencies like SeeLevel HX, you’ll be able to immediately determine the areas you need to improve, whether it’s the customer service, the food, the venue or the overall experience of dining in your restaurant.
Newly opened restaurants can take advantage of this service to spot areas they can improve early in their operation. Those who have changed their menus, altered their delivery methods, or updated their overall service may also benefit from mystery shopping programs.
You can evaluate different scenarios
People respond differently when placed under varying situations, especially those that are unexpected and add pressure or stress.
How does your staff respond to customers who have dietary or allergic restrictions? How do they deal with irate customers? How do they manage late deliveries?
With the help of mystery shoppers, you can simulate these kinds of situations in order to know how they will react. With this, you can formulate training strategies that will teach them the proper way to respond to difficult circumstances.
You’ll know more about your employees’ performance
Anonymous and surprise visits work best in gauging employee performance. You’ll get natural responses and behavior that they exhibit on the day-to-day operation of the restaurant.
Having your employees know that you’re regularly running a mystery shopping program encourages them to always work on their peak performance. This sends a clear statement that you’re fully committed to being the best in the industry.
However, there’s a downside to this path of evaluating employee performance. They will act and do things they don’t normally do by placing their best foot forward, which, in turn, may give you a misguided decision on who should be rewarded and who needs to be reminded to exert more effort.
As a business owner, it would be best to align your assessment objectives with your decision to tell them whether you’re regularly doing a mystery shopping program or not.
Know how your competitors are doing
Did you know you can mystery shop competing businesses? Companies in the retail industry often do this as a way to gauge their competition and give them a general idea of how their business ranks among their peers.
You can commission market research experts like SeeLevel HX to identify the strengths and weaknesses of other restaurants. Maybe you can adopt some of their best practices to further enhance the level of service you provide to your patrons.
Gaining loyal returning customers is considered cheaper and oftentimes more valuable than getting new ones. Getting customers to recommend your business to their families and friends is a great step towards successful branding in the food industry. You can only achieve this by providing good food and an excellent customer experience that will encourage people to keep coming back for more.
At SeeLevel HX, we provide assessments that give actionable insights about your business operations. We can help you take your restaurant experience to the next level with our proven market research techniques. Just leave us your contact information and let’s discuss how we can help you.
By Lisa van Kesteren
Lisa van Kesteren is the CEO and Founder of SeeLevel HX, the mystery shopping agency for Retail, QSR and Financial Service brands. Utilizing over 650,000 professional mystery shoppers in every nook and cranny of the United States, she is on a mission to help brands improve the human experience of each and every customer interaction.
Lisa started her career as a Private Investigator and is considered one of the pioneers in mystery shopping. After building 2 different global divisions for large corporations, she launched her own company. Lisa is a widely coveted panelist and speaker on customer experience, best in class data collection practices and the evolution of the On Demand economy.