QSR | Quality and Speed for Restaurant Success Sep 6, 2006
By Quinn Bowman
Using technology to improve mystery shopping.
When a restaurant operator wants to evaluate their operation, it
would be nice to be able to read customers’ minds. Secret shoppers,
who are clandestine agents sent to evaluate your business, can
provide that insight.
One leading secret shopper organization has combined that service
with a technological component. Seventeen-year-old Satisfaction
Services, Inc., uses customized internet reporting and e-mail alerts
in order to keep its clients updated on their performance
evaluations at all hours of the day. A competitor, Tell Us About Us,
also offers customized solutions.
"We distribute and track all reporting for our Mystery Shop Program
via the web," says Brent Stevenson, vice pesident of client services
for Tell Us About Us Inc. "It is managed through our custom made
system, the Online Knowledge Management Console (KMC). Within the
Online KMC, clients can manage their mystery shop reporting as well
as any other feedback/operational program they might have."
Satisfaction Services’s founder, president and CEO Mike Albert
oversees a company with tens of thousands of shoppers worldwide and
a vast array of industries to cover. Or as Albert puts it, "any
industry you can imagine." His shoppers and reporting system provide
detailed evaluations to retail stores, various service-industry
companies, full-service restaurants, and quick-service restaurants.
Albert says one of the toughest parts of making his business work
was developing an effective IT system. Although Satisfaction
Services has a full-time IT staff, redundant servers, and a regular
maintenance routine, Albert says the biggest concern is in
developing and enhancing reporting for clients.
Albert’s system allows his clients to peruse detailed evaluations of
their operations within 24 hours of the secret shopper visit via a
secure web site. Company managers receive an e-mail that alerts them
about the completed evaluation as well.
The entire Satisfaction Services secret shopper process is also
multi-faceted and more complex than a simple five-question survey of
a single restaurant. "This is not your father’s mystery shopper
anymore; there’s a lot of formality and focus in it. We want details
from the shopper. Clients are demanding, and they very well should
be. The managers, if not staff, have bonus money riding on the
evaluation, so we had better give them an accurate one," Albert
Satisfaction Services shoppers, who are all part-time, are scattered
across the United States and in Guam, Canada, Puerto Rico, and
Europe. Shoppers are assigned to match the client. "We understand
how the client operates and select shoppers that align with the
client’s customer profile," Albert says. "The company works with
each client to create a custom shopping evaluation."
After the shopper is chosen, trained, and briefed on the client,
he/she visits the restaurant for a meal. Most of Satisfaction
Services’s quick-service clients want to know the same things: Are
the bathrooms clean? Are the doors clean? Is the hot food hot and
the cold food cold? Shoppers also look at customer service and wait
Because the employees delivering the service think about their work
in terms of weeks, weekly evaluations tend to produce higher weekly
After going through the checklist, a shopper puts together a brief
report on the experience. Satisfaction Services reviews each
evaluation to make sure the reviewer’s answers and summary jive
before being sent to the client.
Once the report is uploaded to the Satisfaction Services web site,
clients use a password to access the material. Clients can access
segmented shopper reports that show ratings for individual stores or
for an entire region. Store managers can see their scores, regional
managers can see regional scores, and corporate bosses can see the
The process is repeated on a monthly basis. The more an organization
is evaluated, the easier it is for clients to figure what they are
doing right and what they are doing wrong, Albert says. Combine a
large data set with the online tools Albert’s company provides and
it is clear how the evaluations can provide crucial information to
quick-service restaurant managers.
One of the more useful online features Satisfaction Services offers
clients is a tool that allows them to look at a particular question
and, with a mouse click, find out which specific restaurants are
failing in that area.
The data can also be broken down on a year-to-date basis so
long-term trends can be seen. Most of his clients, Albert says, use
weekly evaluations. This makes for a large amount of evaluations
that can be used for trend analysis. "If you have 100 evaluations
that you’ve conducted, then the results are pretty accurate," he
Furthermore, the weekly setup fits well with the way restaurant
employees think about their jobs, Albert says. Because the employees
delivering the service think about their work in terms of weeks,
weekly evaluations tend to produce higher weekly scores, he says.
Each secret shopper visit costs between $35 and $40. Quick-service
or full-service restaurant evaluators are reimbursed for their food
purchase and have a spending limit.
But is the money well spent? Albert claims that some past clients,
with whom he had a personal relationship, shared sales data with him
that indicated a strong correlation between good evaluation scores
and high sales. "I can say with confidence that 100 percent of time
locations that consistently scored high had sales increases year
after year," he says.
One of Albert’s clients agrees. Samir Abou-Diwan, who owns a
Wingstop franchise, directly attributes his increased sales and
improved customer service to Satisfaction Services evaluations. His
buffalo-chicken wing eatery boasts a 20 percent increase in sales in
2006 and nine consecutive perfect Satisfaction Services evaluations.
When Albert first started his company in 1989 it was out of
frustration. As a longtime restaurant owner, he had a hard time
finding a satisfactory customer-service evaluation service. "I spent
most of my life in the restaurant business and used companies that
did what we do [now]. I never found a product I could depend on. I
told my wife one day that if you did this and did it very well you
could be really successful. We took our time and studied the
process. We spent the time and money and tools to do it well," he
The online operation for Satisfaction Services went into effect in
2000. The process is constantly being retooled, Albert says. "We
used to do it all on paper, and I don’t know how we did it."
His professional restaurant management background gave Albert the
tools he needed to evaluate what customer services worked and what
didn’t, especially where food was being served.
Albert likes to think of the state of customer service in the
restaurant industry as a great opportunity, not a shameful black
eye. "In all industries, even the high-end ones, the expectation of
service at the consumer level is very low. Most people feel that if
they can go out and go buy something or eat dinner somewhere and not
get abused badly they had a good day. This also presents an
opportunity to provide better service,” he says. "A little bit is
all it takes to really knock it out of the park."
One of the biggest customer-service problems Albert sees in the
quick-service industry is the tendency to sacrifice friendly service
for speed, and accuracy at the drive-thru.
"Friendliness of staff is big. A lot of times quick doesn’t equate
with friendly. A lot of times quick is overemphasized as opposed to
friendly," he says. Part of the problem with quick-service customer
service is that the younger generation that typically provides the
service needs to be educated about common courtesy, he says.
Albert noticed a big change in the way McDonald’s has changed this
dynamic in its workforce. "What I’ve noticed is that their service
is still quick but there’s a balance there of courtesy and
friendliness in the process. It is dramatic to me because I am a
student of it," he says.
The drive-thru issue, on the other hand, is simply a matter of
giving customers what they ordered. If that accuracy could be
improved, quick-service restaurant efficiency could go up 40
percent, Albert says.
The bottom line, however, is that Satisfaction Services’s clients
really want a way to distinguish themselves from the competition, he
says. Albert’s company even offers a comparative analysis service
that will show a client how the competition is scoring, which can
help to motivate staff and management. Albert’s service simply
allows clients to evaluate their performance from within and to get
a perspective on their progress.
Even though Albert started out evaluating the restaurant industry,
he says judging customer service in a Best Buy is not much different
from evaluating the Taco Bell drive-thru. "In concept it doesn’t
matter what industry it is. The key is to understand the experience
that the customer is having using a program to monitor that
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2005 October 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 June 2005 May
2005 April 2005 March 2005 February 2005 January 2005
This column originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of QSR.
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