Reputable Mystery Shopping Providers Protect Consumers

Two people were recently indicted in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh for using the old Nigerian money-order scam to bilk money out of unsuspecting consumers. Reports say these criminals posed as mystery shopping companies in order to perpetrate their fraud.

This scam tricked honest people out of their hard-earned money. It's unfortunate and illegal. And, it’s important to note, it had nothing to do with the mystery shopping industry or the many reputable companies that provide mystery shopping services to clients around the world.

At IntelliShop, we are vigilant in our efforts to protect both consumers and our clients. We adhere to strict standards of ethics and integrity. We’re also active members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), the only worldwide trade association dedicated to the practice of mystery shopping. In fact, IntelliShop’s owner and chief client officer, Ron Welty, served on the board and in various officer positions of the MSPA for more than eight years.

IntelliShop and other reputable mystery shopping companies help uphold ethical business practices and combat attempted crimes in a number of ways, including:

  • Posting educational information for consumers about these issues on our website
  • Fully complying with the by-laws of the MSPA
  • Aggressively working with law enforcement and governmental agencies to catch the people committing these crimes when they are identified
  • Providing guidance to consumers and shoppers on how to combat these when they have fallen victim to them

The MSPA has more than 170 members in North America and more than 300 worldwide.  In addition to ensuring that its members meet the highest standards of ethics and integrity, the MSPA also has a long track record of educating and supporting the mystery shopper community.

Legitimate mystery shopping is estimated to be a $2 billion industry worldwide, with more than 2 million mystery shoppers involved. Mystery shopping programs are utilized by thousands of companies, including nearly all chain brands in consumer-facing industries such as retail, financial services, restaurants, automotive sales and services, and many more, to help clients evaluate and improve the customer experience from both a sales and service perspective. Learn more at

Will Tablets Replace Restaurant Servers?

Restaurant technology has been in the news lately as more chains roll out tablets for diners to order their meals, pay the bill, and even play games while they wait. Is this the death-knell for human waitstaff?

Probably not. A closer look reveals that rather than replacing professional servers with glossy iPads, pioneering chains are having success augmenting traditional service with tabletop devices.

Chili's, partnered with Ziosk, has been getting positive responses in their initial rollout. After seeing increases in per-person check averages during the pilot program, they intend to place tablets in all 823 U.S. company-owned restaurants by the middle of 2014. Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings are getting on board as well, and Pizza Hut recently released a fun video concept of their plan to turn entire tables into tablets.

Speedy service

We already talked about the changing consumer preference for speedy dining. With tabletop tablets, there's no more waiting for the check, or trying to catch the waiter's attention for drink refills. A customer can pay at the table, and their credit card never leaves their sight. Guests are more prone to reorder things like another round, or dessert, without having to wait for the server. Along with upping check averages, the speeded-up service helps turn tables faster.

Increased customer engagement

With tablets already in customer hands, it's easier than ever to connect.  Chili's VP of Marketing, Edithann Ramey, told Nation's Restaurant News that they'd seen an increase in email signups through the tablets. The tablets also allow customers to check in on social media sites like Facebook and Foursquare, helping spur a restaurant's social media engagement.

The impact on labor

Analysts expect tablet technology will become more widespread as a combined result of rising labor costs and increased customer adoption of the technology. Early results seem to show that servers and customers alike feel the tablets give a great experience.

Will tablets be boon for servers? When guests get in and out faster, they tend to be more satisfied with their experience, and even to leave higher tips. It's a plus for both restaurants and good servers – with the extra help, servers can take care of more tables, more effectively. It lowers the number of staff a restaurant needs to have on, while increasing the take-home pay of the servers on shift. 

How brick-and-mortar stores are using pages from online retailers’ playbooks

It can sometimes sound like there's a war going on between online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores. Online retailers can offer convenience, price comparison, and the ease of shopping in your pajamas. Brick-and-mortar can offer a more human, engaging experience, along with the chance to try products out before purchasing. While both have their advantages, the reality is that most consumers are looking for the best of both worlds – and more brick-and-mortar retailers are finding innovative ways to blend the two.

Personalized deals and offers

With the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, mobile technology is acting as a bridge between the online world and real life shopping. Apps like Shopkick and Swirl are using Apple's iBeacon technology to send push notifications to nearby nearby users. The beacons can be placed in stores and programmed to alert shoppers to specials and new products – all based on the user's shopping and browsing history.

Macy's was one of the first retailers to adopt the platform, and is using the technology to offer customers location-specific deals and suggest products. Small jewelry and gift retailer Alex & Ani is using the technology to attract passing shoppers into its stores.

Shop online, but try before you buy

Although browsing for engagement ring styles online is commonplace, few shoppers are willing to pull out their wallets for a sight-unseen diamond ring. High-end jewelry brand Ritani saw this trend, and formed "clicks-to-bricks" partnerships with local jewelers so customers can shop for rings online, then see them in person before they buy. Rather than opening their own retail locations, Ritani enlists local brick-and-mortar shops as affiliates who get a percentage of each sale.

Social proof and reviews

Comparison shopping and showrooming – where customers look at items in the store and then buy them cheaper online – are two of the biggest worries of brick-and-mortar shops. Beauty retailer Sephora is combatting those habits by putting iPads throughout their stores and encouraging customers to browse. Customers can scan a barcode to read product reviews, get suggestions and check prices. If they're enrolled in Sephora's Beauty Insider program, their information is stored to help them remember the shade of foundation they bought last time, or which face lotion they tried.

Do it better

The trick to blending technology with in-person shopping is to offer an experience that makes the trip worth it. Services like online ordering with in-store pickup will backfire if the onsite customer service isn't up to snuff. After all, if a customer isn't getting an additional benefit by picking up at the store (like help with assembly or detailed knowledge) why shouldn't they just purchase it through a competitor and have it shipped to their front door? 

According to a recent article in Forbes, the future of retail will be "a more satisfying social and emotional experience inside stores," with friendly, well-trained sales associates who offer a personalized service. Make sure your store offers the best experience it can.

Consumer dining trends are changing. Are you staying relevant?

According to the latest NRN-MillerPulse survey, quick-service restaurants have outperformed full-service dining in at least 29 of the last 30 months. The takeaway? Today's consumer sees sit-down dinners as a splurge – not just of money, but of time. Speedier fast-casual chains like Qdoba and Panera appeal to time-strapped consumers, but it's about more than just counting seconds. Increasingly health-conscious, the American diner wants their food not only to be fast, but to be healthier and taste better, too. Trends are changing, and established brands that aren't changing with them are going down. Is your restaurant poised to remain relevant?

Value doesn't just mean price

In the past, most chains' response to an increasingly crowded market was to discount away in a race to the bottom. A focus on price over quality have left many bargain-centric restaurants squeezing every last cent out of their own shrinking profit margins. These days, fast food chains like McDonald's and Wendy's are struggling to reverse the damage done by dollar menu mania. Much of their strategy seems to be in adding healthier, fresher-looking items in order to attract health-conscious diners. Instead of engaging in price wars, chains should have been paying more attention to what consumers were actually wanting.

If convenience is king, quality is queen

Quick-service concepts have an obvious advantage over their full-service brethren when it comes to speed and price, but a third factor – quality – is becoming ever more important. According to a recent report from Mintel, more than one third of Americans are cutting back on red meat for health reasons, while the NPD Group reports that the same percentage of Americans are avoiding gluten in their diets. Fresher, healthier flavors are in demand, and restaurants everywhere are revamping their menus to accommodate. KFC is taking things one step further, retraining consumers to see the brand as a healthy choice by launching a new fast-casual concept. "KFC eleven" will be chock full of healthier flatbreads and rice bowls.

Technology to the rescue?

In the quest to stay ahead of these trends, more companies are turning to high-tech solutions. As Panera's popularity has skyrocketed, customers have been walking away from long lines caused by overwhelmed employees. The company is combatting this by shifting phone orders to an automated web system, freeing up employees to deal with in-house customers. Some casual dining chains, most notably Chili's and Applebees, are embracing a new wave: tabletop devices designed to allow guests to order and pay at the table. They're hoping the increased efficiency will help them reclaim a segment of the lunch crowd lost to fast-casual concepts. Whatever your solution, capturing that perfect trinity of value pricing, fast service, and healthy menu options is critical to a restaurant's survival.

Milwaukee Bucks Lead IntelliShop NBA Season Ticket Study

IntelliShop recently published a syndicated tele-sales study in the January 6th issue SportsBusiness Journal. Our 2013 NBA Season Ticket Agent Study has produced a number of interesting (and often surprising) results.  Taken at the highest level, there are three key takeaways; two being quite positive, the third being somewhat concerning:

1. NBA agents are performing better than most call center sales operations, including those of other major sports leagues.

2. NBA agents improved their sales processes and customer handling skills, since the last study (2011).

3. Although the overall picture is positive, there is an alarming gap between the performances of individual teams in how they handle customers.

The primary focus of the mystery callers is to determine whether agents performed key specific processes during the call (ask for the sale, collect contact information, etc.).  At the end of the call, however, mystery callers were also asked to shed their evaluator hats and simply compare the overall call-in experience to other telephone sales experiences.  The chart below shows that for this overall question, the agents not only scored exceptionally well, but also improved upon what was already an impressive performance in 2011.

Despite that fact that each NBA team is selling essentially the same product (a pair of season tickets), there is an almost alarming gap between the performances of each team.  Simply stated, some teams employed telephone agents with absolute best in class sales skills, while others connected prospects to what would more accurately be described as “order takers.”

So what did the Milwaukee Bucks (who blew past their competition) specifically do to generate this type of caller delight?  The answer is simple: their ticket agents not only did the right things (processes), they did so in an extremely friendly and engaging way.  In terms of processes, the Bucks almost always invited the caller to log onto the website as a reference during the call. They were twice as likely as other NBA teams to invite the caller to come to the arena to look at seat options in person and more likely to ask who the caller will be going to the games with in order to tailor the “pitch” to those needs.

But, as noted above, the Bucks also excelled in “soft side” personal skills.  For example, the agent’s “personality” was judged to be “truly exceptional” 90% of the time (more than double the already high NBA average).  These high personality ratings for the Bucks were undoubtedly aided by things such as their consistently taking the time to personalize the conversation by talking about things other than the sale at hand.

One of the processes that propelled the Bucks to the top was a consistent effort to stress the benefits of season ticket ownership.  This is important given that our callers were “on the fence” about whether to buy season tickets or just to continue on as frequent individual game day purchasers.  In particular, the Bucks agents consistently made a significant effort to stress benefits, such as exclusive events for season ticket holders, access to amenities not available to non-season ticket holders, payment plans, and ticket exchange programs.

To get the full-detailed study, which includes summary performace on Reaching an Agent, Needs Assessment, Selling the Benefits of Season Ticket Ownership, and Closing the Sale – please contact

IntelliShop helps companies improve inside tele-sales from many different industries.  Give us a call and find out how we can help your company win more sales! – (419) 872-5103