Focus on: Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopper reports served as a wake-up call to Kroger’s 131-store Fred Meyer division.

In 2009, Fred Meyer stores scored a meager 68.3% in overall customer impression in the reports. But over the past three years, the number has jumped to 83.8%, according to data provided by Reality Check of Seattle, the retailer’s secret shopper service provider.

A key reason for the increase has been a renewed focus on customer service, which makes greeting and acknowledging shoppers a top priority ahead of stocking and non-interactive tasks. The training and operations areas put more energy behind getting information directly to stores. The improvement has been so great that in one of the most important measurements — ‘Would you recommend this store to a friend?’ — Fred Meyer currently earns an 86% ‘definitely’ compared with a 47% ‘definitely’ in 2009.

Connecting with the consumer has become more important as shopping options have grown, according to Ross Thomas, president of Reality Check. And for Portland, Ore.-based Fred Meyer, whose stores feature grocery along with multiple other departments such as home improvement, jewelry and apparel, a good rapport is necessary. This retailer, Thomas said, “is tied to the community and seen as its local store.”

In data collected from 17,129 shoppers across its multiple grocery retail clients, Reality Check found that good customer service is crucial if you don’t want negative word of mouth. Even though when recommending a store the survey found the most important reason is price at 32.28% followed closely by service at 31.43%, the top reason for NOT recommending a store far and away is service at 73% with price only 9.78%.

ROCHE: At Roche Bros., an 18-store upscale supermarket chain in Wellesley Hills, Mass., mystery shopping is a way to monitor and ensure the effectiveness of its long-standing programs. According to Maribeth Grant, customer service merchandiser, the company takes a “Golden Rule” approach to shoppers.

“We use [mystery shopping] as a tool to help us maintain the leadership [in good customer service]. The principles of treating others the way you want to be treated is so fundamental to who we are,” she said. Grant added that Roche holds training classes, offers department mentorship programs and also sends employees to Dale Carnegie courses.

“We consistently give associates feedback, and they are definitely aware that the stores are shopped. It helps associates know they have to be on the game all the time,” said Grant, who noted when the results arrive they are immediately emailed to the store manager. “They are published in the store, and people are recognized for the services they are doing, such as a $5 reward or letter from the president.”

Judi Hess, president of Customer Perspectives, of Hooksett, N.H., which provides the service to Roche, said that Roche has mystery shopper visits once per month, per store, with the reviewer required to visit at least four of its departments and “sometimes as many as eight” per trip.

“What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done,” Hess said. “Retailers are much more aware now of how customer service drives consumer loyalty and the ROI on it.”