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Business Operations

Mystery solved

October 11, 2010
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You leave the carwash on a busy Saturday. Your staff is neatly dressed, polite with customers, happy and waving to the kiddies. You smile as you leave the parking lot. Everything is right in the world and your carwash is a customer-pleasing machine.

Until you pull out and your manager starts to scowl, your cashiers begin to ignore clients, and your preppers start goofing off with the hoses. An irate customer makes a scene in front of a long line of customers and your employees could care less.

Short of being at your wash 24/7, how can you avoid this scenario? How can you guarantee your customers are treated well during each and every visit?

The answer
Tiffany Gleason is the co-owner of Knoxville, TN-based Mystery Shoppers, Inc. Her business is to make sure your business is operating smoothly and appropriately. She hires a group of people to randomly and discreetly visit your carwash and report on their experiences. Your employees don’t know who is grading them or when they are being monitored, but you have the proof positive to show they’re doing their job correctly.

“The purpose of mystery shoppers is to help businesses increase sales by assisting in improving customer service awareness,” Gleason explained. “Business owners who use our services get a more realistic picture of how customers view their establishment.”

Evan Porges, co-owner of Prime Shine Car Wash chain with 10 locations in and around Modesto, California, is one of those business owners. Porges said each of his locations is visited twice a month.

“Because our employees know that at any time they could be shopped and graded on how well they perform, it has had the effect of making the customer service standards much more consistent,” Porges said.

The staff members of Prime Shine know they are being mystery shopped, but no one — including management — known when the sites will be shopped or who will be shopping the store.

Rewards play a big part in the program’s success. The manager and assistant manager of the site with the highest percentage for the month are each awarded a $100 cash bonus. In addition, Porges said the yearly percentage is used as a part of the manager’s overall yearly review process.

The before and after
The real question, of course, is if the mystery shoppers make a difference or if they’re just reporting back a grade. According to Porges, it’s a necessary part of his operations today.

“The consistency of the wash experience has vastly improved with the introduction of the mystery shop program,” he explained. “I would be hesitant to stop doing the shops with as many locations as we operate and being about an hour away from some of the locations. It is a great way to ensure that the systems and procedures that you have established at your washes are actually being done when the manager or owners are not at the locations.”

Porges is able to discuss areas where staff is not meeting the company’s standards, and also to identify times when employees are going above and beyond expectations. The ability to zero in on these customer service moments is truly vital to his success.

Another success story
Jeff Jurkens, CEO of Octopus Car Wash’s Midwest operations and owner of three locations, is another believer in the mystery shopping program. When Jurkens first began using a mystery shop service eight years ago, his carwash scored a 46 percent. “That was completely unacceptable to me,” Jurkens said.

“I can tell you from personal experience that any owner not doing a program like this is not receiving the level of customer service they think they are getting.”

Jurkens locations are shopped eight times every quarter within two 10-day periods of time. No shopper is allowed to shop more than two locations in any quarter and all shoppers are rotated out within a year. They may be reenlisted at a later date, but this way he avoids getting the same feedback over and over.

Jurkens ties bonus opportunities directly to the results of the mystery shopping program. He shares the quarterly results with all of the staff.

Like Porges, Jurkens believes it is important to continue through with mystery shopping. “If you stop, your employees will eventually return to their old habits. It’s human nature,” Jurkens stated. “Besides, my general manager and I used to spend a third of our time changing customer service guidelines on a daily basis. Now all we do is read the results.”

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