The Mayberry Factor

'Hometown' mindset ranks Bosselman No. 1 in CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop for chains with fewer than 100 stores.

By  Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

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Customer Service and Employee Appearance

For Quinn Ricker, customer service is a major priority. The Anderson, Ind.-based Ricker’s chain inspects its customer service and overall store experience continuously, using a contracted secret-shopper firm to conduct two mystery shops a month a teach store.

Unlike most chains, Ricker’s has a variable compensation or bonus program for its hourly people. For most of the industry ,the bonus program is for the manager and is based on sales increases or hitting labor goals, he says.

“We really took the aspects of that manager bonus program and applied it to our[customer service representatives] as well,”

Ricker says. “We wanted to align the entire store: When the store does well in our ‘Operational Excellence Inspections’—which are quarterly, more intense mystery shops—then everybody in that store gets a bonus. If that store fails, everybody fails.”Ricker says some people have called the process “a little tough love, but what we’ve found is that it’s brought everyone together.” Essentially, the strong have thrived and some of the chain’s team members who were not as engaged are no longer with the company. “You’re either going to win or lose as a team.”

Cashier interaction is the category that receives the most points in Ricker’s internal mystery shops. “That customer interaction is what’s going to taint or really impress a customer and change their experience for the positive or the negative,” he says. “It’s a big one.”

But strong customer service starts at the hiring level. Ricker says the company puts a lot of effort into hiring the right people. “We’re a midsized company, but we strive to act like one of the big boys and put some resources behind the hiring process,” he says. “We have actually hired on a trainer and a recruiter so the full burden of hiring doesn’t fall entirely on the managers.”In addition, the chain conducts “town halls” once or twice a year with its people. A lot of companies focus on the customer first, Ricker says. “It’s not that we don’t focus on our customer, but our real focus is on our team members,” he says. “If we take care of our people, they’re going to be able to take care of the customer. It’s a little bit of a different angle of looking at customer service, but I really think it provides a differentiating factor for us.”


A mystery-shopping program is ameasurement tool designed to reinforceyour staff’s focus on achieving servicestandards. Your staff drives the outcomesof your program (and your customerexperience); therefore, their adoption andenthusiasm are crucial to overall success.After launching hundreds of programsacross North America, we’ve identifiedthree critical actions businesses must taketo maximize the success of programs.

Build a Trusted Program

Building a reputable program your staffrespects is the foundation of a successfulmystery-shop program. Best practicesminimize potential for error in results,while also reducing the chance of shopperidentification during evaluations.Key steps to avoid a few common errors:

Avoid complex quantitative measurementsand focus on qualitative observations.These are more aligned with theway your customers evaluate your servicesand minimize potential for humanerror through memory constraints.

Focus your program on a few keyfactors that are the most important foryour customer conversion and satisfaction(e.g., upselling, cross-selling, productknowledge and site cleanliness). Toomany measurements can increase errorrates and may also overwhelm your staff.

Ensure shoppers are not doing anythingthat is not typical of a regular shopperto minimize risk of identification.If you are looking to capture this typeof information, we’d recommend exploringovert audits. Overt auditors disclosetheir identity and intentions to your staffand can openly record detailed informationas they move through locations.

Communicate and Motivate

A successful program is one in whichemployees are motivated and enthusiasticto excel. While material rewards andincentives are great external motivators,developing strong internal motivationis the ultimate goal of this step. Our No.1 recommendation for businesses is todevelop an internal communications strategysurrounding their program. It should:

  1. Emphasize store values and build aculture of strong performance.
  2. Motivate employees by emphasizingtheir impact on achieving business goals
  3. Communicate overall value andgoals of the mystery-shopping program.
  4. Educate employees about how programresults will be addressed.
  5. Encourage individuals to offerproductive feedback and suggestionsfor continuous improvement.
  6. Promote and acknowledge individualand location successes.

“Instead of focusing your communicationssolely on the program, promote theunderlying business values driving it,” saysJodie Hewson, marketing and communicationsspecialist for Service Intelligence.“If you can build a culture that your staffbelieve in and feel proud to be a part of,motivation and enthusiasm will grow andprogram results will improve.”As you build your communicationsplans, be aware that many communicationmethods leave managers responsible forpassing along info to their staff. Your communicationsstrategy should empowermanagers to promote your ongoing messagingaccurately and leverage mediumsdesigned to reach your employees, such asnewsletters, break-room posters, etc.

Get the Most from Results

Trust and enthusiasm will falter if employeesare worried about how program resultswill affect them. To get the most from yourresults and promote employee buy-in,ensure that no matter what kind of resultsyour locations are getting, they will be usedto add value to your business. Processes fordealing with both positive and negativeresults should be administered and communicatedto staff. Our suggestions:

Positive results: Building incentivesinto your mystery-shopping programare a good way to recognize employeesfor positive behavior and motivate themto perform. We also recommend tyingprogram incentives into other performanceindicators to promote an overallpositive performance.

Negative results: We view negativescores as an opportunity to improve yourbusiness. Ultimately these situations areyour chance to:

  • Implement new training or coachingprocedures to better support standards.
  • Identify and repair operationalissues that do not support your standards.
  • Review your mystery-shoppingsurvey to ensure it’s realistic and fair to staff. 

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