Stop the Stupid Mystery Shops
by Martin R Baird

Stop the Stupid Mystery Shops
By Martin R. Baird

I must start this column by telling you that “stupid” is a big deal in my world. I know some people use that word in practically every sentence. With two school-age children at home, I don't drop the “S bomb” unless I mean it.
I’m using the S word here because some people in the casino industry are dumping good money on mystery shops that are an absolute waste. There are two important things to note before I go on. First, my company does not do mystery shopping. We do research for our clients, but we don't do monthly or weekly shops for casinos. Second, don't stop reading this column if you have the impression that I think mystery shopping is useless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mystery shopping and reporting can be quite valuable when properly done.
I know that casinos do shops for a laundry list of reasons ranging from measuring accuracy and adherence to gaming procedures to evaluating guests’ gaming experience. For this article, I will focus on the guest experience, but I'm sure you'll see that what I have to say applies to any type of shop.
OK, here goes. Truly productive shops must be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).
Let's start with specific. Shoppers need to know the specific behaviors that casino employees are required to demonstrate during service delivery. Think about this for a moment. If the shopper doesn't know specifically what employees are supposed to do, how can they measure it? On the flip side, employees should be trained on how to deliver what is expected. I'm often amazed at the lack of specificity casinos have when it comes to service. This creates subjectivity that is very hard to manage.
Next is measurable. If you are not specific about the kind of service employees are expected to provide, it's darned near impossible to do meaningful measurement. I ask you, what is the difference between an “excellent” and a “good” smile? Is there supposed to be a difference if the smile occurs in the restaurant or at a black jack table where a player has just lost $20,000? Is the quality of the smile a cosmetic thing based on better dentists? Could sincerity be part of moving the smile to the level of “excellent”? If you can't accurately measure something, it will be very difficult to improve and manage it.
That brings us to attainable and realistic. When you set service standards, do not create situations in which employees are required to do the impossible. I'm a positive and optimistic person. The glass is always almost full in my eyes. But I do not smile 100 percent of the time. Nobody does or should be expected to. There are times when I'm thinking or actively listening and processing information and I don't smile. I’m concentrating. Do you want your employees to constantly look like mannequins with painted-on grins to meet the standard of “always” smiling? While on the subject of smiling, I've seen many people look very inviting and welcoming by smiling with their eyes. When measuring a smile, shoppers should look at more than the person’s mouth.
Finally, shops must be timely. When shoppers evaluate your casino’s service, you need to get feedback from them as quickly as possible. This creates an opportunity for managers and supervisors to share fresh information with front-line employees. Employees are more likely to learn from information that’s only a few days old.
Yes, shops must be S.M.A.R.T.. But there’s more. It's not enough to conduct a good shop. The information generated by the shop must be reported in a way that works for the casino. It must be actionable. This is code for not passing along a data dump or numeric regurgitation.
The information should give you a picture of the shopper’s experiences. I'm always surprised when I read reports that are nothing more than numbers and graphs. Those are a great way to spot trends, but they do not create a picture of the experience. You need great narrative comments. What did the shopper think or feel that caused them to give the score they did? What is the rest of the story that makes up the overall experience? It's easy to quickly look at the numbers, but the real meaty stuff is often in the narrative comments.
Next, after reviewing the report, excerpt a few gems and take action. I understand the urge to pull a couple of stunningly negative experiences and attack them with a full-court press, but that may not be the best place to start. Find examples of employees who excelled and recognize their good work. Praise them for the stellar service they delivered. This is an opportunity for everyone on the executive team to recognize people and departments for a job well done. Believe me, it will be appreciated. Yes, the F&B employee who sneezed in his hand and didn't wash will have a “coachable” moment, but don't miss the opportunity to make the most of the people who are doing well. They just might be inspired to do even better.
Now you need to share the shop results with your people. I cannot overemphasize that this should be done carefully! This is important information that can be used to help people grow professionally. If not shared properly, shop results can be demoralizing. The data can generate internal conflict. Only share a couple of points that are easy to talk about. Absolutely do not share Department A’s data with Department B.
Please make the most of mystery shops because they are a valuable tool – when they’re not done in a stupid manner. Many of the shoppers’ comments can be used to develop your people either through individualized coaching or propertywide training. When used properly, mystery shops can make your service shine.

This article previously appeared in Native American Casino.

Date Posted: 07-Feb-2010

Martin R. Baird is chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based consulting firm to the global gaming industry that is dedicated to helping casinos improve their guest service so they can compete and generate future growth and profitability. Robinson & Associates provides guest service training and employee incentive and recognition programs, as well as presentation skills training, management skills training and team building programs. The company is an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association. Robinson & Associates may be reached at 206-774-8856, mbaird@casinocustomerservice.com or via its Web site at www.casinocustomerservice.com.

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