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Mystery shopping demystified


How well do you treat your clients? A mystery shopper can help you answer this question objectively.

Every practice team thinks it offers great service. To learn whether you really do, you need an objective evaluation from a client's perspective. The solution: Hire a mystery shopper who will pose as an ordinary customer and provide a detailed evaluation of the experience in your practice.

Using a mystery shopper is nothing new to service industries. According to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, there are more than 500 U.S. companies that provide such services.

Check bottom of page for PDF link.

The reason for the popularity of mystery shopping services, according to the association: When location, pricing, and product assortment are no longer unique, service is often the key to success or failure. In fact, the group cites poor service as the top reason why customers leave. Customers are five times more likely to leave because of poor service than because of dissatisfaction with the product.

Refining your focus on service

"A mystery shopper program can open practice owners' eyes-and help get staff members' attention," says Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman, CVPM. "The experience is often reinforcing, because the team learns that the quality of care your practice offers surpasses that of the competitor."

Plus, staff members never know when the mystery shopper might call or walk in, so they'll be especially careful to ensure every client has a positive experience, Opperman says. Of course, you only enjoy this benefit when the mystery shopping program isn't a mystery for employees. So discuss the program with your team and explain its benefits.

Key steps for good results

To evaluate your practice, you'll contact a third-party company that provides mystery shopping services. Let them know you have a form you'd like them to use. The cost will vary depending on the number of visits, the level of evaluation, and other factors. You could also get a friend to conduct the visit, as long as you provide good instructions and it's someone your team members don't know.

Another method: Ask staff members to visit neighboring practices with either their pet or a hospital pet, and then report back. This tactic isn't exactly mystery shopping, but it's a great way to get strategies for fresh ideas. "Employees often return with good ideas for improving service and enhancing the practice's perception of value," says Opperman.

"One hospital I consulted with sent a technician to visit a local practice. She was impressed that the doctor had thoroughly verbalized the physical exam and spent time with her reviewing the pet's medical history and his preventive care recommendations. Previously I had tried to stress this very point to this practice, and team members had resisted the idea. But after this experience, the team was eager to begin using exam room report cards."

In the end, a mystery shopper report card is no good if it doesn't present valid, objective results. There will, of course, be some bias if your team members visit your practice's biggest competitor, but remind them the overall goal is not to find out how your practice is better but to make sure it stays that way.

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