Align your car, align your business

For the last few weeks, my car had been acting funny.  The tires are in near new condition, yet in the rain it would hydroplane, and even on dry pavement it didn’t seem to hug the road very well.  A friend said that sounded like an alignment problem, so I made an appointment and took it in.

Turns out, 3 of the 4 wheels were well out of whack.  I was given a read out much like the one pictured that showed the before and after condition of my car.  Luckily, they have adopted the red is bad, green is good system for us automotive morons.  I immediately noticed a difference when I drove the car away from the repair shop, and was glad and proud and relieved, all at the same time.

As I told my wife about this experience, she said, “that sounds a lot like what you and Scot are doing, but for businesses.”  Leave it to my wife to point out something obvious that is right in front of my nose.

She was right. Since the end of 2010, Scot Carson of Amusement Advantage and I have been working together to help businesses figure out where they are out of whack, and provide tools, resources and advise about how to “re-align” their business practices.

If you don’t know Scot, he runs the only mystery shopping service that is exclusive to the attractions industry.  He had a number of clients asking about additional insight that could be gained from a report, or from looking at multiple reports, and that’s what I get to do.  I’ll look at an entire season of reports, for example, and pull out the trends in employee behavior and guest experience that business owners can use to improve the way they lead, treat their employees or interact with their guests.  In other words, a business check-up, with re-alignment if needed.

“Working with Matt has given us the ability to provide our clients with a third party comprehensive analysis of their mystery shopping results.  We highlight trends and patterns in terms of positive and negative guest experiences and provide suggestions for actionable improvements and recognition.  It’s a fantastic way to yield an even greater return on our mystery shopping programs!” -Scot Carson

Like Scot said, we do talk about what is good and what is not-so-good in the reports.  People like (and need) to know when they are doing things right, and these reports identify a whole lot of goodness going on.  So there are “green” sections in the reports, and then there are the “red” sections.

Because we are often looking at the reports after the season ends, we are not focused on changing or “fixing” a particular employees’ behavior.  Instead, it is more important for us to identify the trends or conditions that influenced the negative behavior, so we can figure out the long-term solution about how to fix it.

So, if you feel like your car needs to be realigned, take it to a qualified mechanic.  If you need your business realigned, that’s what Scot and I are here for.

If you’ll be at the IAAPA Expo, plan to stop by and see us at booth #3927!

Thanks for reading!

How to fix your business

This weekend Linda and I had the chance to visit the famous Dream Inn in Daytona Beach, FL.  It may only be famous to us since we saw Anthony Melchiorri visit it on a recent episode of Hotel Impossible. Being a fan of these business “fix-up” shows (ala Tabatha Takes Over) we wanted to see the real impact of one of these visits.  It was really interesting to talk to one of the owners about the experience of having the show filmed there and the improvements that were made.

One thing was obvious: while there were some clear improvements to the property that were a direct result of the show, there were still many things that needed to be taken care of to bring this hotel to the level the owners want it to be.  It’s a work in progress, but they are definitely heading in the right direction.

To read a little more about the hotel experience as well as the rest of our recent adventures, click here.  For more on how to turn a business around, keep reading.

In watching both Tabatha and Anthony, I have come to see a formula in what they do.  Having a formula does NOT make the process easy, but it is repeatable and something that can be applied to any business or any part of a business.  The tough part (which Tabatha and Anthony excel at) is having the intestinal fortitude to see things for what they really are and to make (and stick to) the tough decisions that will really help a business get out of it’s own way.  Below are the steps they seem to take in every show.  Thus, their formula.

  • Find the problem – there could be a wide variety of problems, some more readily seen than others.  Could be a poorly maintained facility or a jumbled work area.  Typically this is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Get to the root of the problem – what is causing the dirty facility or jumbled work area?  Is it a manager that is too hands-off, too hands-on (in other areas) or just can’t see the problems in front of them?  Answering these (and many other questions), help get to what is really behind the trouble that the business is facing.
  • Get people on board that there is a problem (and that they could BE the problem) – After the initial assessment, Tabatha and Anthony go to the leader of the facility and ask what’s going on.  If housekeeping is only cleaning the sheets every other night, it’s probably because the manager told them to do so.  If there is no discipline among the staff, it’s probably because the manager was trying to be more of a friend than a leader.  This is where the rubber meets the road, and it is often identified that the leader is the true cause of many of the problems that business is facing.
  • Get people to commit to being part of the solution – the tough part is not getting people to say they want to be better, it’s getting them to commit to actions that will MAKE them better. If the leader is identified as the problem, then they can also be the solution.  That commitment is crucial because when the cameras stop rolling, the employees and leaders of that business are the ones who are going to make it work…. or not.
  • Inspire people with what is possible – the proof is in the pudding, and Tabatha and Anthony always like to show what is possible. Sometimes the rut of your surroundings can hold you back.  Changing a room, a paint color, or organizing a once jumbled area can show people that they don’t have to wallow in the funk of their own creation – there is another way.
  • Give/develop systems to maintain quality – Anthony and Tabatha have a boat-load of experience in their industries, and can share best practices, processes and systems that can help people get more things done and make progress.
  • Be tough but compassionate – throughout the process, we see many examples of tough love, much of it coming when the real problems are identified.  We also see it when focusing on the solutions.  There is a lot of confidence building going on, and that takes a strong but compassionate approach to get the needed results without forgetting there are real people involved.

The other HUGE advantage that Anthony and Tabatha have in dealing with these items is an outsiders perspective.  They are not emotionally tied to any portion of the business, so they can see things that others may actually be too close to see.

Are you too close to see what might be holding you or your business back?  You might be too close to see that you are too close.  Whoa.

About the author:  Matt Heller is proud to partner with Amusement Advantage, a mystery shopping service that focuses specifically on the attractions industry.  Matt works with parks to uncover useful trends and tidbits over multiple mystery shopping reports that can help them improve training, employee recognition and leadership effectiveness.

Taking the Mystery out of Mystery Shopper’s Reports

A month or so ago, I wrote the following article for the IAAPA Family Entertainment Center newsletter FunExtra.  A few people have asked me about the topic of mystery shopping lately (especially given my new partnership with Amusement Advantage) so I thought I would run the article here as well.  Enjoy!


Secret shopper reports do not want to end up living in a drawer.  Unfortunately, that’s where many spend their dying days, mostly because we could be too busy to squeeze all the great information out of them, or we just don’t know how.  On behalf of all of the secret shopper reports out there, that stops today.

In this article we will discuss the report itself, what to look for and what to do with all that information.  We’ll also focus mostly on the employee side of the coin.  If a shopper says there is missing paint, there is missing paint – not a lot to discuss.  It’s the far more complicated world of employee behavior that I think trips most of us up.

The Report

For a manager or leader, the heart of the secret shopping experience is the report.  That’s what you signed up for – to get this unbiased account of how your facility and employees are performing.  You now have a tangible representation of how your business is seen by someone you don’t know.  If you care at all about your guests’ experience, this is powerful information, and it should be taken with a few considerations.

The report is a snapshot. Each report covers the events of one day, and individual reports should be viewed as a starting point for determining the best actions to take based on the needs of your company and employees.  You and your staff still need to observe on your own, using the shoppers report to supplement what you’ve seen.

Also consider that as objective as secret shoppers are, they are still human beings.  They still have opinions, feelings, and previous experiences that guide their assessment of your facility.  This is not to say that we should discount them for this reason at all.  If anything, this support the role of the report as a snapshot.  All of your guests are different, too.  So a non-shopper guest might interpret a situation differently than the shopper, but you will only get one piece of data.  That’s why you still need to do your own homework.

What To Look For

So you’ve got your report in front of you, now what?  Later we will focus on actions you should and shouldn’t take based on a report, but even before that you have to know what data you have and what it means.

One word I will ask you to keep in mind is trends.  What are the trends telling you?  You may see on one report that Suzie was rude.  She wasn’t smiling and she never said thank you.  This is surprising, since most of time when you see Suzie, she is smiling and making great conversation with the guests.  That “trend” (or break in the trend, in this case) should tell you that you need more data.  Here are some questions you could ask to gather more concrete information:

  1. Was this an isolated incident? Is this the first time anyone has mentioned Suzie being rude?
  2. Was there something going on that day that would have caused Suzie to be acting differently?
  3. Who was she working with?  Were they people she got along with or not?

This is just a small sampling of the kinds of information you would need to have to know what to do next.

Other trends to look for on the report include:

  • Policies – are there multiple people not following rules, or is it just one or two?
  • Areas/departments – are there certain areas or departments that are performing consistently well (or poorly)?
  • Comments – is there anything similar (in tone or content) in the verbatim comments that can give you more insight?

What Do You Do Now?

To this point, you have probably seen that it takes more than just a quick read-through to pull out all of the pertinent information.  But that is a necessary component of the process, in order to be able to take the right actions.

Looking at the situations above, what do we do about Suzie?  I think we discuss the report with her and ask her about her side of the story.  It’s very dangerous to reprimand based on the comments from the shoppers report.  Since this is not going to be immediate feedback (given the time it takes to compile the report), it’s best to look at it as a learning opportunity, not a disciplinary action. On the other side of the coin, it would be appropriate to praise or recognize an employee’s performance based on the shoppers report.  They still made a good impression, and the more that is acknowledged, the more likely it is to happen again.

What if you notice that all the employees mentioned were not following a particular rule or procedure?  That might be an indication that there has been a miscommunication about the procedure, maybe it just recently changed, or it’s something the employees don’t like doing.  In all of these cases, it would take some investigation to find out what’s going on and why.

One of the most important things you can do with the information in this report is to share it.  Share it with your management teams, with your employees (as appropriate; be careful of negative or damaging comments) and get their perspective on the best way to either make things better or continue doing the good things you are already doing.

Delegating or getting assistance with looking over the reports will not only ensure that you get the most out of them, it will also save the reports from living out their days in a dark and dreary desk drawer.  No one wants that.