The Right Stuff

Kwik Trip tops CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop again for large chains.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Article Preview: 


The main ideas behind the category of merchandising are being in stock, and variety. Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs for Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip, says it’s a commonsense notion for any retailer, but it’s also something that takes a strong infrastructure to pull off.

“If something is out of stock, that [means] a disappointed customer,” Thornbrugh says. “You failed to meet his or her expectations.”

QuikTrip took the No. 1 spot overall in the category of merchandising. Thornbrugh says his chain has a leg up because it owns and operates its own distribution system, with technology and processes in place to constantly communicate how much of any item is needed, where and when.

In addition to infrastructure, QuikTrip prioritizes store-level execution.

The chain offers highly competitive hourly and salaried wages, with bonuses based on store merchandising and presentation.The chain’s philosophy is to stay consistent with all of its stores, whether the site is in Charlotte, N.C., or Wichita, Kan., Thornbrugh says. “Consistency, especially with products [in the store], is a big deal,” he says. “We have systems in place with our warehouses and our QT Kitchen that [address] how many items were sold, how many are needed and how many were delivered. It’s automatic, so we know per shift what items were sold and how many.”

Customer Service and Employee Appearance

Like cleanliness, customer service and employee appearance relate back to foodservice, says Travis Sheetz, executive vice president of operations for Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. The chain did very well in both of these categories.

“I’m not surprised at seeing those scores because with this whole foodservice push, we’ve put an emphasis on hospitality,” he says. “This means looking at the customers in the eye, not being robotic, being friendly. … In the foodservice business, it’s a big deal because you’re serving food to people. We have, without question, put a lot of emphasis on that and trying to get our people to be maybe a little less focused on task stuff like wiping down the counter and [instead] looking people in the eye.”

Like Kwik Trip, Sheetz starts with a focus on hiring the right people. “You can’t necessarily make people be personable and friendly; you’ve got to look for that kind of personality up front when you’re hiring,” he says. “The personality—the character, the friendliness—is more important than anything else in many ways. We can teach them the job, but you can’t change the personality.”

The next step is training employees on company standards. Sheetz is currently going through a training overhaul “where we’re going to have very specific training modules on hospitality.”

The final piece of the puzzle is recognition, Sheetz says. While sometimes monetary rewards are appropriate, often all that’s required is recognition or “showing your employees that [hospitality] is of value to your organization. You’ve got to recognize people for the kind of behavior you’re looking for.

Mystery-Shop Questions Answered

As we travel around North America speaking to people about mystery shopping, we have found that the same questions come up over and over again. We wanted to take this opportunity to share our answers to some of the industry’s most popular questions.

Q. I have heard that mystery shoppers are too easily identified by front-line staff. Is this true?

A. Every year thousands of shoppers successfully complete thousands of shops without any issues. Therefore, if a mystery shopper is identified, the first question you need to ask is why. The answer invariably is that there is a poorly constructed program that requires shoppers to act in a way that is not representative of typical behavior. For example, a mystery shopper should not come to a store, take a picture of the outside, look through shelves for out-of-stock product, check expiration dates and pricing accuracy, take notes (paper or electronic) and then openly time how long he or she was in line. It usually takes just one of these program elements for your staff to start identifying shoppers. It is vital that your mystery-shopping company designs your program to avoid shopper identification from the outset.

If you need to measure items that are not conducive to a mystery shop, overt audit programs are available to measure such items. In this situation, an auditor goes to store locations unannounced, introduces themselves to employees and conducts a thorough evaluation.

Q.Can I trust mystery-shopping program results? I’ve heard that the shoppers often get the answers wrong.

A. A well-managed mystery-shopping program will have multiple quality-assurance mechanisms in place to minimize program errors. Mystery shoppers are people, and people may make the occasional error. This doesn’t mean the data is wrong or should be mistrusted; it just means appropriate controls need to be put in place to catch and minimize errors.

It is worth noting that even with checks and balances in place, your program will be error-prone if your survey is designed poorly. A mystery-shopping company should take into account that the average human can remember only so many details with absolute accuracy. If your shopping program design exceeds those limits, the error rate on your results will increase.

Some programs will claim that shoppers can take notes on paper or a smartphone for improved accuracy and increased details. Of course, until standard shopper behavior in your industry also models this behavior, shopper identification issues will ensue. Your mysteryshopping provider should work with you to design a realistic program with all of these factors in mind, while still allowing you to measure your most important service metrics.

Q. My mystery-shopping scores are usually around 98%; does this mean I am running a good operation?

A. The answer to this is “maybe.” Generally, an indicator of whether you’re running a good operation comes more from what you continue to do with the results than the scores themselves.

Mystery shopping should assist you in not only monitoring your services but also continuously enacting positive change across your business units. Consistently achieving extremely high mystery-shop scores generally indicates that it is time to adjust your mystery-shop survey. If you always reach 100% on an item, it might be time to work with your mystery-shopping company to re-evaluate your survey, increase your standards and/or begin measuring a weaker aspect of your service that you can track and reward improvements.

Q. Should I tie mystery-shopping scores to an incentive program?

A. Incentives are obviously a great way to change behavior. We have found, however, that companies who incent their employees with mystery-shopping scores in isolation may not get the behavior they are looking for. Employees may focus on trying to identify shoppers and challenge or argue the score details instead of focusing on improving the areas identified.

A more effective practice is to have mystery-shop incentive programs linked with other measurements such as sales, audit scores, product turnover rates, etc. In addition to ensuring that the behaviors are focused on improving operations and the bottom line, a broader measurement tool also puts the mystery-shopping results in context with the overall store performance.  


Click here to download full article