Posted by: Janet Sieff
Monday, February 24th, 2014
Have you ever seen the reality TV show where the CEO is disguised and joins the ranks to spy on employees?
In higher ed market research this is called ”secret shopping”. The objectives of secret shopping are similar to Undercover Boss – to get an inside view of what really goes on and to have a real customer experience.
How ever threatening and sneaky this seems, the reasons to secret shop are pretty sensible. Colleges and universities are multi-million dollar operations where brand is everything, — knowing what really goes on is critical.
Secret shopping is done to look and listen for consistency and accuracy of information, both factual and anecdotal. Secret shopping is also useful for detecting customer service levels. Stealth research to hear and see what competitors are doing is common and an acceptable practice. Secret shopping conducted by someone who has never visited your campus before is especially effective because objectivity is almost guaranteed.
I recall a story shared with me by an Interim University President who was responsible for reversing a severe enrollment and retention problem. He made arrangements to tour the campus with the Director of Facilities on his second day on the job. He did not want to wait any longer because he feared that he would loose his objectivity and fail to see the flaws. He found dead trees, dumpsters in plain view and poor signage – he knew he would get used to these problems in short time and not notice them again.
Here are 2 secret shopping expeditions that you can do. Complete objectivity is not required, but the experience will put you in the shoes of your prospects and their families. For both of these expeditions, select 3- 5 of your top competitors and make a chart to track the questions and your findings.
1. Using Google, look for your school’s (or competitor’s) website.
- Is your school at the top of the list?
- Go to the main page of your college website and look for tuition – how many clicks does it take to find it?
2. Using an outside phone line, call into your (or competitor’s) main phone number.
- Did a person or automated service answer?
- Is connecting to the admissions office intuitive?
- How many minutes and seconds did it take to get connected to the admissions office?
- Did a person or an automated service answer the admissions line?
- Ask to speak with someone about applying and experience the process.
Your results should be very revealing. How would your web and phone score on ease of use and customer service? How do you compare to your competitors?
Let me know how your secret shopping goes and contact me to find out ways we can help you with more extensive investigations, as well as on-campus customer service solutions.