Magazine article Security Management

Security and the Surrogate Shopper

Magazine article Security Management

Security and the Surrogate Shopper

Article excerpt

Every organization needs to know how the day-to-day business is being run; however, employees are likely to modify their behavior when managers are present to observe these activities. To determine how staff interact with customers without supervision, some companies turn to surrogate shoppers. The findings can be surprising.

A surrogate customer who paid a call on one sports bar found employees watching a pornographic movie they had picked up via satellite. Since all the bar's televisions were controlled by the same satellite dish, the movie could be seen on every screen. The incident, which could have caused the bar considerable trouble with the authorities, led to the dismissal of several employees.

Shopping services are available from specialty companies and many private investigative companies. They use undercover agents to pose as customers or clients and evaluate a business and its employees from a customer's perspective. Security directors can use a shopping program to cut losses, increase productivity, improve quality, and train staff.

Two types of shops are common: integrity shops and courtesy shops. An integrity shop seeks to determine the honesty of employees. A typical integrity shop presents a situation, without entrapment, in which an employee has the opportunity to steal. For instance, the shopper may come to the counter to buy an item and, once the cash register is open, say that he or she wants to buy a second item, presenting the extra money to the cashier. Since the register is already open, it is easy for the employee to pocket the cash.

A courtesy shop evaluates factors that determine an employee's effectiveness and professionalism. Factors might include courtesy towards customers, cleanliness, attitude, sales presentation, and work habits.

The service can help businesses identify other issues that affect the bottom line, such as problems with a business's physical layout or product quality. It can also identify or highlight company policies that should be changed and valuable employees who should be promoted.

Loss reduction. While businesses must detect and prevent employee theft, losses are often attributable to carelessness and haste, not outright dishonesty. The company shopper looks for these incidents as well. For example, a waiter who routinely fails to include beverages on checks could cut heavily into the restaurant's bottom line, especially if the restaurant makes most of its money from drinks.

Once an undercover shopper identifies employees prone to this kind of error, management can provide targeted training, advise these employees to use more care, or hire more conscientious workers.

Courtesy shoppers can also help eliminate losses incurred by poor management practices. Several years ago, a company that owned a number of gift shops at a major airport used a shopping service to identify and eliminate losses caused by internal theft. Reading his staff's reports, the owner of the shopping service noticed that the gift shops were open too early or late for the scheduled airline traffic. So informed, the gift shop owner made simple scheduling changes that saved the company almost $86,000 a year in payroll expenses.

Personnel productivity. A shopping service can also be used to motivate workers and thereby increase productivity. In the case of the airport gift shops, after company management identified a few dishonest employees and eliminated them, it discovered that the performance of the remaining staff improved. Customer service increased, and employees became more courteous and hard-working, since no one knew when the next surrogate shopper would arrive.

The company then refocused the shopping program to a "catch them doing something right" approach. Good reports brought praise and counted heavily towards pay raises. Special "employee of the month" programs were initiated using the company shopper as a determining factor in the selection process. …

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