BY SUSAN ROSE
Last month we focused on detailing the positions within your company and their core functions—both as a way of developing training and establishing a baseline of expectations from your employees. In this article, we take it one step further and help you create a ghost riding program for your company. This will help you identify areas where you need to strengthen or refocus on training, eliminate bad behaviors from your staff, and potentially turn your midline employees into rock stars. If you haven’t read part one of this article, we highly encourage you to do so. Skipping ahead and developing your ghost riding program without the initial first steps will yield less data and make it less effective. This article was based off November’s seminar delivered by Mike Zappone of All Transportation Network and Brett Tyson (formerly of BostonCoach) of A&A Metro Transportation.
• Before You Get Started
If you don’t already have a program like this, it could be to your benefit to secretly develop it with either a partner or another senior officer before announcing your plans to the entire company. Once your team knows, you will have lost that one window of opportunity to establish a baseline of how your company performs right now. “If you don’t have a ghost riding program, do yourself a favor and do a bunch of ghost rides of your employees before you even tell anyone else what you’re doing. You don’t have to give any staff feedback, but you’ll create an excellent baseline of your service and you’ll understand your performance levels today,” says Tyson.
Whether you like it or not, you are mystery shopping your own abilities as a leader when you undertake a program like this. If data reveal that only a few of your chauffeurs replace the bottled water in the passenger seat between every trip (even if the client didn’t touch it) and it’s clearly written in your manual that they need to do so, then is it due to bad training or lax management? You also might find that a procedure you have in place isn’t worth the effort. Instead, you could be surprised by a clever and effective greeting that one of your chauffeurs uses and decide to make it a company standard. This is an honest look at the good, the bad, and the ugly, so embrace it with an open mind.
• Who Are You Shopping?
The term “ghost rider” gets thrown around a lot in articles like this because the majority of your program will be dedicated to your chauffeurs, the largest part of your company for sure. The good news, however, is that you can “mystery shop” most any aspect of your business to get a sense of what clients are experiencing. The other popular positions you may want to consider shopping are reservationists, affiliate managers, and any other position that has a customer touch point. What you are essentially doing when you develop your mystery shopping program is testing that your training is connecting with your employees, and that customers are being served to the best of your company’s abilities.
The identities of your mystery shoppers should be fiercely protected from your staff if you want to collect the most useful data.
Another area you may consider shopping is your affiliates: new ones you’re trying out and those you’ve used for years. What you experience is likely what your clients will experience as well. Zappone has some great advice about how to approach this: “I always shop my affiliates when I can. I make a real reservation but don’t travel under my name or ask for a free ride. That way I’m not flagged in the system as a VIP where everyone is hyper-sensitive to do a good job. I want to see what it’s like when it’s business as usual. If they do a good job, then I’m happy. If I see a lot of red flags, then we may use someone else in the future. Put it on your credit card—I swear it will be the best money you ever spend.”
• What Do You Want to Know?
If you’re honest and forthright about establishing this type of program, then you need to be willing to examine your company’s flaws and areas where you shine, implement change as needed, retrain, and possibly replace employees. This type of program shouldn’t be used as a way to weed out the bad eggs in your company—although there are plenty of reasons why an employee should be terminated on the spot for breaking protocol (e.g., sexually harassing a customer, arguing with a customer, etc.). Don’t use it as a way to replace management who should be regularly checking in on their staff and addressing bad behaviors, either. Instead, think of this as a way to constantly refresh your training. Once any type of training has changed, it should be reviewed with the entire team affected by the change. For Zappone, he’ll use it as part of his weekly chauffeur training modules.
Due to the number of employees he has, Tyson aims to ghost ride every chauffeur at least two times per year. If one fails a ghost ride, then Tyson reviews the information with the chauffeur, sends him for retraining, and administers another ghost ride sometime in the near future. As was mentioned in the first article, this is an assessment of the quality and retention of training. If he fails again fresh off of training when the knowledge should be front of mind, then it’s a written warning and more training, suspension on the next, and finally termination if no improvement is seen. Each step is accompanied by training, so every effort is made to help the employee. You may have a different process at your company.
• Choosing Ghost Riders/Mystery Shoppers
If you’re new to this type of program, your natural tendency would be to simply comp the ride for a client, give him a questionnaire to fill out, and call it a ghost ride. Some folks might think using a relative or friend is acceptable. Here’s why neither will work: The identities of your mystery shoppers should be fiercely protected from your staff if you want to collect the most useful data. Family members can be identified by their last name and aren’t often impartial in their reporting. If you use someone who has been to the office, you run the risk of blowing their cover. When reading the post-ride review, you want to be as thoughtful as possible about the shopper’s identity. Never use the pickup location, name, destination, or date of service. You also want these to be real reservations, without any flags or special codes that staff can figure out. Once the identity is known, it’s whisper down the lane in your office and your clean data becomes corrupted by a chauffeur who was tipped off.
“You should be engaging your clients regularly anyway—take some time to call your top 10 clients and get their feedback,” says Zappone. Do you send out client surveys or online polls? The ghost ride program should complement your everyday efforts to connect with customers to ensure they are satisfied.
Mystery shopping and auditing is an actual profession, and most companies use shoppers in some form or another to check their own employees’ performance or compliance levels. For example, a large chain drugstore may want to test that employees are checking IDs for customers, regardless of age, when purchasing specific cold medicines, and it will hire a company to develop a quality control plan. Most shoppers are independent contractors who work for a variety of mystery shopping companies that have contracts with certain stores, restaurants, hotels, and the like. Shoppers are trained to be observant and blend in like everyday customers. They are paid to notice the little details that others would overlook. They are also policed closely by the mystery shopping companies.
Working with a mystery shopping company has its pros and cons. It may cost more than you’re able to spend, but it will come with the benefit of your ghost rides being professionally managed outside your company. You won’t have to go through the trouble of finding mystery shoppers because the company will manage that, and they will also help you craft a questionnaire or overall program based on your needs. They can also collect and formulate data so you don’t have to. They often have shoppers who can complete video or audio shops so you know exactly what happened (depending on your state and local laws). It can be as simple or complex as you want. For most small companies, this might be more than you need. If this is an avenue you decide to take, you can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s website (mysteryshop.org) to find a certified company near you. Mystery shoppers are also certified through this organization, so you may be able to find some shoppers through the site as well (you’ll likely use Craigslist to find them).
If you decide to do it on your own, you’ll need to hire a shopper or a group of shoppers on a full- or part-time basis, depending upon your needs. You’ll negotiate on a variety of key points, including price per job, reimbursement (you want it to be a live reservation, so you can either reverse the credit card charges or reimburse them for the trip), and how/when data are delivered to you. It could be as easy as a paper questionnaire or as complicated as an online program that is submitted digitally.
If you decide that comp’ing a client for a ghost ride is the only option you have, understand your limitations. You also run the risk of the client being exposed to some of your incompetencies—do you really want to be in the position where your client is questioning the quality of your service?
• Developing a Questionnaire
This might be the hardest part of the entire process because there are many ways to attack it. If the questionnaire is too long and detailed then you may be collecting too much data—and should be prepared to pay for your shopper’s time. Ideally, you want your shopper to keep that questionnaire out of the vehicle to avoid being discovered as a shopper, but this won’t be realistic for most companies that have long questionnaires.
A survey that has 20-30 core and objective questions (which may require yes/no questions with an explanation) might be the happy spot for most companies. You’ll want to drill down to the most important points for each position and include them in the questionnaire. For example, if chauffeur presentation is most important to you, you may want to ask if he met the client at the baggage claim with his jacket on and buttoned, scuff-free black shoes, the specified company tie, and tablet with client’s name spelled correctly.
There are two schools of thought here: Zappone prefers to avoid the yes/no questions so that shoppers are delivering the information rather than it being delivered to them. For example, a question he would use is “What time did the chauffeur arrive?” His protocol requires them to be 15 minutes early, so he knows if the chauffeur was on time or not. However, when you only include questions like this, you may miss important details not reported by the shopper. For example, if you require the radio to be off when the client enters to the car and your question is “Describe the interior of the car,” your shopper may not be aware that she should look for that unless you tell her.
In Tyson’s case, he looks for specific points of information so he uses a questionnaire reflecting that. It’s either there or it’s not. The downside to this type of questionnaire is that a lazy shopper could give yes answers where they aren’t deserved. It’s also so objective that it doesn’t offer any data other than that which is requested.
An ideal compromise is a hybrid version of both of these questions. With the yes/no questions, you could require a small comment about the item questioned. This could also be used to clarify why the answer was no—and it could help the chauffeur from losing points. For example, you may require that the car’s temperature is within 68 to 72 degrees but the car was warmer than that. This could be because the chauffeur was called in as a last-minute replacement in route or the A/C unit is on the fritz because it’s 100 degrees out, neither of which would be the fault of the chauffeur but would count against him if the question wasn’t qualified. As a bonus, you could also include subjective questions to ask the ghost rider. Ask her: “What did you like best about the service?” or “What could be done to improve your experience?” You could get some interesting and constructive answers that may benefit all your clients. Leave space to comment about areas that went wrong and how the chauffeur managed the situation—that could be the ultimate test of your training.
Remember: If you change a training procedure, make sure it is reflected in your questionnaire as well. They need to be updated in tandem. If the program is working, you should have to make changes somewhere along the line. You can view examples of Zappone’s and Tyson’s questionnaires here: bit.ly/17ZJVSH (registration may be required).
A ghost riding program can be an excellent way to see your company through your clients’ eyes and to find out how well you’ve trained and prepared your employees for everyday situations. There are no right or wrong ways to introduce this type of program as long as it’s appropriate for your company and you’re collecting the best data possible for your bucks. Learn from those who have been there: “What are you trying to measure? What are you looking for? Establish your baseline, reformulate your training, and then ghost ride. You have to do this in order. To establish a ghost riding program without a baseline is a waste of your money and resources,” says Zappone. [CD0315]