What? You Just Secret Shopped Us?


What? You just secret shoppped us? That was the response I received from the sales associate at The Crystal Bride dress store in Geneva, IL. Her reaction when she discovered I had completed an undercover customer service audit was a mixture of puzzlement, interest, and maybe a hint of concern. For over fifteen years, my company has conducted customer service audits all over the country. What a hoot this job is! Oh, the stories I could tell about bad service, embarrassing comments, and failed sales approaches. Today, I have a WIN to share instead.

July is National Retailers Month and I was overdue to shop a store. On top of that, I will soon be on my way to the National Speakers Association annual meeting. Traditionally, the organizers schedule one evening to be a long-gown affair. I am NOT a person who enjoys dressing up. Shopping for clothes is one of my least favorite activities in this life. Why? Because I am a plus size gal. All the cute dresses in the window never come in my size. If, by luck, they can order one in, the dress will no longer look cute once draped on this body.

Keep in mind, I have been to The Crystal Bride many times over the years as an incentive to stick with whatever diet plan I happened to be on that month. I would lovingly touch the crystal-spangled dresses with plunging necklines, then fight back tears when I couldn’t squeeze them on in the dressing room. This year, however, I am happy to brag that I shed 45 pounds, making it possible that at least one dress in the store might work. I resolved to kill two birds with one stone: find a dress to wear to my shindig and secret shop this team at the same time.

I arrived at the store with no makeup, flat hair, ugly shorts, and clunky tennis shoes. All of this was done on purpose to see if I would be dismissed as unable to afford the place or disregarded as out of my league. A bad attitude completed my “look” so I could see what the sales associates would do. I grabbed a dress off the discount rack and headed to the dressing room without giving the associates so much as a glance. A few moments later, a friendly associate named Lori arrived at my door and asked if she could help. In my best impatient voice I grumbled, “Well, no one seemed to pay much attention to me so I just showed myself to the room. I only scrounged up one dress that will work for me and I am trying it on.”

My attitude did not deter her. Point for Lori. She promptly came back with four dresses, a gigantic smile, and words of encouragement. Before I knew it, I was standing in a beautiful dress that was double my budget, but looked fantastic! It needed an alteration on the sleeves so I shot out another objection, “Well bummer! I leave in four days. Since the 4th of July holiday falls in the middle of that, I can’t possibly get this altered in time.” POOF! They had a seamstress in front of me marking the hem before I could say “Mastercard”!

Get this, when they discovered I didn’t have the right kind of shoes with me for the alterations, another clerk took off HER SHOES for me to borrow so we could get the chalk marks in the right place! Who does that? At this point, I was grinning from ear to ear because a mini-dream had come true. I could buy the pretty dress like every other girl and I gathered a Guest Encounter story that shows how great customer service is supposed to work. On top of everything else, they brought the owner over to meet me. She was delightful and appreciative of the business. Well done team!

Here is my 6-pack debrief from this encounter:

  1. Greet every customer like they count, no matter what they look like when they walk in the door. I often say, “The man with manure on his boots might be the richest guy in town.”
  2. Be kind, patient, and supportive when you see a customer has a vulnerable spot.
  3. Take small objections and remove them quickly.
  4. Offer whatever special service you can in order to make a difference. (Her own shoes? Amazing!)
  5. Be engaged in the exchange. Do not allow yourself to get distracted with other tasks while serving your customer.
  6. Owner presence with customers helps show appreciation for the business.

As the National Speakers Association meeting is an annual affair, Lori suggested that next year I come in sooner so we can work together at a slower pace. She gave me her card and a hug. I’m happy to report that I’m going back in three days to pick up my new dress. It will be the prettiest thing I own. Thank you, Crystal Bride! I immensely enjoyed the ride.

Meet Laurie Guest

Meet Laurie Guest

An entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author, Laurie Guest, CSP is a “go-to-resource” for customer service excellence. For more than two decades, she has shared her practical point of view on customer service and staff development with audiences and companies across the country, blending real-life examples and proven action steps for improvement. Her latest book, The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays of Big, presents her most sought-after and impactful strategies to find and retain the best staff and highest-quality customers while delivering exceptional guest experiences.

Other articles by Laurie you may like...


Invest in Rest: What Happened When I Took My Own Advice


Bust Out of Service Fatigue: Invest in Rest

Book cover final BOSF

Busting Out in Real Life: How One City Reenergized Customer Service Delivery


Bust Out of Service Fatigue: Crave More Joy

Make your next event

a standout experience

with a keynote from Laurie