When I was first coming up in the hospitality industry, I was a dedicated operations guy with a passion for great service. I was measured by the same service metrics that you find in most hotel companies today: guest satisfaction survey results, TripAdvisor comments AND the dreaded secret shop report. I say dreaded because, even when it was a good score, each report was given the weight of 1000 TripAdvisor reviews. Like clockwork, every six months, my team would study the guest arrival list trying to find out who the shopper was, attempting to stack the deck in their favor to get a great report. Once that report came in, we would scramble to see the scores, where we lost points, what standards were missed, who messed up, etc. Sound familiar?
It was an exhausting process that all too many hospitality companies employ today. I'll stop here and say, I think secret shop reports can be an amazing tool to help you measure against your standards. Very rarely can you find such a detailed account, a true storyline, of a guest's experience. But it should be taken at that: one person's story. Organizations today feed off that frenetic energy every shop season and kick off this process of action planning and goal setting, based on that one person's experience. This usually comes from the top down - a group of executives that like to feel as though they're making a difference without understanding the effects at the property level. The companies that do it right make sure these goals are also informed by the other metrics I mentioned before to get a truly holistic view of the service experience.
Where I find that secret shop companies fall short today is not in frequency though (that's up to the client and their budget). It's that they leave you with a score, some comments and then what? No suggestions or industry trends; no though-provoking questions to help guide the operations team to improve. The hoteliers are left to draw upon only their past experiences to come up with new and creative ways to improve service.
Some of the most important work I've done with clients is giving them more than just a shop report. Whenever Urchin Workshop engages with a new hospitality group, we like to get a taste their service and product, not just to give a score, but to give ideas. We can draw upon our experience working with different hotels in various markets to share best practices, what's worked and what's hasn't. This helps get the conversation going in the right direction, engaging all levels of leadership and stoking their creativity with stories from the field. Next time your organization dives into action planning based on secret shops and other metrics, get creative! Have your teams do research on what the competition is doing. Encourage them to study industry blogs to learn about new trends, so that when they do sit down to brainstorm service improvement, they have more than just a number to go by.