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Hire Mystery Shoppers For Your Independent Coffee Shop

A friend of mine loves independent coffee shops so much, whenever he moves, he spends weeks and months scoping out the new independent shops around his city, until he finds a few that become his go to place for meetings, getting work done, or just sitting and reading.

He also visits Heine Brothers Coffee whenever he’s here in Louisville, and loves the one on Bardstown and Longest, with the little Carmichael’s Bookstore attached to it.

That got me to thinking about coffee shops using mystery shoppers to determine how well they’re doing, as well as how their competition is doing.

Why not? Restaurants and bars hire mystery shoppers to make sure they’re providing top-notch service to their customers, and I’m sure the big chain coffee shops do it too. So why can’t independent coffee shops?

A latte with a printed image on the foam. Some independent coffee shops have begun using foam printers.Whether you’ve got a small single shop or you own a small chain of 17 stores like our local Heine Bros. Coffee, mystery shoppers can help you find the problem areas you might be missing and to show you the places where you excel.

This is especially important if you own several shops and can’t be there to oversee the quality control on all of the shops. Besides, when the cat’s away, the mice will sometimes play, and they’ll be on their best behavior when the cat’s around. (Translation: People behave well when the boss is there, but you don’t see what’s happening when you’re not.)

Here are a few ways mystery shoppers can help you improve your customer experience.

  • Are your bathrooms clean? You may get busy in a small store, and not realize your bathrooms get filthy after a few hours. Most restaurant mystery shoppers, especially at fast-food restaurants, are asked to make a bathroom check.
  • Do your baristas smile and are they friendly? Again, this is another request of the fast-food customer experience management people — they want their guests to receive a friendly greeting and a smile. If your customers think you don’t want them or appreciate them, they won’t come back.
  • Are your baked goods fresh? Do you have a decent selection, or do you frequently run out of things? Think of mystery shopping as a surprise inspection. Shoppers can come in the morning or afternoon and tell you if you’re running out of your baked goods by lunchtime.
  • Is the coffee good? This is a personal, subjective thing, but there are standards after all. Is the coffee okay? Good? Awesome? You may like it, but you may be surprised to find that some people don’t. And while it may not be a quality issue, it could just be that you’re only serving dark roast, and some people want a medium blend. Or you’re only serving the breakfast blends, and you have customers who want that put-hair-on-your-chest taste. Running a few mystery shoppers through your store will clue you in.
  • Was there a long wait? Most people will stand in line if they know the wait is worth it. But new people might not be willing to wait that long.
  • Is there adequate parking? Some places don’t have enough parking at certain times of day, and people will pass you up rather than drive around the block several times.

You’re probably wondering why you just can’t ask your customers, especially your regulars. Think about some of your regulars, the people you know by name, or at least by order. How do you feel toward them? Probably warm and friendly, right? And they feel the same way about you. They love you, they love your shop. That’s why they keep coming back a few times a week.

And that’s why they won’t tell you the truth!

Would you tell a good friend that you don’t like the way she dresses? Would you tell a good friend that you hate his goatee and think it makes his face look weird?

Of course not. That would be rude. And that’s how your regulars are going to feel about telling you the truth about the tiny things they don’t like about your place. “Kylie doesn’t smile at me very much. I think she doesn’t like me.” “I love your blueberry muffins, but you’re always out by the time I get here.” “Your bathroom smells funny. Like, all the time.”

So don’t ask your regulars to point out your flaws. They’ll either hold back so they don’t hurt their feelings, or they’ll make something up so they don’t feel like they failed you. It’s better to get an objective opinion from several people who don’t have a vested interest in protecting your feelings.

You can work with a mystery shopping agency (don’t tell your staff you’re doing it), have shoppers come in and look at a few different areas (bathroom, smiles, and wait times, for example), and they’ll report all their findings back to you.

With this information in hand, you can figure out which areas you need to improve so you can get more customers to spend more money.

And you can ask mystery shoppers to do the same kind of intelligence gathering on your competition to see if you’re missing anything, or if there’s anything you’re already doing better than they are. (And that’s always a good feeling.)

If you would like to learn more about using mystery shoppers for your own independent coffee shop, please visit our website. You can also speak to one of our restaurant shopping experts to come up with your own unique program.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Pro Blog Service, used with permission)