3 Steps to a Successful Retail or Restaurant Experience

Sahil Mehta
Vice President, Sales
January 14, 2021

The global COVID-19 pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of modern life, from how we work, relax, and shop to how we travel, celebrate holidays, and see family and friends. These challenges are hard at the personal level, but for many businesses, the mandate is dire: adapt or die.

A Fine Line: Balancing Safety And Compliance With Customer Experience

Retailers and restaurants have been particularly hard-hit. Once lockdowns were lifted, these organizations needed to quickly reopen and get customers back in the door. Doing so, however, wasn’t as simple as returning to business as usual.

Shops and restaurants faced a variety of obstacles such as:

  • Keeping customers and staff safe and healthy
  • Complying with corporate, federal, state and/or local regulations
  • Balancing safety and compliance with customer experience
  • Giving customers confidence in the safety of their experience
  • Ensuring a consistent -- and safe -- experience across multiple locations, sometimes around the world

These hurdles aren’t going away any time soon. We still could face months or years of COVID-related restrictions, regulations, and considerations.

That means restaurants and retail organizations must figure out how to operate in a way that minimizes risk and disruption to the customer experience, but makes safety and compliance paramount.

3 Steps To A Successful COVID-19 Safety Audit Program

At Shiftsmart, we’ve worked with dozens of restaurants and retailers to accomplish exactly that. In our experience, the companies that have succeeded have followed three distinct steps.

1. Understand the rules. To ensure compliance, you first need to be very clear on what you’re complying with. Common COVID-related regulations include:

  • Corporate standards: Most big companies have put together detailed standards for reopening. These typically include the basics, such as rules around employee mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing and sanitizing, but may also dictate the specifics around particular customer touchpoints.
  • Government policies: These range from recommendations, such as the CDC’s, to city- or state-level rules and restrictions. They may define hours of operation, what you can sell when, occupancy limits, and more.

These rules are your baseline: what you absolutely must do in order to serve customers safely and without the risk of fines -- or worse -- for non-compliance.

2. Establish your bar. While these regulations determine WHAT needs to happen to operate safely, they don’t specify HOW.

How you go about following them, while optimizing the customer experience, differentiates the organizations that survive (or even thrive) during COVID from the ones that don’t.

What does it mean to “establish your bar”? It involves identifying each touchpoint in your customer experience, examining how you can evolve it to maximize both safety and CX, then codifying all of those touchpoints into a repeatable policy and program.

The goal of your program: Establish a bar that supports the experience you want your customers to have. It should be thorough and visible, so that they can easily see the steps that you’re taking to ensure their safety, but with as little disruption as possible.

What does that look like in practice? One of our customers, a leading hotel brand with more than 950 locations worldwide, put together a 15-point “report card” that we used to evaluate more than 700 of their properties in 50+ countries in 2020.

Defining the parameters of your experience allows you to make it consistent across locations -- which is hugely important for brand equity and loyalty -- as well as make it quantifiable. Which leads us to…

3. Measure the execution. For organizations with numerous locations, this is where it can get tricky. Employees at a local level must be responsible for implementing the standards that you defined. It’s likely impossible, however, to visit every location in a reasonable amount of time to evaluate adherence.

To truly ensure compliance with regulations and brand standards, restaurants and retailers need a way to manage implementation across all properties that are not self-reported and provide real-time data that they can measure against and react to.

This is where business audits (a.k.a. mystery shopping programs) come in. Choose a cadence, whether daily, weekly, or monthly, to evaluate your locations. Use your “bar” from step two to put together your report card. Then send in the mystery shoppers and see how each location performs.

How To Choose The Right Mystery Shopping Vendor For Your Business

Of course, not all mystery shops are created equal. A number of vendors offer COVID-19 audit programs.

How can you decide which one to trust with your brand reputation?

  • Scale. How many locations can the vendor evaluate in a given amount of time and at your desired cadence? At Shiftsmart, we’re proud to offer global reach across countless countries and six continents, so you can deliver a consistent experience around the world.
  • Quality. Scale doesn’t matter without quality. Ask the vendor how they screen and vet their mystery shoppers. Can anyone sign up, or is there a process to determine the best candidates for the job? For instance, we use a cutting-edge performance management system that enables us to immediately select the right people for each project.
  • Speed. Circumstances around COVID-19 are constantly changing, and changing fast. Many vendors can take weeks or even months to put together and execute a mystery shopping program. At Shiftsmart, we operate in days, not weeks, so you get the insights you need, when you need them.
  • Depth of analysis. Finally, does the vendor simply report back on what the mystery shoppers experienced, or do they analyze that data to make it meaningful and actionable? Shiftsmart’s unique process not only goes beyond data collection to provide deep analysis, visualization, and recommendations, we operationalize our findings within your team. In other words, we help you bring our analysis into your day-to-day operations so that it becomes part of how you do business.

Case Study: Mark Cuban Chooses Shiftsmart To Audit And Analyze Dallas Reopening

On May 1, 2020, Texas rolled out its plan to start safely reopening businesses with a set of mandatory and suggested compliance protocols.

Curious how Dallas County businesses would comply with these standards, entrepreneur Mark Cuban enlisted Shiftsmart to run a COVID-19 safety audit.

Dallas businesses were slow to open at first, with just a 36% reopen rate in the first week of May. Openings grew steadily, however, over the next few months, topping out with a 75% reopen rate by the end of June.

Consumers appeared ready to return to restaurants and retail locations as well. According to Google’s Mobility Report, visits to retail and recreation locations in Dallas were down as much as -55% in April when compared to a pre-COVID baseline. With businesses open, Dallas consumer visits to retail and recreation were only down -21% on June 26th.

Unfortunately, the Shiftsmart safety audit revealed that businesses weren’t as ready as their customers to operate during the COVID era. As consumers started visiting newly reopened businesses, Shiftsmart performed in-person audits to understand if businesses were following protocols.

For one client, the Shiftsmart safety audit program enabled the organization to:

  • Learn within 24 hours if there was a failure on employee mask compliance
  • Receive updates every 24 about overall COVID-compliance
  • Perform 400 audits across 50+ countries in the first two months of COVID regulations

In the first week of May, ~1/3 of businesses were less than 50% compliant with mandatory protocols.

As many businesses reopened, the level of noncompliance remained, with 32% of businesses less than 50% compliant with mandatory protocols at the end of June.

Further, while reopening rates and consumer activity grew and compliance rates remained generally flat, COVID cases skyrocketed. It became clear that businesses were not or could not comply with the reopening protocols, and that cases were rising as a result.

Mark Cuban and others used this data and more to bring attention to the challenges and implications of reopening. With the stark data, Texas moved to close bars and limit restaurant capacity to 50%.

The Data You Need To Operate Safely And Successfully During COVID-19

From mask wearing to hand sanitizing stations, distance between tables to plastic shields at check-out, COVID puts strenuous demands on restaurants and retailers. Business audits from Shiftsmart can help your team ensure compliance, react to dynamic situations, protect your brand, and most importantly, keep your customers and staff safe.

Read the datasheet or get in touch to learn more about how Shiftsmart mystery shopping programs can benefit you.

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