How to Secret Shop Your Business

Why are first impressions such a key part of your overall marketing effort? People do not look for reasons to do business with you. They look for reasons not to do business with you. And they will do it faster than you read this sentence.

Every point of contact with our patients, clients, customers, potential employees and others, counts. Each one makes an impression. Each impression you make (good or bad) helps someone decide – in a heartbeat – if you are worthy of their time and money. People do business with people they like and trust. First impressions set the tone.

In-house test

Don’t think that first impressions mean all that much?

Try an internet search of the phrase “secret shopper.” Every organization from the Army – yes, the Army secret shops itself – to the Ritz Carlton (that is no surprise, they are number one in employee training) uses secret shopper programs to provide feedback to their employees and improve customer satisfaction.

Consider stepping out of your owner/employer shoes, into your patients’ shoes and conducting your own “secret shopper” test. Here are some things to think about when you’re “shopping.”

Reception and receivables

Hand holding magnifying glass
© Edyta Pawlowska / 123RF

What do people hear when they call? Someone who is positive and helpful? Or a tone that says, “What do you want (jerk!)? You’re bothering me. Call someone who cares.”

What about gum-snapping or fast-talking or a six-minute introduction “Hi, this is Susie Q, at XYZ O&P, it’s a fine day here in blah, how may I be of service to you this morning?”

Do your employees working in accounts receivable listen, or are they always in the aggressive “You owe us money” mode? Would you do business with your vendors if they had your bookkeeping staff?

Gauging what patient interactions with your staff are like will help you to mold the communications you want to maintain.

Technicians and practitioners

Is every patient just another problem for your technicians? Does their attitude say they wished your company could just deliver something and never have to repair or adjust them? Are they rude? Do they talk down or you a sarcastic tone? Do they make the patient wish he could crawl into a hole somewhere…and find someone else to provide their care?

Practitioners can make more of an impression on your patients than anyone in your company. What are your patients’ perceptions of your clinical staff? Are they knowledgeable? Do they show up for appointments on time? Follow-up? Return calls? Do they dress like your customers expect them to dress? What does it say about them? Think anyone notices?


Management leaves an impression. People watch how you treat your people because your people will be treating them the same way. Behavior starts from the top down.

Other potential first impressions: your business card, letterhead, e-mails with misspellings and poor grammar, postings on the list-serve and letters to the editor of O&P trade magazines.

Do not forget your office, fitting rooms, patient waiting areas and furniture. You are making an impression when someone sitting in your waiting room watches the interaction between your employees or listens to how someone answers the phone. Is the atmosphere uplifting or dreary?

Remember, impressions starts with “impress”.

Elizabeth Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield is the president of Outsource Marketing Solutions. She can be reached at

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