Improving customer service is no mystery

Friday, February 19, 2010 | Modified: Monday, February 22, 2010, 7:51am
HAST | Pacific Business News (Honolulu) - by Chad Blair, Christina Failma, PBN

Waikiki's Beachwalk is a frequent venue for Noelle Condon, CEO of Consumer Service Analysis, whose mystery-shopper programs help her clients identify customer service issues.

Few industries have been immune to deep declines in customer service in recent years. When a clerk is surly or a salesperson uninformed, customers take their business elsewhere.

Noelle Condon's job is to keep that from happening. Her mission: to help retailers save those customers by finding and correcting problems in how they are treated.

Condon, 31, is CEO of Consumer Service Analysis, a Hawaii-based company that specializes in "mystery shoppers."

"My slogan is, 'I keep your customers from putting you out of business,'" said Condon, a Kalani High School graduate.

Since starting her business in 2008, she has expanded her client base from five to 14, mostly through word-of-mouth advertising.

Condon's goal is to have 30 clients by the end of 2010, with most signing one-year contracts. She assures potential clients that there is nothing nefarious about mystery shopping.

"I don't use that word 'spying,'" she said. "This is not the CIA. When you hire someone, you are basically investing in them. But they can also shut you down."

Condon employs approximately 1,000 independent contractors in Hawaii and on the Mainland for locally based grocery and retail clients.

The contractors, who range in age from 18 to 82, can visit sites just once or more than a dozen times in a month.

Typically, the "shoppers" walk into stores with a checklist provided by the company:

  • How long does it take employees to greet customers?
  • Do they later re-approach the customers?
  • Are they friendly?
  • Do they try to upsell ‹ that is, direct customers to expand their purchase?
  • Do they ring it all up correctly at the register?

"You just act like a normal customer," Condon said of her mystery shoppers. "You do not want to stand out."

Condon learned the mystery shopper business from 2002 to 2006 while living in Michigan, where her husband, Steven, was stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard.

As an independent contractor, she found mystery shopping work advertised online. Before long, she was bringing in as much as $200 a day and $4,000 a month, frequenting big boxes, national outlets, luxury department stores and drug stores.

Returning to Hawaii ‹ Steven is now stationed at Kalaeloa ‹ she worked for Market Trends Pacific for a year and a half, then struck out on her own. Today, she has contracts with companies operating in a dozen states including California, Texas and Florida.

She works out of her Ewa Beach home. Her only full-time employee is company President Beverly Johnson, who works in Ohio.

Condon handles marketing and client meetings while Johnson takes care of the "back end," primarily the editing of contractor reports.

Consumer Service Analysis uses a mystery shopping software called Sassie, produced by SurfMerchants, a Boston-based Internet development firm.

Contractors write up reports, Johnson and Condon review them, and clients read them ‹ all online. The company also helps retrain some workers.

Consumer Service Analysis charges start at $100 per store visit, with contractors receiving a portion of the fee ‹ Condon declined to disclose the amount.

Some clients provide a shopping tab, but some contractors purchase items during their work and either seek reimbursement or keep the goods.

Payments come via PayPal, the e-commerce and money-transfer system.

But it's not all electronic. Condon gives out her phone number to clients and is available whenever they call.

Her clients say they are seeing results from the mystery shopper program.

Dennis Higashiguchi, senior manager for N&K CPAs' consulting division, hired Consumer Service Analysis to help with hospitality training at Honolulu International Airport, where his firm has a contract with the state Department of Transportation.

"What impressed me about Noelle was she was very tenacious and regularly followed through on contacts," said Higashiguchi, who met Condon at a business networking event. "I learned her business really had its act together, with high-profile clients. They understand how to assess behaviors and what needed to be done. They just hit the ground running."

Condon says she is not sure why business owners are not more attentive to customer service.

"You would think they would care more," she said. "But, I do have the solution to it."

Small-business issue

Helping businesses improve customer service.


  • Take the mystery out of mystery shopping.
  • Deal directly with clients at all times.
  • Employ state-of-the-art technology.
  • Seek expansion opportunities beyond Hawaii.

Join CSA's Mystery Shopping Team

If you have an eye for details, like to shop, can follow simple directions, and can adhere to deadlines, you may be the perfect mystery shopper. The Consumer Service Analysis mystery shopping team is filled with ordinary people just like you. Use the links below to find out more about being a mystery shopper and how it can supplement your income.

About Mystery Shopping | Characteristics of a Good Mystery Shopper | How it Works | FAQs