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Interview with Second to None

Second To None is a privately owned mystery shopping company headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI. Jeff Hall, the current CEO, founded the company in 1989. Today, Second To None serves clients in the food and beverage, retail, healthcare, financial services and hospitality industries as well as in the public sector. They have an A+ rating with the BBB.

From my experience, the shop reports all require a reasonable amount of narrative and are audited in a timely manner by evenhanded editors. Shoppers request shops and then are notified within 24 hours if they are awarded the assignment(s). Payments are made on the 17th of the month for shops completed the previous month. Registration is on their website: www.second-to-none.com.

MSM Talks with Jeff Hall, CEO:

As the story goes, the idea to start a mystery shopping company arose when you worked at a local seafood restaurant and your manager reviewed a mystery shop report with you. What about this experience compelled you, at age 24, to actually start your own company?

I had worked in the restaurant industry throughout high school and college, and genuinely enjoyed being in the customer service business. In my senior year at The University of Michigan, intending to become an architect, I was indeed mystery shopped while working as a dinner waiter. In becoming exposed to the concept of measuring customer experiences and providing insights for helping business operators improve their performance, that particular mystery shopping report can be credited for becoming an unexpected catalysts that altered the course of my life. It was at that moment that I understood there could be a way of aligning my passion for customer service with a business model that could deliver incredible value to clients, through helping them continually improve the interactions occurring between their staff and guests. I took a leap of faith, and in June of 1989, founded Second To None.

How were you able to convince that very first client to sign up with Second To None?

Through a bit of serendipity, a gentleman by the name of Michael Gibbons, who happened to lead the Michigan Restaurant Association at the time, as well as own a number of restaurants locally, was willing to meet with me and listen to my vision for Second To None. He was instrumentally supportive, and offered the use of his restaurants as a test environment for developing a mystery shopping and performance insights solution. It was a lucky break for a fledgling start-up, and I am grateful every day for his generosity and belief in my idea. Michael eventually went on to become the head of the National Restaurant Association, and 25 years later, we are proud that his restaurant group remains a client of Second To None.

I understand your first big break came in 1995 when you signed a mystery shopping contract with a major photocopying firm. Since I assume you were competing with other more established and nationally recognized MSCs, how in the world did you accomplish that?

In looking back over the course of our firm’s history, and those business relationships that have been the most successful, a few common themes emerge: creating a culture of reciprocal trust, delivering on our promises, and continually innovating around client solutions. One of the most important of these is that Second To None seeks client partners with a desire to develop authentic, longstanding, mutually respectful relationships. I’ve been fortunate to have surrounded myself with incredibly grounded, talented, genuine individuals with a real passion for helping companies realize their potential. I believe our clients are attracted to our work in large part because of our associates, and their deep desire to serve our clients as a trusted advisor. In the case of winning the engagement you referenced, it was in part for our ability to demonstrate success in program design and execution, but in larger part due to these intangible factors of people and passion we work hard to nurture and maintain.

Today, several major corporations are listed as clients on the Second To None website. When you recruit shoppers, to represent Second To None, what is your criteria? Please rank the following attributes in importance to your company? (5 = Highest, 1 = Lowest)

2 Great memory
3 Above-average writing skills
5 Ability to follow instructions
1 Dependable
4 Highly developed observation skills
How are shop fees determined?

Several factors influence shopper compensation for each project and individual shopping assignments. We consider the time allotted to performing the shop, scope of the form to be completed, purchase requirements, supplemental documentation required (pictures, receipts, collateral materials), shopper attributes such as desired age range, gender, the designated shop days/times etc. We also take into consideration shopper demand for jobs, in part based on the density of shoppers within geographic areas.

Although most posts on the Mystery Shop Forum are positive, some shoppers have complained about having shops rejected without receiving either an explanatory or advisory email from Second To None. Could you please comment?

We recognize the importance of communicating shop status to shoppers throughout the shop completion cycle, and understand that at times, explanatory communications have been absent. Our quality assurance editors now include appropriate explanatory comments for each rejected shop. These comments are not emailed as a separate communication, but rather maintained as part of the shop record status found within our Shopper Hub. The Shopper Hub allows our shoppers to maintain a complete history of all work requested, completed, pending payment and paid.

What do you see as the future of mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping programs are becoming more detailed and complex, as clients have a need to understand the nuances of the customer-facing behaviors taking place within their stores, restaurants, banks, clinics, etc. Shoppers are increasingly role playing very specific need-state scenarios in order to engage with employees in a manner that allows distinct interactions to take place. The findings can then be analyzed and presented as part of a more comprehensive set of practical, fact-based and prioritized insights.

Jeff, on behalf of everyone at Mystery Shopper Magazine, thank you for taking the time to answer our interviewer’s questions and share your company history with us.

Your Comments:

  1. Olaoluwa Alebiosu says:

    Stay away from second to none. Their shopper instructions are unclear and a predominant amount of your reports will be declined with very little explanation.

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