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Archive for January, 2011

Mystery Shopping

Because a number of people have asked me questions about Mystery Shopping such how to do it, how to get assignments, and so forth, I decided to put together a short post of some of the information I’ve found most helpful.

I’ve done mystery shopping for several years, and during that time it’s been fun to observe and report about both excellent as well as terrible customer service. I’ve acted as a prospective member of fitness centers, inquired about cell phone plans, computer monitors, and party supplies, performed gas station audits, checked for serial numbers on the back of ice cream freezers, watched hundreds of movie previews (trailers), tried on clothing, shopped for new furniture, and eaten lots of fast food. The possibilities are as endless as the commercial establishments that use mystery shoppers to hopefully improve their customer service and sales.

If you’re interested in making a little extra money as an independent contractor, I’d suggest doing some reading and research first to learn exactly what is required and to discover if you have what it takes to be successful. I’ve found the following two websites invaluable and immensely helpful.

Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is a good place to begin. Please check out their website and bookmark it as a favorite as I’m sure you’ll return to it again and again. It offers a wealth of information as well as constantly updated shopping assignments from a wide variety of mystery shopping companies.

Volition provides extensive A-Z lists of the many, many shopping companies you can sign up to represent.

Probably the most time-consuming part of becoming a mystery shopper is signing up for various companies. I’ve usually found those companies on volition.com. All companies require information such as name, address, phone number, email address, height, weight, gender, and so forth. You might be asked to provide a sample or two of your writing. Each company is different because each company represents a variety of companies. Some of them notify you of possible assignments by email; for some you will need to check their site for available jobs. So, be sure to bookmark all of the companies you sign on with. Also be sure to note the user name and password you use.

Here are just a few of the companies for which I have completed many assignments.

Business Evaluation Service

Second to None

Market Force

Blogs represent another excellent way to gain information from shoppers’ experiences and hints. Here are only a few I found from a Google search.

8 Truths from a Mystery Shopper You Must Read Before you Get Started

Mystery Shopping Coach’s Update

Blogs About Mystery Shoppers

I realize this is just a very tiny bit of information about the field of mystery shopping. While doing your own research, you’ll find your own favorites. However, I hope these ideas will at least get you started.

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 Since pretty much giving up the nomadic RV life several months ago and returning to San Diego to live, I’ve become more and more involved in homeless advocacy and assistance projects. At a training meeting with other volunteers for the Point-In-Time Count nationwide count of the homeless this week, I began wondering why I’m so passionate about these activities and decided to try to find a beginning point, something that got me started. However, my memory is a little fuzzy about many years ago, most likely when Reagan was president, so I won’t use that as a starting point. But, that time is indeed a beginning.

While going to seminary in Seattle from 1999 to 2003, I began noticing more and more people on street corners and freeway on and off ramps, holding signs offering to work for food or requesting money. In a field work class, one of my classmates, a rather quiet, unassuming young man, spent much time walking around downtown Seattle, stopping to talk with homeless individuals. I was impressed that he could do that. It tugged at me in ways almost nothing else had for a long time. However, at the time I was not prepared to do it myself.

After graduation, I returned to San Diego to do a year-long CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) residency with the Center for Urban Ministry, hoping to be assigned an internship with one of the homeless shelters downtown. At that time, San Diego County had just experienced several of the worst wildfires in history. Seventeen people had died, and many, many were left with no place to live. The head of the CPE program asked if I would be interested in being a chaplain-intern with those fire survivors, so I did. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I had ever done. My office was my small Nissan Sentra and my cell phone. I visited people wherever they were; in tiny motor homes, in tents, in half-burned buildings, in motels, in the homes or relatives or friends. I tried to give them hope. Possibly I succeeded. Little did I realize at the time that I would soon be in a similar situation.

Because of a well-paid job that just didn’t work out, I found myself without enough money to pay rent on the rather-overpriced apartments in the county. It wasn’t as serious as it could have been as I could have possibly lived with a relative or even returned to Portland. However, I was newly divorced and really needed to “stand on my own two feet.” So, I bought a very small motor home, 23-feet, traded the Sentra for a Ford pickup I could tow behind the RV, sold or gave away almost everything I owned, joined workamper.com, and found a job in Kanab, Utah, working as a breakfast buffet server for Parry Lodge. It was my first workamping job, one that provided not only an RV site, but also full hookups of water, electricity, and sewer, as well as pay for all hours worked. But, I was technically homeless, though not in an ordinary sense.

 Living in that very small space of one room with no separate bedroom, helped me understand a little better how the people I had tried to help in San Diego after the fires might have felt. Some of them had the same size motorhomes for their families of two or more people. I had a hard enough time taking what one person called “hokey-pokey showers,” you know, “put your right foot in, put your right foot out…” I couldn’t imagine two, three, or more family members doing it.

I was a full-time workamper for four years, working at various places during spring, summer, and fall. However, winters were difficult as there were very few jobs. Most workamping jobs were seasonal. So, I struggled to find places to live during the winter without having to pay an outrageous amount for space rent. Sometimes I parked in casino and Walmart parking lots for several nights. I volunteered one or more days a week at the Desert View Tower overlooking the desert in return for a spot to park that included electricity, water, and a fantastic view. Although not living on the street or in a shelter, I was technically homeless.

However, it was time to find a more permanent place so I returned to San Diego to live with my mother. It is working out well for both of us.

Two months ago I saw a request for volunteers for “Homeless Connect,” a one-day event downtown that provided resources for the homeless population of the county; clothing, medical and dental attention, food, pet care, legal advice, spiritual assistance, haircuts, and many more. I worked as an escort, helping a 60-something woman find her way around the large room to get the services she needed. We talked a lot and got well-acquainted. Yes, I most likely knew in my mind that homeless individuals were people just like you and me, but it never really sank in until then.

I talked with representatives of some of the many advocacy and aid groups in the county and learned about the Point-In-Time Count (PITC) this coming weekend. It is a national program that counts the homeless population each year at the same time in all areas. The tallies are entered into a large database and used to help get more funding for homeless work. So I will be among more than 550 other volunteers getting out there very early Friday morning, counting homeless individuals.

What comes next? I have no idea. However, I am making lots of connections with groups in the area such as the Interfaith Shelter Network, and will be doing a little volunteer work with them through my Unitarian Universalist church in the next few months.

Yes, I am passionate about this work and hopefully compassionate towards the many homeless people in this county. There are too many. And, the economic and unemployment situation now just makes everything worse. We all need one another, regardless of political or religious beliefs, and I really hope I’m doing my part to at least help with some basic needs. It’s the least I can do.

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I think it’s amazing what the change of one letter can do sometimes.

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Social Media Bootcamp for CEOs
John Larson
Westin – San Diego
Jan. 19, 2011
500 million people on Facebook alone. 62% of people using social media are between 25 and 54 years old. 71% are employed, median age is 33, 47% married.
Point of using social media for business is to build relationships with large groups of people. A two-way conversation with your target audience. Leverage technology. Customers listening to each other and tuning out marketing messages. There is always a conversation going on about your industry. At least use social media to protect your brand.
“Turn strangers to friends. Friends to customers. Customers to evangelists.”
Old School
New School
Telegram
Twitter
Yearbook
Facebook
Rolodex
LinkedIn
Television
YouTube
Newspaper
Blogs
Encyclopedia
Google
Yellow Pages
Google
In using social media, don’t:
  • Tell friends about bad food
  • Beg people to buy from you
  • Carry on a monologue. Instead, build relationships
  • It is not just setting up environments and not doing anything with them
Large, Fortune 500 companies: 65% use Twitter, 54% use Facebook. On average, they post 27 Tweets and 4 FB posts per week. They post 10 videos and 7 blogs per month.
How to use social media to the best advantage
Develop your strategy first.
Define:
Goals, objectives, target audience, conversion activities (what you want people to do), budget, and resources.
Measure:
Performance goals
Branding goals
Cost per lead
Cost per acquisition
Refine:
Make changes for improvement
Create new objectives
Manage by exception i.e. Why?
If You Regularly
Your Profile
Blog, podcast, tweet, video
Creator
Write reviews, post replies
Critic
Update your profile
Joiner
Watch videos, read blogs
Spectator
None of the above
Inactive
You need to be a creator and a critic. Figure out and engage with people already having a conversation about your industry.
How to make informed decisions and “Lead with value.”:
  • Use archived knowledge such as spec sheets, technical data. Write blog articles using that knowledge.
  • Use real-time knowledge to influence buyers’ decisions
  • Use humor (check out Old Spice videos on YouTube)
  • Use products
Don’t be a narcissist.
There is a time commitment – resources and manpower needed
Ask questions and for opinions. Stay relevant
 Focus on your niche.
Educate – train customers to buy. Use key words and phrases on your website.
Tactics in a nutshell – short overview
  • Listening:  to identify who you want to build relationships with
  • Build community – grow social media environment i.e. friends and followers
  • Broadcast – post stuff. Drive people to your content
  • Content – if people want to share
  • Convert
Tactics – long version
Listening:
  • Key phrase research, include misspellings.
  • Google Alerts. Set up on Google so they will alert you when people use your key phrases, etc.
  • Twitter – search bar, hash tags (# in front of key word or phrase)
  • SocialMention.com – it will search through media environments, real time.
  • Industry sites and blogs. For example, websites listed in industry mags.
Build Community:
  • Use “Follow” buttons on website
  • Email-blast customers and prospects, under guise of customer service.
  • Tweet, blog, post. People will follow you.
  • Leverage search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM)
Broadcasting:
  • Begin engaging with target audience
  • Link social sites together to push content across multiple channels. Can use: One tfor Twitter – I can’t read my own writing but available on Twitter home page. Also Ping.fm and Hootsuite. Only need to type a message once. One click of a button will post to many sites.
“For every nine non-commercial broadcasts, you earn the right to one promotional one.”
Content:
  • Define tone/voice. Do you want to be humorous, serious, just facts, personal, etc.? Have the company voice.
  • Leverage content across media types using videos, blogs, etc.
  • Make your content more than valuable: Make it remarkable (people will remark about it).
  • Content ideas:
  • Success stories/case studies
  • Product comparisons
  • Top 10 lists
  • Write something controversial i.e. maybe write an opposite opinion in a blog.
Convert – to get leads, etc.:
  • Enable people to request a catalog.
  • Offer free consulting – do a service for someone, help solve a problem
  • Promotional products – to get contact information
  • Offer an online webinar/workshop
To maximize conversions:
  • Enable people to know what’s in it for them.
  • How to take the next step. Be very clear and specific about this. If you’re not mailing anything, don’t ask for a mailing address. People don’t like this.
  • Send follow-up thank you by email
  • Invite people to follow you on other sites.
Monitoring:
  • Use Dashboard software
    • Aggregate view
    • Real time
  • Analytical data
    • Use Google Analysis (free)
Social Media Cornerstones
Twitter:
  • Be human. Let your personality shine through. (Check zappos.com CEO Tony)
  • Tweet 3-7 times per week at a minimum. For example, Dell Computers tweets coupons.
  • Always personally reply to new followers
  • Build a professional-looking profile
Facebook – 500 million people:
  • Set up a company page
  • Post 3 or more times a week – each business day
  • Add “Like” feature to page
  • Add video from YouTube
LinkedIn:
  • More business oriented than Facebook or Twitter. Google loves LinkedIn
  • Update personal status 3 – 5 times per week
  • Create company profile with key words in mind
  • Connect your blog to your personal profile and company profile
  • Start a group tailored to your target audience with lots of links
Blog:
  • This should be the central command post for all your content.
  • Blogs never go away – they last forever and can be found.
  • You can aggregate other things like Twitter, FB, etc. Optimize with key phrases and words.
  • Should have a professional appearance
  • Post a blog at least 4  times per month and/or once a week.
  • Post the blog headline on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn to let people know it’s there
  • Post a related video on YouTube
    • Link to sign-up for email newsletter
    • Link to embedded video
    • Social environment links (buttons) should be at the top in plain sight for easy use
YouTube (This is the main thing right now):
  • Post one new video a month.
  • Not the place for amateur hour. Should be professional, TV-quality video
  • Keep it short and optimize. People have short attention spans. Approximately 1-3 minutes
  • Post videos on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Videos are 53 more times likely to get on the first page of search engines
  • YouTube is the second most favorite with search engines. 2.6 billion visitors per day.
Read “Business Week”, July 15, 2010 article about social media.
Social Media Professionals:
Position
Annual Average Salary
Social Media Strategist
$120,000
Community Manager
    70,000
Copywriter/blogger
    40,000
Video production
    50,000

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