From the June 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Ever wonder how your employees perform when you're not watching? A mystery shopper can help you find out.

Mystery shoppers pretend to be customers and provide an evaluation of your employees' performances. The reports can be used to improve customer service, develop training, and reward workers for superior performance. If you use a shopping service that's also a private investigation company, it can provide reports on employee honesty.

Silia A. Smiley owns SAS Associates in Bettendorf, Iowa, which provides investigations, protective shopping, business consulting and loss prevention services. Smiley offers these tips:

Decide what you want from the service. Do you want to measure customer service or identify training needs, or are you concerned about possible theft?

Ask about the shoppers' backgrounds. You want a service with professionals trained in observation skills.

Check references. Find out what other clients think of the service.

Make a commitment. Commit to at least one year and have a shopper report on each location once or twice a month.

Look for mystery shopping services in your telephone directory under "protective shopping" or "price comparison shopping"; also check under "market research" and "investigative services."

On The Move

Moving a business can be disruptive and expensive, but there are ways to reduce the trauma. When Paula T. Harvey relocated her direct mail, packaging and shipping services company, The Source, from an industrial area to downtown Hattiesburg, Mississippi, she learned some valuable lessons.

Make your move a marketing tool. In addition to notifying customers and vendors of your new address, tell them more than once what will be better about your products and services after the move.

Maintain a consistent image. "Now is not the time to change your logo," says Harvey. "Keep the look people are familiar with."

Give each department head the authority to do things their own way. Let managers control the move for their own areas.

Set up as you go. Harvey says moving things in work groups that can be quickly disassembled and reassembled reduces your downtime.

Answer the phone. Make sure no phones are left unattended. Warns Harvey, "Don't ever let your customers think--even for a minute--that you might be out of business."

Fraud Squad

Most business owners recognize the value of advertising in the Yellow Pages--which makes them prime targets for con artists selling listings in directories potential customers will probably never see.

The scam works like this: Unscrupulous directory publishers mail solicitations designed to look like invoices to small businesses and nonprofit organizations. The mailings usually contain the "walking fingers" logo (which has never been copyrighted or trademarked) and are designed to mislead customers into believing they are paying for a listing in their local telephone directory. But the directory produced usually has limited distribution, often not even in the advertiser's market, and few customers benefit. The con artists, however, are benefiting to the tune of some $500 million each year.

Ed Blackman, executive vice president of the Yellow Pages Publishers Association (YPPA), a nonprofit trade organization, says local Yellow Pages advertising is useful because it's a listing of nearby businesses. Statewide and national directories are not beneficial for most people. Clues to a bogus Yellow Pages invoice include:

The bill says it is a solicitation, not an invoice.

The return address is a post office box.

It doesn't include a telephone number.

The amount of the bill is less than $200--typical amounts are $147, $157 and $187.

If you suspect you've received a bogus bill, notify your local postal authorities, the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney's office. You can also report them to the YPPA's hotline at (800) 841-0639.

Power Words

Want to strengthen your image and influence? Powerful speech patterns can help. Donald H. Weiss, CEO of Self-Management Communications Inc., an executive education firm in Florissant, Missouri, and author of Why Didn't I Say That? (Amacom), offers these tips to increase your verbal power:

Avoid "ahs" and "uhs." "You can be very confident, but `ahs' and `uhs' make you sound unsure of yourself and what you're saying," Weiss says. Don't be afraid of silence; it's OK to say you need a moment to think about something.

Use active instead of passive verbs--"We need to do something about this" rather than "Something needs to be done about this."

Avoid speaking too rapidly or too loudly. These speech patterns can create an aura of distrust and make the person you are speaking with uncomfortable. Lowering the tone of your voice and slowing the pace of your speech encourages others to listen.

Avoid generalities. Vague statements that can't be substantiated can make everything you say suspect. If you don't have the data to back up a statement, make it clear that what you're saying is your opinion.

Watch your use of qualifiers. While they are sometimes necessary, constant use of such phrases as "I think," "in my opinion," and "it appears to me" makes you sound unsure of yourself.

Contact Sources

Corperformance Inc., 2304 Huntington Dr., #200, San Marino, CA 91108, (818) 287-0701;

Meyer Group, 883 Cadillac Dr., Scotts Valley, CA 95066, (408) 439-9607;

SAS Associates, 1530 State St., #1, Bettendorf, IA 52722;

The Source, 300 Hardy St., Hattiesburg, MS 39401-3823, (601) 582-7608, (800) 824-8301;

Yellow Pages Publishers Association, (800) 841-0639.

Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer in Winter Park, Florida.