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Secret shoppers infiltrate Whistler shops

Chamber’s newest service program gets off to strong start

Local retailers are upping the ante when it comes to providing quality customer service to Whistler’s visitors.

About 25 businesses chose to participate in the Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s new Mystery Shopper program, which launched in December.

The concept behind the program is pretty simple: the Chamber hires local “mystery shoppers” to go into participating stores, cafes, restaurants or service providers to ask employees questions and browse.

The shopper spends about 10 minutes at each location, and fills out a report on their experience after they leave.

At the end of the month, the retailer is emailed a link that allows them to view four reports filled out on their business, and a combined score for the overall reporting period.

While individual results are kept confidential, the data will be pooled to compile an overall report and score for the Resort.

The first round of mystery shoppers hit the streets in mid-December, with reports given back to retailers in the first week of January.

And so far, at least one business owner is pleased with the results.

Tom Horler, executive director of the Chamber, is also the owner of Whistler’s McDonalds, one of the businesses trying out the new program.

While every McDonalds is mystery shopped once a month by an independent third party, according to corporate policy, Horler says the secondary mystery shop will make his job easier and can only improve service.

He adds that the program isn’t just about catching negligent employees, but about rewarding people for good work.

In their first round of feedback, McDonalds received positive reviews and Horler says he now plans to reward the employee identified in the report.

“That person did a great job, provided great customer service, and will get a little something special for that.”

Horler is encouraging other businesses to get onboard and help improve service at the Resort as a whole.

“The key to the success of Whistler is great customer service. But that’s the key to any good product,” said Horler.

“Whistler is a resort, so we want to rise above and beyond all the rest in providing the best customer service possible.”

Julie Morris is project manager for the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, and has been working on the new Mystery Shopper program.

She explains that the Mystery Shopper program is designed to support and measure the effectiveness of the Spirit Program, which teaches the “Connect, Assist, Exceed” service philosophy.

“What we’re trying to do with the Mystery Shopper program is actually measure whether employees are connecting with guests, assisting guests, and exceeding expectations.”

Morris says they’ve received a good response to the new program so far, but are hoping more businesses come forward once they see the results from the first round of mystery shopping.

“Ultimately, we would love to see the majority of businesses that are front-line customer facing and are enrolled in the Spirit course also enrolled in the Mystery Shopper program.”

Horler agrees the new program will provide a benchmark for assessing the effectiveness of the Spirit Program.

“Almost every business participates in the Spirit program, but how to do you properly measure the results of the education behind the Spirit Program? By doing the mystery shops.”

Before the Chamber launched their Mystery Shopper program, Morris says they researched professional mystery shopping companies, and discovered that many were charging about $200 per shop.

The chamber provides four mystery shops per month, plus the reports, for $60 a month.

Horler says he is “amazed” by the value of the program, compared with similar programs available.

Each report provides feedback on the mystery shopper’s experience in stores, including detailed comment boxes, and suggestions on how managers can use the feedback, whether it’s rewarding employees for good performance, or improving upon negative feedback.

The program is still in a six-month pilot stage, but Morris is optimistic that it will expand and become a permanent fixture in Whistler.

For more information, or to sign up for the Mystery Shopper program online, visit the Chamber’s website at