UCSB has employed commercial spies for the last 16 years — it’s possible you could be standing right next to one at this moment and not even know.
Known as the “Secret Shoppers” project, the initiative was established on campus in 1994 to rate the performance of campus dining centers. Under the cloak-and-dagger plan, UCen Dining Services’ eight dining units pay select employees to pose as customers in university stores and restaurants, all the while judging the cleanliness, employee behavior and consumer satisfaction levels at campus stores.
Laurie Ritchie, UCen Dining Services administrative divisional manager, said some secret shoppers aren’t so stealthy.
“It’s interesting because there are certain associates who are well-known secret shoppers,” says Ritchie. “Even when one of my shoppers is shopping for themselves [and is not undercover], it keeps the employees on their toes.”
The program, which runs in eight-week intervals, rotates shopper-spies each quarter.
Former secret shopper Alexandra Mosher, a fourth-year art history major and Dining Services employee, said the program was very successful.
“It’s nice to see the Dining Services from both sides,” Mosher said. “It is so important for the students to have good customer service”.
According to Ritchie, students can only work as secret shoppers if they are employed by UCen Dining Services and receive adequate training.
“You have to be a supervisor at one of our food units because you should already have a working knowledge of a unit and of customer service,” Ritchie said.
Aside from looking the part of a customer, Ritchie said students must adopt the mentality of consumers as well.
“When I’m training secret shoppers, I encourage them to go out of their role as a supervisor in dining services and go into the mindset of a customer who is entering a restaurant for the first time,” Ritchie said.
Courtyard Café Supervisor Aleena Bissett, a third-year English major, said shoppers are allocated allowances that they can spend on food items of their choice.
“Secret shoppers get $49 allotted to their ACCESS card at the beginning of the quarter that they can shop with,” Bissett said. “You are assigned to certain units and you have to spend $7 a week at those specified units.”
Furthermore, Ritchie said UCSB’s unique program has paved the path for other UC campuses.
“Other campuses have heard about our project and were truly impressed,” Ritchie said. “UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced and UC San Diego are just a few of the schools who are using our idea.”