Every now and again, I like to highlight Mystery Shopping companies that are doing it right. Here, I speak with Kelly Truelove, owner of Integrity Consultants. Integrity Consultants provides mystery shopping, video shopping, merchandising, market research and other competitive intelligence services from focus groups and business verifications to pricing studies in the U.S. and Canada.
Hi, Kelly; it’s great to speak with you! Tell us about Integrity Consultants and how you got started.
Hi, Bethany; it’s great to speak with you, too! Integrity Consultants was launched January 1st, 2009. I started out in the industry as a Mystery Shopper and worked as a scheduler, recruiter, account manager, and in a lot of other different roles and capacities.
I saw not only an opportunity for growth in the industry, but room for improvement and also a niche for myself.
I launched Integrity Consultants because I wanted to address some of the things that I saw that I knew could be done better and provide clarity where I thought things were muddled. I wanted to simplify things and increase awareness of the industry as a whole. I also wanted to make things simpler for the end-user clients, which range from business owners and management companies, to marketing and advertising firms. Budget waste was something that really bothered me. I thought that the client had the right to expect that every single dime of their budget be maximized and utilized effectively.
I also saw room for improvement in the service that is provided to shoppers. There is an attitude among companies, not all companies, of course, but some think that shoppers are a dime a dozen. That is something that not only do I NOT believe, but that offends me. I feel that we are in a service industry, helping our clients to provide the very best in customer service that they can. We help with quality assurance and loss prevention; we help them make sure that their marketing dollars are maximized, and they can take this data and create training programs for their staff or loyalty programs for their customers. As mystery shopping companies, we are in a service based industry, and I feel that this is similar to the cobbler’s children having no shoes. How can you be the authority on what improves a customer experience if you don’t provide an excellent customer experience, yourself? I wanted to address that issue by being very accessible to my shoppers and honoring both our internal and external customers with great service and a memorable experience.
Can you tell me a little about the niche that you mentioned you were creating in the industry?
I have a flair for recruiting and scheduling, and building relationships with shoppers…it has become part of my internal customer strategy. I spend a lot of my time talking with shoppers one-on-one. We help shoppers even if they have never done an assignment with us, even if they’re not registered with us. We’ll help them get work with other companies, or even resolve disputes with other companies. Obviously, it doesn’t have anything to do with us, but we may get a call from a shopper who is frantically trying to reach another company, and they don’t know what to do, so we help them out.
I saw this franticness, this frenzy, happening more often than it should, and I realized that clarity was needed: for shop guidelines and instructions, and to promote awareness of different roles. If a shopper understands why an editor is asking a particular question, or why a client is requiring something in particular, then all of a sudden they understand things a little better; light bulbs go off, and everyone begins to get what they need. That’s one of the ways that I’m different, because I do things on a smaller scale, but much more intensely. There’s a lot more one-on-one time with our shoppers and our staff. Because of that, I started getting a lot of hard-to-fill and special project work, such as highly specialized projects with specific demographic requirements or just more stringent requirements, in general. So, that was my niche in the beginning. I began getting work from a number of companies in my industry that had exhausted their traditional resources and were still coming up short. We were able to meet their demands every time.
Since then we have branched out to take more traditional work, opening our service menu up to include not just colleagues needing turn-key or logistics support, but end-user clients, as well. We still take those frantic calls and special projects when colleagues need it, but those companies soon realize that although we can certainly help them in a crunch, we can also provide other turn-key operations. We can give them options, perhaps in regions where they are not as strong, or a service that they don’t normally provide. For example, my company provides video shopping, and there is only a very small percentage of mystery shopping companies that actually provide that service. Further differentiating Integrity Consultants is the fact that video and audio footage is edited and processed in-house. We are a true full-service provider, and none of the tasks associated with any project are subcontracted or outsourced. This is one way in which I can keep my end-user clients’ cost down, and they also have the benefit of consistency, all their data in one place, and one company that they can always call on, for whatever they need, whether it’s one mystery shop or ten thousand.
What should shoppers know about working with you?
They should know that they are always going to know who they’re speaking with. Shoppers are never going to get directed to a call center and are always going to know who is on the other line. We do provide more in-depth support, so they should never feel afraid to call when they need help. I’ve taken calls at 2am–not that I’m encouraging anyone to call me at 2am, but I have done it—and I’ve taken reports over the phone. We really go above and beyond to provide support to our shoppers, staff, and clients.
You started as a Mystery Shopper and then branched into starting your own company. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own business?
Know your industry, whatever it is. Put the time in, whether it’s getting a college education in your area of choice, or starting out in the field. My education is in applied sciences. Statistics, mathematics and journalism all played a part. Of course, I didn’t take a course on how to start my own mystery shopping company, but I had overall knowledge on each working part of the business, which has helped me be successful.
I would say if you’re going for a particular degree, or getting your education in the field, whatever it is, just know it, and know it well. If you want to get into my industry and start your own Mystery Shopping company, I recommend that you get started as a shopper. Understanding multiple jobs and how those jobs play into each other — how they interact and all the different people that touch an assignment from the time it’s ordered to the time it’s implemented — makes you even more marketable and really throws open the doors in terms of opportunity for you.
The Mystery Shopping industry is ripe with scams. I saw that someone was trying to pose as Integrity Consultants online. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
Yes, unfortunately, it is a common check-cashing scam. There are many companies and support companies (companies that don’t offer mystery shopping services but are job boards or reporting platforms) that have been victims of this scam as well. Typically the origin is overseas, and the scammer takes the name of a legitimate company, or a variation of the name, to make the company’s trusted readers and customers think that they are the legitimate company.
What happened in our case is that I got a call from a check-cashing firm in New York claiming that they had a check of ours. Right away I knew what it was, and I told them not to cash it, that it was a scam. It wasn’t coming from us; it didn’t have our branding, website, phone number or any of our actual information. They just used an address that was near our location and a bogus phone number. When people called the number and got nothing, they would go online and search for Integrity Consultants in the Saint Louis area and then find me.
We were very fortunate that we were called right away. Once I learned of the scam, I contacted the BBB and let them know that this was happening, and that we wanted to alert the public. So, they put out an “operator alert” which meant that they told all of their operators, and that if there was a complaint, they should direct the person to our website where we had already posted a notice about the fake check. The check-cashing firm actually sent us a copy of the check so we could post it online and show the public how very real they can appear.
Beyond that, we put out the public service announcement on all of our social media pages and everywhere that we had a presence online, and we started working with law enforcement and bank investigators. I had one very memorable conversation with a bank investigator, and when he called he was pretty hot, because he thought that he was talking to the scammer. I explained exactly who we were, where this comes from, and what the legitimate industry is and isn’t. By the end of the call he was nearly speechless and said, “I’ve been schooled.” That was very memorable for me, because it’s a good indication of what the banks, post offices and law enforcement agencies think when they see these scams. They don’t really understand them any more than the general public who is receiving them. So, in order to combat this problem, you have to create awareness, not only with the public but also the agencies trying to combat the problem.
I have gotten phone calls and emails from people who have received these checks from other company names. When they go looking for these checks, or search “mystery shopping check scam” they find our posts and website and they say, “I’m so glad you posted this information, because I wasn’t sure, and I went looking, so now I know it’s a scam!”
What is your advice for someone who wants to get started in Mystery Shopping?
Register with as many companies as possible. There are several hundred legitimate mystery shopping companies operating in the U.S. alone, and the more companies they register with, the more variety of jobs they will get. I recommend starting with at least 25 companies. If they broaden their pool, they will find that some assignments and some companies pay better than others, and they will see that they can create a pretty profitable route and part-time job. I have some video shoppers that make a good full time income, because video shopping is very profitable.
And of course they can register with you, right?
Absolutely! They can register at IntegrityConsultants.us.
Think about all the extra money you could make by being a mystery shopper, starting your own business, or working from home for a legitimate company. Take control of your income and check out our LEARN page for a list of classes, books, and more!