Let’s face it, bosses are treated differently. If we drop our egos long enough to really want the truth about our brand and our leadership or management skills (and we should), we often receive watered-down versions of the truth. 

So, how do we find out what people really think of our business? Customer satisfaction surveys are nice but are often ignored. Employees are rarely brutally honest. So we need a black-op plan to find the truth about how others experience our businesses: We need to go undercover. Here's how to do it.  

Call the Receptionist. Act like a complete outsider such as a vendor, would-be customer, or prospective client. Whether it's a receptionist or other first-line gatekeeper, ask simple questions about your company like what it does, how many employees, and would the person on the other end of the line recommend your company as a potential solution to a particular need or problem. Study the person’s energy, knowledge of the business, friendliness, and willingness to help. Is he or she overly positive? Does the person you are speaking to make you feel important? 

Apply for a Job. Use an alias, and apply for a job at your own company. Closely monitor the entire process, from the intro email to the follow-up call to the setup of an interview.Did the person in HR make you really WANT to work there? Did he or she make you feel like an individual with a chance of landing the job or did you feel like you were just part of the herd? Did he or she make you feel like your company is a truly wonderful place to work?

Hang Out. You don't even have to go undercover for this one. Take a seat in the lobby, grab a table in your restaurant or putz around at the front door or entrance. You don’t have to wear a disguise. Just relax, don’t draw attention to yourself, and observe. You’ll be amazed at what you hear, see, and learn. What are people saying about your business, its service, its products? What are the employees talking about as they pass by? Are they engaged with the activity of the day or do they seem to be counting down the hours to the end of the work day?    

Send an Email. Most businesses with a website have a “Contact” section with a generic email address. Send an email from a different, anonymous account to that address. Monitor how long it takes to receive a response, and if the response came from the appropriate staffer. Was the email helpful or could you tell the responder simply wanted you to go away? Was the response individualized or canned?

Once you've gone through these exercises, carefully study what you found. Ask yourself, “Is this the best my company can do?” If it's not, then you need to come up with some fixes. After all, these are the front lines of your company--essentially your external marketing department. Whatever interactions you had, those are the same ones your customers are having.

And that's a big deal, with implications stretching well beyond each individual interaction. With peer and social recommendations more important than ever to the purchasing journey of the customer, it is vital to get those who experience your brand to speak about it as positively as possible. And that means making sure they have the best experience they can.