Up until recently, Five Guys, a popular burger store with more than 1500 locations, conducted ZERO advertising and marketing campaigns. They value the customer experience so highly that they send mystery shoppers to every location twice a week. That’s a huge testimonial to the power of customer experience!
Mystery shoppers behave, and sometimes really are, regular customers who perform specified transactions to help companies learn about and improve the customer experience, whether it be offline or online. They are highly trained shoppers who understand the purpose of their shopping journey and work to evaluate every aspect of the journey. And, they can provide these services every day, in every store, across the country, in real life circumstances. There’s little that’s more true to reality!
Done well, a mystery shopping program can detect problems with employees, facilities, and processes and allow companies to take steps to prevent small problems from becoming large, serious problems. And along the way, they can help to improve customer satisfaction and retention.
What Do Mystery Shoppers Evaluate?
Mystery shoppers are trained to do more than simply buy a product and report on their experience. Depending on the specific research objective, they may be asked to provide specific quantitative and qualitative data on a variety of topics. This could include:
- How many employees greeted the shopper?
- How quickly did employees react?
- Did employees smile or verbally greet them? What were the employee’s moods?
- Did employees offer to help? How could they have been more helpful?
- How did employees handle complaints or frustrations?
- Were employees on the phone, talking to each other, or unavailable?
- Were employees aggressive or helpful?
- Were employees knowledgeable about the products?
- Were employees aware of company policies regarding returns, exchanges, reserving products, pricing issues?
- Were employees aware of legal, privacy, and ethics issues?
- What was the condition of the facilities including the main location, change rooms, rest rooms, service rooms, parking lots, etc.
- Were shelves stocked and aisles clear?
- Were expired packages still on the shelves?
When To Use Mystery Shopping
As you can see from the variety of metrics mystery shoppers report on, there is a wide range of research objectives they can assist with. Some of these include:
Gain a Fresh Perspective Of Your Brand: Some mystery shoppers may have never visited your outlet before giving you the opportunity to learn about the experience from a first-time shopper. Naturally, the shopping journey is very different for someone who knows where everything is and how everything works compared to someone who’s never stepped in the front door before.
Understand Customer Satisfaction: Mystery shoppers are experts in evaluating customer service. They can help you understand how employees behave in natural circumstances when management isn’t directly supervising them. You could even implement a system wherein exceptional employees are offered rewards, just as Five Guys does.
Understand Policy Implementation: From return policies, privacy policies, override policies, and more, most companies have many different policies that employees need to be aware of. And, these policies can change quickly depending on legal requirements and the time of the year. Mystery shoppers can help companies determine whether those polices have been understood and implemented correctly and fully. And, whether any components of the policies were poorly designed and require reevaluation.
Monitor facilities: Not only do mystery shoppers evaluate employees, they can also evaluate facilities. They can report on whether aisles and shelves were neat and organized, whether layouts matched designs provided by headquarters, and whether shelves were full and sale signs were clearly posted.
Identify training needs: After using mystery shopping to understand customer satisfaction, policy implementation, and facility presentation, companies can move to the next stage and turn those lessons into training programs that help employees do a better job. Most important here is that mystery shopping allows companies to focus on the right training not any training.
Gather Competitive Intelligence: Mystery shoppers can be assigned to review both your outlets and competitive outlets. It’s essential to know how your company compares to competitors particularly in a tight business.
As with every research method, there are of course disadvantages.
Employees may feel uneasy: One of the most serious disadvantages that must be handled properly from the beginning is how your employees will feel. It is necessary to tell your employees if you use mystery shopping. If you don’t explain to them why and how it’s being used, they may feel as though you don’t trust them or that you are micro-managing them.
Generalizability: Just as questionnaire wording and interviewers do, mystery shopping also exposes the biases of the researcher. Even mystery shoppers who strive to be completely unbiased will always have some kind of bias. That’s why it’s important to collect experiences from multiple mystery shoppers over several days, over different times of the day, and days of the week so that you can understand the experiences of a broad range of people, not one single person.
Not Appropriate For Every Company: Mystery shoppers must have a legitimate need and understanding of the product or service in order to generate a valid assessment. And, the outlet needs to be large enough to warrant bringing in a third party assessor. Thus, not every mystery shopper would be suited to evaluate a company that sells business servers. And, mom and pop shops wouldn’t warrant a mystery shop either.
It’s Not a One Time Deal: Mystery shopping gives you an idea of what happened with one employee, on one particular day, in one particular outlet. Given that mystery shopping research should lead to actionable results and changes in processes, training programs, and more, mystery shopping should be an on-going process. You need to ensure that your results either improve over time or remain high over time. And the only way to know this is by conducting on-going mystery shopping.
Are you ready to mystery shop?
If you’re ready to gain a more in-depth understanding of consumer and customer experiences with your outlets and employees, please get in touch with us! We’d love to help you design a mystery shopping program that’s right for you!