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Have you ever wanted to see through your customer’s eyes as they browse your website or follow in their footsteps as they walk through your store? Employees are the face of your business and knowing how they influence customers experience of your business is key. Obtaining an objective opinion of your customer experience can provide useful insight into your business but CX research cannot always provide the depth you need. One effective research technique that is often overlooked is mystery shopping – even though it’s been around for a very long time (the 1940’s to be exact).

Preventing employee theft and manually filling out shopper reports initially constituted the basic understanding of the term ‘mystery shopping’. The concept has progressed since then. Instead of being a very traditional style of research – where an unknown shopper tests out the customer experience in a retail environment, mystery shopping has come to entail much more than that. Mystery shoppers can help you determine a customer-like impression of your brand at each touchpoint and define areas and processes that need improvement. When mystery shopping is done correctly, it can inform your business strategy and enable success.

How does mystery shopping work?

 

Mystery shopping is an anonymous evaluation of a business touchpoint.  When running a mystery shopping study, your employees have the right to know about the implementation of mystery shoppers on an ongoing basis but don’t necessarily have to know the exact arrival time or date. To ensure effective mystery shopping the following process can be followed.

1.    Determine the purpose of mystery shopping

First, determine the purpose and requirements of your evaluation – what exactly do you need to find out? This helps you set goals and objectives for where you want to be. Let’s say your focus is on customer service and you want to find out how your employees are treating customers when they sit down at your restaurant. A mystery shopper notices that they never get a friendly greeting when walking through the door, or that the waiters never offer food suggestions or specials. outlining the purpose and business questions will help you plan your mystery shop.

2.    Designing a program/questionnaire based on mystery shopping

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can develop a program or method of data collection that speaks to your purpose. For example, if you want to determine the user experience of your website, your questionnaire should ask questions that revolve around that. They may find that they have a difficult time setting up their shipping address or might struggle to navigate your site because of poor design. Your questionnaire needs to ask this explicitly with specific and detailed questions. The questions need to be clear with the option of providing further comments.

3.    Finding your mystery shoppers

There are many ways you can source your shoppers. The primary consideration is that they appear to be “real shoppers”, so if your target audience is particularly niche, you’ll want your mystery shopper to match this. The shoppers need to be unbiased and qualified to perform the allocated tasks.

4.    Collecting your Data

Once you’ve found your shoppers, you can begin the data collection process. It is essential that this process is well defined and that the parameters are explained to participating individuals well. If you have done enough preparation before starting your research, this process should go relatively smoothly.  There are a variety of techniques which could be used to collect your data including but not limited to spy cams worn by mystery shoppers, mystery shoppers evaluating the business on certain questions etc.

5.    Data preparation

Once your shoppers have completed their reports, these need to be checked for validity, accuracy, consistency and objectivity.

6.    Reporting your Findings

Your report needs to come back in time for it to still be extremely relevant. This step is where your analysis and findings come into play – where your data turns into valuable, useable, and actionable insights.

7.    Reviewing and Repeating your steps

The results from mystery shopping studies should be used to motivate employees – rewarding tasks that are done well and identifying potential training opportunities. It should not be used to pick out individual flaws, but rather as a means to fix holes in the process.

When this entire process is applied correctly, it can provide valuable insight into your business. Not sure how this all ends? A couple episodes of ‘Undercover Boss’ may give you an excellent idea of the kind of outcomes one can expect.

To make the most of this, a company should understand that results are reflective of the organisation and not the individual. It is vital that employees know about and understand the program so that they have a positive outlook on it. It must be seen as a way to improve process and gain rewards for both the employee and the employer, instead of a means to “check-up” on them or invade their privacy.

Why is mystery shopping Important?

 

So why mystery shopping? There are a few key advantages to consider:

  • Businesses can better evaluate brand image
  • It ensures employee compliance with policy and regulation
  • Provides a unique perspective, that simulates the perspective of real-life customers
  • Helps to identify areas where employees excel and encourages more of this behaviour
  • Identifies areas that need improvement or training
  • Aids in the setup of employee rewards programs
  • Ultimately, helps to improve your bottom line

How does mystery shopping fit into your business or department?

 

The benefits of mystery shopping are clear, but how does it fit into the bigger scheme of things when it comes to your business or your department? Many people believe mystery shopping is mainly meant for retail businesses and mainly used by operational departments, but most businesses and departments can benefit from this research methodology.  Below we provide a brief introduction to how mystery shopping can be used across 3 departments, namely Customer Experience (CX), Marketing and Operations.

As mentioned in the “Why is Mystery Shopping important” section: Businesses can better evaluate brand image through Mystery Shopping. Marketing can use this to influence their communication strategies and business proposition. For example, if the mystery shopping study uncovers a developmental area within the staff friendliness evaluation, operations can implement training to improve this and marketing can develop a strategy to re-establish the brand as a brand who not only delivers the best customer service but “does so with a smile”. In this way mystery shopping helps bridge the gap between Operations, CX and Marketing. This can be taken even further through to sales as this experience and communication strategy ultimately translates into business performance. As a whole, the more time you invest in understanding your customers, employees and processes, the better the outcome. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (also known as the richest man in the world) states, “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.”

Mystery Shopping is a proven and effective method for gaining an in-depth understanding of various aspects of your business, but it is often underutilised and not considered as a tool in your customer measurement arsenal. For more information on how mystery shopping can be used to add value to your business contact Selina de Freitas Head of the Genex Institute (Research Training Academy) at selina@genex.co.za.