Should I Have My Company Mystery Shopped?

Discover what will help guarantee a successful mystery shopping program.

Mystery ShopperI wish I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, “Oh, you do Mystery Shopping; I always wanted to do that!” I think most people do find the thought of posing as a customer and reporting back on how they were treated, rather intriguing.

But there is a lot more to it than skulking around in a trench coat and spy glass!

I believe most companies have taken the plunge and decided that it really is important to conduct frequent “mystery or secret shops” of their businesses.

The question remains, do they do anything constructive with the information or is it used as a disciplinary tool?

Before you start having people snoop around your company, consider the following clues that will help guarantee a successful program.

1. What’s the Value in a Mystery Shopper Program?

The most important reason for conducting a mystery shop, is to see your business through the eyes of your customer. Not only should you consider mystery shops, but using focus groups on a quarterly basis that are made up of some of your actual customers. Both sources will provide you with excellent feedback that you can start to focus on.

Second, a well-thought out mystery shopper program will allow you to evaluate the accuracy of your training program. If your employees are taught in their training program that they must greet the customer in a certain way, the “shop” will show the results. It is also a way to hold employees accountable for what they learned in training. If you train them you can test them!

Third, it helps a company to truly focus on the areas that need improving, based on the customer’s reactions. Too often management believes that there needs to be changes in one area and the customer feedback shows that the focus needs to be elsewhere in order to keep them as a loyal customer. Management may think that tightly merchandising their floor space is giving the customer the selection they want, and it turns out that the customer says it is too cramped to shop comfortably.

2. Should I do a Mystery Shop without the Employees Knowing?

Pop Quiz! How many of us read those words and remember a grumpy teacher walking in the classroom to a group of rowdy kids, slamming her book on the desk and bellowing, “Ok, take out a sheet of paper we’re going to have a pop quiz.,” Panic just struck your soul! The same thing happens with employees. In addition you have just thrown any trust you have built with your employee’s right out the window. If you want to build a team, let the players know the game plan!

Explain to your employees why you are planning a mystery shop. Explain in a positive way that it is part of the “on going” training program of the company and that the best way to improve business is to find out what the customer really wants. Explain also, that it is a way to hold the employees responsible for the information they were provided in any and all of their training programs. Employees are far less likely to be upset with the results of what they were tested on if they had sufficient time to “study”.

3. Where Do I Start?

Slow down and think, is my answer. First, think about the information you really want to obtain from these reports and what are you going to do with it. The questions you want to ask are one of the most important parts of the program. The best place to obtain the questions is to go back to the training material. Remember what I said earlier, if you train them you can test them.

You probably have, what I call, non-negotiable questions that you can begin with. Those are the things you teach employees that must be done, no matter what. If you want to attach points to the questions, then you can give more points to the questions that you want your employees to be the best at. Let’s say answering the phone in a certain way is mandatory. If they know that, and they are held responsible for doing that, then you should have it on the questionnaire and you can feel confident about attaching a higher number of points to it.

In most companies, there are three or four areas that they like to have the shoppers give feedback on. The first area is usually the facility. Was the location easy to find? Was the entrance neat and clean? Did I feel safe parking after dark? Was the interior of the location attractive? Was it easy for me to find what I was looking for? The next area usually covered is the inventory or merchandising of the store. Was the signing helpful? Was the business in stock on what I needed? Was it easy for me to shop? The last one is usually the area of service. How was I greeted? Was the employee easy to find? Was the employee knowledgeable? Did the employee make me feel special? Again, these questions can be as many or as few as you think is important to get the feedback that you need.

The next step is to hire the shoppers. This can make or break your program. Too often companies think they are saving money by hiring friends and family. I suggest that you hire people you don’t know. You are looking for unbiased feedback and the best way is to hire the right people for it.

You can hire a company to coordinate your entire shopper program, or you may try doing it yourself if you have a small company and want to try it first on your own. Call the potential shopper and interview them extensively just as if you were hiring a person to work for your company on a full or part time basis. You will get a good feel over the phone about their communication and grammar skills that I feel is so important in providing a company the proper feedback.

Lastly, I am always asked, “How often should I do a “shop” and how much should I expect to pay?” I believe consistency is key. If you are looking at saving money you can always choose to do your shops, randomly. Pay is usually based on the length of time it takes the shopper to do the “shop” from the time they leave their house until they get back. Pay can range from $25 per shop on up.

So depending on budget and whether you choose to do them weekly, monthly or randomly, make them a pivotal part of an on-going training program and do not do it for less than one year. That may translate into 12 shops to 365 shops, but either way you must ask yourself how much information would you like to have and how important could this be to your day to day business. We all know what happens when we say we are going to lose weight or exercise more or get organized, it is failure in the making if we are not dedicated to being consistent.

4. How Do I Give the Bad News?

The problem with mystery shopper programs is that they get a very bad rap from those employees who have been shopped because the results have been used as punishment. I tell clients that this program is not a “stick”! It is not meant to create fear in the minds of your employees. If that is your goal, you better re-think your management style.

Praise first! Go through the report before you bring your employee in. Make sure you are well-versed in at least 3-5 things they are doing well. Praise them for those things and remind them to continue the good work.

Corrections second. Make note of no more than 3 areas they can improve in. Negative comments do not motivate as well as comments such as, “Well the mystery shopper found what I always have known, you sit behind the desk the whole time I’m gone”. Use the word “we” in your conversation with your employee, such as “We have seen through our reports that we all need to be working at making better eye contact with our customers. We need to make that a top priority this week. I know I can count on you and everyone else to focus on that.”

Don’t use the mystery shopper to do your human resources work! It is not the job of the mystery shopper to deliver the information that is necessary for you to let the employee go. In fact, it is probably not legal! Besides, it is a sign of a weak manager that can not deliver constructive criticism!

A mystery shopper program takes time to create a well run program that provides the feedback that can be used to further the performance of the company. It is not just about the actual “shopping” it is about the entire program and how the information is used.

By using this tool you will see that providing what your customers say is important to retaining their business shouldn’t be a “mystery”!

About the Author

Anne M. Obarski is “The Customer Service Spy!” As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne works with companies to provide them with the clues to keep customers coming back.

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