What is Mystery Shopping – and what value does it provide?
It’s a type of research used by businesses in which someone “poses” as a real customer, normally transacting with the organisation, and then the person prepares a report about their experience, which is submitted to the organisation.
The information in the report is used by organisation to help them better understand the experiences of their customers. Information provided in the report is objective, balanced and sufficiently detailed. It can be used to help a business to see ways to improve, for example through staff training or through better systems and processes.
What types of organisations and businesses can it work for?
Too many to list – it is almost endless! People normally imagine hospitality, supermarkets, fashion and other retail shops, but Mystery Shopping is also used by professional and business to business service providers, for travel and transport operators; local authority services; education providers; optical care; tourism; automotive sales and service; property sales; elder care, events, experiences and attractions, and in other settings.
Aren’t there better alternatives to mystery shopping?
There are other ways to gain feedback. Many of them can be useful, but results depend on the amount and quality of feedback that’s obtained and this can be a challenge. None of those methods offer quite the same thing as Mystery Shopping.
One hurdle is around getting customers to spend their time providing truly detailed feedback, knowing that you’re getting a good cross section and a reliable picture. Even where customers are rewarded for participating in a survey, you may not hear from those who are cash rich and time poor.
When a Mystery Shopper visits a location, they’re prepared and focussed on observing everything that’s relevant, and reporting back on their entire experience: they’re being paid specifically to do so. Unlike “real” customers who might have individual preferences and bugbears, the Mystery Shopper reports on everything, impartially.
The quality of this feedback can’t be matched, even by piecing together comments from complaints, and customers who can be persuaded to take part in any sort of survey. Surveys are hugely valuable and in today’s world it’s essential to listen to and engage with your customers online.
However, these methods don’t provide the same focussed, high quality, and reliable data that’s available through mystery shopping.
How are the various mystery shopping companies different from each other?
One way is through the style and quality of their approach to reporting (see above).
Another difference can be the way that companies steer and direct shoppers and / or edit the reports provided by shoppers. It’s been suggested that some companies will exaggerate problems to justify their own existence. A more understandable tactic is where companies can serve slightly exaggerated praise in the interests of diplomacy to protect staff morale.
Another important area of difference is how companies understand and adapt to the requirements of clients. the levels of support, creativity, and care that are provided to clients.
Clients of Customerwise all receive personal account management from a company director.
Are there different types, styles and approaches to mystery shopping among service providers?
Yes. There are a few main types of Mystery Shopping including standard “in-person” shops, those where the Mystery Shopper “reveals” themselves as the shopper, telephone orders or enquiries and online “shops” where again the entire experience can be examined and reported on. It is also possible for a Mystery Shopping to be used to assess almost any part of parts of a transaction.
Different mystery shopping companies also have their own approaches and styles. Differences include the quantity and the quality of standard “yes/no” questions and “score out of x” questions used within questionnaires and reports, and the quality and quantity of commentary sought and provided from the Mystery Shoppers themselves.
Some companies provide reports that are very brief and basic, and some are long and exhaustive.
It’s obviously possible for reports to be lack important detail, either through an inadequate brief or questionnaire, or through a poor job done by the shopper themselves.
It’s also very possible for reports to focus on yes/no questions that are too vague or too restrictive, or don’t allow for the variety that exists in real human interactions. Some companies provide reports that are very lengthy, and yet don’t necessarily provide much value to the time-pressed reader.
Indeed, poorly designed projects can fail to highlight real problems, or highlight problems that don’t really exist.
We try to focus on the issues that have the highest impact on customer satisfaction and sales. Questions are carefully worded in order to be clear, but not overly restrictive. We include “scoring questions” where appropriate in addition to “yes or no” questions, and we invite commentary where it’s needed, but not for the sake of it. We work closely with clients and welcome their ideas and suggestions, and we’re totally open with them about which areas of their organisation are reported on and how.
What does it cost?
It is possible to obtain enough reliable information to identify potential improvements for one branch or site for as little as a few hundred pounds.
Each project is priced according to the level of detail required in each report, and the schedule and quantity of reports. We ask all clients to have an initial wave of reports in quick succession, to get a reliable picture of their true baseline or starting point, so that they can then benchmark their performance and measure their progress against either this level (or against a competitor’s performance, or both).
What sort of people actually do the visits and reports?
Our Shoppers come from all walks of life, with a wide range of ages, income levels and interests. We seek this variety so that we can send the most suitable people on the right assignments. What they all have in common, and need to demonstrate at the outset, are the key attributes of keen attention to detail, memory, reliability, and strong and clear written English.
How do they know what they should report on?
As discussed elsewhere, we work with clients to ensure that when a site is visited, the Mystery Shopper is going to be observing and reporting on the right things. Before the shopper attends any assignment, whey will have read a clear and comprehensive brief, and the questionnaire that they will be required to complete after the visit. Shoppers are also given support, coaching and feedback on an ongoing basis, and for any particular assignments when it’s required.
What checks are there to make sure the reports are truthful?
Jobs are only assigned to shoppers once they have passed our strict selection process.
We make our requirements for accuracy and above all honesty, clear during the initial induction process. Reports require very clear and detailed information, usually including precise visit times and staff names or descriptions. Each and every report is double checked for quality and consistency by a company director. If any claims within a report appear to be contradictory or inconsistent, these issues will be investigated. If we ever had concerns of information being falsified or made up, then we’d address these with the shopper concerned. If we were not totally confident in the information that we had been given, we’d arrange for a “shop” to take place again (of course at no cost to the client).
If a member of staff at a client organisation disputes any claim made by a shopper, then we work with the client to establish the truth. Where this is not practical, we will offer to have the visit repeated, or credit the client’s account.
In reality, there are multiple levels of quality control that prevent problems such as this.. the first one being the recruitment of reliable, diligent and honest Mystery Shoppers.
How soon after visits are reports available to see?
We make reports available to clients quickly. It’s a maximum of 3 working days from the visit taking place, but it’s normally well inside of that.
How do I access my reports?
As a client, you’re able to log in to the secure client’s area of our website and access your reports as soon as they become available. We use a word class online reporting system that enables you to get the most recent and the historical data that’s most relevant to you, helping you to see what’s improving, and what’s not, so that you can take suitable action.
What about confidentiality for my business?
The requirement for total confidentiality regarding all client assignments is contained within a legally binding the agreement when shoppers first register with us, along with the need to attend to any accepted assignments on time, the need to remain discreet and “under cover” during assignments, and the need to not accept assignments where there is any direct or family connection to the organisation in question. Any breach of any of these rules would result in immediate termination and removal from our shopper database.
What can go wrong?
On a simple practical level, it occasionally happens that a Mystery Shopper is spotted by a member of staff. If this happens, then the results of the visit must be discarded (and the visit rescheduled). On the plus side, if there is acute awareness that Mystery Shoppers may visit, then this in itself can help raise standards.
We strongly advise (in line with Market Research Society regulations) that employees should be informed of the existence of a Mystery Shopping programme, and preferably that staff, or at least relevant managers, should have input into discussions about which areas are going to be observed and measured.
If it is not handled correctly (or not handled), there’s a risk that the existence of a Mystery Shopping programme could be seen in the wrong way, and this could reduce trust and lower staff morale. However, it is becoming extremely modern in all types of workplace, so there is absolutely no reason why it should not be accepted as a normal (and necessary) part of modern working life.
With the right approach it should be seen (correctly), as helping everybody to gain useful feedback to help improve their performance. It should help create an atmosphere of healthy competition. Any ways that strong performance can be rewarded and recognised will help ensure maximum benefit from a programme of Mystery Shopping, and reduce the risk of any negativity among staff.
How quickly can it help me to improve my business?
Very quickly. Within one month, and possibly sooner, you could have a reliable collection of reports containing information that clearly indicates ways that you can significantly improve levels of customer satisfaction and increase sales.
Are there any other important do’s and don’ts?
As mentioned above, informing and involving staff is very helpful in achieving buy-in, and reducing the risk of negativity. There are also other key points including intelligently identifying what should be assessed, setting achievable and realistic objectives.
Our job is to work with you and guide you to make sure that you get the most out of a mystery shopping campaign. See our standard 6 step process for how we set about this.
How quickly can it start?
Very quickly. To get the ball rolling, contact us for an informal initial discussion. You could be starting to receive feedback in 1-2 weeks.
Why should we use and trust you?
As we’ve said elsewhere: We’re competent, and we care. We respect your time. We’re very helpful, and resourceful. We’re focussed on producing real measurable results for you in the shortest time possible. The directors of Customerwise include members of the Market Research Society and we have a solid track record of providing high quality B2B consultancy services.
We’re also determined to ensure that a decision to work with us is one that’s impossible to regret:
We don’t try to tie clients in with long contracts. You can cancel a programme any time you like.
And if we ever fail to impress you (with our service generally or even one of our reports), just let us know and we will refund your last payment or cancel your unpaid invoice.