Mystery Shopping for ROI: The Right Way to Measure the Brand Experience

How well have mystery shopping companies (aka secret shopper companies) served your brand in the past?

Is your current mystery shopping program paying off?

Most retail brands embrace the concept of mystery shopping. They know they need to understand what’s happening in their stores. But in practice, for many businesses, mystery shopping isn’t offering much value. The results are iffy, or they lack context. Either way, the data aren’t particularly useful.

No matter how much data these retailers collect, the most important questions remain unanswered:

  • Are our in-store employees doing exactly what we expect?
  • What specific problems do we need to address (messaging, operations, staffing, training, etc.)?
  • Where are the breakthrough opportunities for brand distinction?
  • Where’s the virtuous cycle of improvement?

It’s a sad fact that many mystery shopping programs run in the background (worse still, on autopilot) without serving larger business goals. But that’s entirely a function of poor planning, design, execution, and program management.

Done right, mystery shopping is a powerful tool—one that retailers of all shapes and sizes need in order to compete effectively. Read on to learn how your mystery shopping programs can drive ROI.

3 Common Problems With Mystery Shopping Programs

It’s easy to understand why some brands have lost faith or interest in mystery shopping. Why invest in collecting the data if they can’t be used to improve the brand experience, customer satisfaction, and the top and bottom line?

In our experience, mystery shopping programs that fail to produce real business results have three critical weaknesses.

1. Low Standards

Without rigorous quality assurance measures to ensure data integrity, mystery shopping programs are bound to produce skewed or inaccurate results. For example, some mystery shopping companies deploy shoppers who aren’t demographically representative, aren’t properly screened, and aren’t rotated to ensure objective measurement.

Survey design is critical, too. The wrong types of questions—those that invite shoppers to share personal feelings and impressions—don’t produce clear, measurable responses. (Click here to download our “Ultimate Mystery Shopping Checklist: 35 Survey Questions for Retail Brands.”)

2. Limited View

Mystery shopping employed in isolation (without the benefit of subjective data) provides only one angle on the customer experience, which leaves a lot to assume or guess. If your employees are complying with brand standards 100% but your customers aren’t satisfied, what’s the problem? Do the standards even reflect what customers care about? Mystery shopping alone can’t tell you that.

Then there’s the customer journey itself, which often involves multiple channels. Is the in-store experience consistent with what’s happening online or through the contact center? Unless you have an omnichannel program in place, you won’t know where the breakdowns are occurring.

3. Data That Lead Nowhere

Too many mystery shopping programs have no discernable purpose. They’re not custom built to serve larger business objectives, or they reflect corporate strategies initially but aren’t updated as strategies change. The data produced may be 100% reliable, but if they don’t help advance organizational goals, they’re simply draining revenue.

4 Ways Mystery Shopping (Done Right) Drives Real Business Results & ROI

A well-planned, properly executed, and carefully managed mystery shopping program can have a transformative effect on the customer experience, the corporate culture, and the brand’s trajectory.

1. It Increases Visibility

A successful mystery shopping program sets out to test brands’ most basic assumptions. When used in conjunction with other data collection programs, mystery shopping delivers a far greater return. Here’s how these programs work together to create a 360-degree view of the customer experience.

  • Competitive mystery shopping helps brands establish objective performance benchmarks.
  • Mystery shopping measures how well associates are complying with corporate standards.
  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys reveal shoppers’ feelings about the experience and any disconnect between corporate standards and customer expectations.
  • Customer intercepts allow brands to dive more deeply into specific aspects of the customer experience. For example, how do customers feel about a store remodel? Why did they make a purchase (or not)? How receptive are they to a new product line? Brands can use the results to refine their mystery shopping surveys and customer service survey questions.

These complementary data streams allow brands to diagnose the “why” behind the “what.” Across an entire store fleet, they’ll reveal the exact cause, nature, and scope of any issues that need addressing.

2. It Advances Corporate Strategies and Goals

Mystery shopping survey questions help clarify corporate expectations and priorities for in-store staff and allow managers to reward performance on that basis. These programs go beyond measuring performance to actively encouraging performance improvements.

If your goal is to increase customer loyalty and revenues via suggestive selling, for example (or better yet, service delivery + 1), you can use mystery shopping to determine whether employees are demonstrating specific behaviors that build the customer relationship and drive sales—and whether your training programs need fine-tuning.

(What is suggestive selling? And what do millennial associates need to succeed at it? Read more about it here.)

3. It Ensures Omnichannel Consistency

Customers expect consistency, regardless of where and when they engage a brand. When they ask about brand policies and product features, are they seeing and hearing the same answers online, in store, and through the contact center?

Brand parity tests are critical in an omnichannel environment. The tests we conduct on behalf of clients reveal not only the gaps between channels, but also what needs to be done to align various teams (marketing, training, in-store, and/or customer service) to create a seamless customer journey.

4. It Optimizes Resources

In addition to gauging compliance with corporate directives, mystery shopping can help improve store management. The Walking Company, for example, uses mystery shopping data to test the effectiveness of various employee-to-customer ratios. The company also studies the relationship between associate tenure and performance, which can trend in opposite directions.

By using its mystery shopping data in these ways, the Walking Company is able to staff its stores appropriately during peak shopping times, provide targeted coaching and training to employees who need it, identify leadership opportunities, and serve customers better thanks to greater flexibility on the sales floor.

What Can a 360-Degree View Do for You?

Mystery shopping is but one essential component of a 360-degree, ROI-focused CX management program—one that can accelerate revenue growth, inspire game-changing innovation, and change the competitive landscape. Learn about StellaService’s Mystery Shopping Programs here.