Let’s start at the very beginning. If you’re hearing the term “mystery shopping” for the very first time in your life, you might picture a shadowy character darting around the aisles of a department store looking for a clue to some kind of important crime case.
Although a riveting idea, this is not mystery shopping. The “mystery” in this case doesn’t mean some type of unsolved problem, but rather the shopper themselves.
Mystery shopping, essentially, is just one of many ways a company typically involved in product-based commerce of some sort can get an idea for the kind of company they are from the customer’s perspective.
First, a dialog is established between the company interested in putting together a program and the mystery-shopping provider itself. After a plan is in place based on the goals of the client, a survey is constructed and given to experienced mystery shoppers who then enter stores and evaluate them as any regular customer would. The results are compiled, compared and then analyzed to create the starting point for an adjustment plan.
Gathering data from this perspective gives companies a much more accurate picture of what’s working and what could use improvement when it comes to creating the best experience for customers entering a store and interacting with both the products and the larger brand.
Why a Mystery Shopping program?
A well-designed and executed mystery shopping program provides you with information a company representative could never gather themselves. It sheds light on what your business is to your customers in an unfiltered, (and most importantly) measureable way with the ultimate goal of adjustment to right any wrongs that surfaced during the assessment.
It’s very much a gift that keeps on giving. When designed correctly, mystery shopping can:
- Increase sales and profitability via more engaged and comfortable customers
- Provide a practical way to improve and optimize services
- Motivate employees to better represent the brand and create an enjoyable atmosphere for customers
- Generate enthusiasm among customers by meeting and then exceeding their expectations
Mystery shopping is all about valuable feedback. While email and in-store surveys on the backs of receipts can give your company a broad picture of customer satisfaction, mystery shopping goes further by providing unbiased information about the “feel” of your company at a deeper level.
Where do I start?
Once you’re on your way to creating a program for your own company, our blog is filled with resources about tailoring the strategy to fit your needs, but you still need a place to start.
Many professionals experienced in creating such programs agree that it almost always begins with employee training. Don’t think for a second that a mystery shopping program can live on a colorful whiteboard on the wall of an executive boardroom—success requires relationship building, idea implementation and investment plans that actually result in noticeable changes.
Since in-store employees are the human link between your brand and your customers, having an effective team to represent what your company stands for through careful engagement, brand and product knowledge, and effective communication skills are very much the foundation on which customer experience is built.
Companies whose employees provide consistent, complete and friendly service to customers of all kinds will find their brand growing in ways previously unachievable using other methods.
Finding the right mystery shopping company is a process – get it right the first time
Of course, before you can start formulating the initial steps of a mystery shopping program, you need to find a provider who can give you what you’re looking for. When shopping for the right company, being able to compare and contrast each provider based upon a standard set of questions will allow you to narrow your list to the best mystery shopping company for you.
The following three questions are a great place to start:
- How will this mystery shopping company conduct their program?
- How will this mystery shopping company gather and analyze their data?
- How will they present the data in a way that drives real results?
After fleshing out the broader aspects of a particular company, you can delve further to narrow your search by comparing how their methodology relates to your specific objectives. These questions can start along the lines of:
- What will this program do for my business’ bottom line?
- In what ways can you customize the program to align with my company specifically?
Mystery shopping is evolving quickly alongside constantly shifting trends in the retail world. As consumer expectations grow and shift to more complicated models through a number of new channels, being able to accurately gauge the quality of the customer’s experience is quickly becoming a vital part of any company’s sustained success.