What is Mystery Shopping – A Guide | Shoppers Confidential

Mystery Shopping — A Primer

What is Mystery Shopping

“78% of consumers have cancelled a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.” — American Express Customer Survey

If you’ve not used mystery shopping before, you might think it just involves someone buying a product and reporting on how good the sales experience was. You’d expect us to rate customer service, how quickly we were dealt with, and tell you about any issues.

While that’s part of what mystery shopping does, it’s just a small fraction of what a good mystery shopping service will give you. The aim of mystery shopping is simple:

To give you a complete, objective view of how effectively your business works, from the customer’s perspective.

That means everything to do with the customer experience —- branding, signage, marketing, staff, point of sale, product selection, retail location, purchase, customer service, and more. If it affects the customer experience, mystery shopping should tell you about it.

“On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.” — White House Office of Consumer Affairs

The Benefits of Mystery Shopping

Now that you know a little more about the practical changes mystery shopping can identify, let’s look at a slightly wider context — how mystery shopping can set your organization up for success.

Driving a Positive Impact on the Bottom Line

The main reason for mystery shopping is to find ways to increase revenue and enhance profits. At a high level, mystery shopping achieves that by

  • Optimizing every part of the customer experience.
  • Identifying the small things that make a big difference.
  • Ensuring that staff are properly trained on products, services, and customer care.
  • Reducing revenue leakage from various areas, including integrity of staff.
  • Providing actionable insight and solid metrics.
  • Understanding trends over time.

“North Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, and tell 16 (nearly two times more) people about poor experiences.” — American Express Customer Survey

Reducing Revenue Leakage

One of the main challenges for businesses is maintaining profit margins that are continually under pressure. Mystery shopping can help to identify potential revenue leakage in areas like:

  • Missed opportunities to upsell.
  • Lost sales due to lack of attention to customers.
  • Long lineups due to inefficient checkout or other processes.
  • Empty shelves and inventory issues.
  • Unknown advantages held by competitors.

Retail Fridge with multiple products

Analyzing and Understanding Competitors

Competitors are a constant threat. Although it’s relatively easy to research online competitors, traditional competitors are more difficult to analyze. We can shop your competitors’ stores and provide you valuable competitor intelligence on things like:

  • The level of customer service they provide.
  • The end-to-end customer experience.
  • Any specific unique selling points, special offers, or customer handling procedures.
  • Their branding, marketing, and point of sale experience.
  • The physical store environment and how it helps or hinders the shopping experience.
  • The level of training, approach, and commitment from staff.

“Although your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.”

– Kate Zabriskie

Building Trust with Customers

If you want to retain customers, it’s essential to create shopping experiences that build trust. Mystery shopping will help you to

  • Identify gaps in training of your staff and ways to close those gaps.
  • Create comfortable, clean, and safe locations that promote customer wellbeing.
  • Utilize great marketing and signage that gets customers where they need to be.
  • Provide access to relevant and timely information so customers can make an informed decision.
  • Offer a delightful, end-to-end customer experience that leaves no doubt as to the value of your products and services.

“It’s very logical: There is proven ROI in doing whatever you can to turn your customers into advocates for your brand or business. The way to create advocates is to offer superior customer service.”

– Gary Vaynerchuk, “The Thank You Economy”

Keeping Employees Satisfied

The attitude of your employees is crucial to your success. Although training can make a big difference, creating happy employees through good store and staff management will make a big difference to customers. Mystery shopping can help you assess areas like:

  • Working conditions for employees.
  • Placement of staff in the store.
  • Level of training and expertise.
  • Attitude and approach of employees and managers.
  • Staffing levels and how that affects customers.

“81% of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering customer experience excellence are outperforming their competition.” — Peppers & Rogers Group

What the Electronics Store COO LearnedTurning Mystery Shopping Insights into Action

Mystery shopping is only powerful if you take all of the insights and reporting we provide and turn it into action. In other words, we give you the map so you can plot the path and make the change. A mystery shopping report will give you:

  • Hard metrics on areas like speed of service, approach of sales associates, length of time to accomplish a specific task, and more.
  • Anecdotal evidence on interactions with staff.
  • Observations on your location, products, and services.
  • Comparisons against the expectations and requirements you provided us with.
  • Benchmarking against best business practices and best case scenarios.
  • Suggestions and recommendations for improvement.

You can then take that wealth of information and put it into a service improvement plan. You can prioritize changes, create valuable learning opportunities for your managers and staff, and create business initiatives to refine and enhance your processes.

Over time, you will optimize the way your business runs and significantly enhance the customer experience. You can then use our services again to see if the changes are sticking. We’ll also measure trends over time so you get a better context.

“Only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers complain. The rest churn. A  lesson here is that companies should not view absence of feedback as a sign of satisfaction. The true enemy is indifference.” — Esteban Kolsky

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

Ultimately, mystery shopping is an objective way to listen to the voice of your customer. Despite your best efforts, customers won’t reliably tell you what they think — they will generally only let you know if they really like or really hate your services.

Mystery shopping removes that issue by looking at everything through the eyes of a customer but combining that with an objective, analytical approach that gives you actionable insight. Turn that insight into action, and you’ll directly impact your business success.

Sometimes though, you’ll want feedback from genuine shoppers, and we can help there too. We carry out extensive market research, interview and survey your real customers, and consolidate all of that into detailed reports you can use to further drive change. Our expert researchers will get to the heart of the matter and help you identify exactly what you need to improve.

“When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better. Your customer service organization should be designed to efficiently communicate those issues.” — Kristin Smaby, “Being Human is Good Business”

Mystery Shopping Credit Card

Outsourcing Your Mystery Shopping

You might be wondering if there are advantages to outsourcing your mystery shopping, versus completing it in-house. Outsourcing your mystery shopping provides you with several advantages:

  • A more objective view of your business — an in-house team already understands how you do things, and has ideas on how to improve, but that understanding is subjective and might not always lead to the best course of action. Outsourcing ensures true objectivity.
  • A greater breadth of experience — an outsourced mystery shopping business has exposure to a wider variety of industries and niches. They will use that experience when making recommendations.
  • Optimized processes and reporting — a specialized mystery shopping agency has a variety of techniques and tools to help you properly understand your business and customers.
  • Effective cost control and ROI — you only need to engage a specialized agency on an “as needed” basis, rather than paying for an ongoing function that may not deliver ongoing value.

Are You Ready to Maximize the Customer Experience?

Whatever industry you’re in, it’s clear that maximizing positive customer experiences is key to your survival. With our combination of deep insight, wide experience, and a laser-focus on your needs, we’re ideally placed to ensure your success and growth.

Contact us today and see how we can help you.

Julie Anthony

Managing Director



1-866-959-0516 ext. 101

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