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There's No Mystery Shopping Like A Spy

Sep 6, 2008
Being a Mystery Shopper is a bit like being a consumer spy. Not quite MI5, but it is important in its own right as a yardstick for customer service and identifying improvements that can be made to a business. The reason that companies hire a mystery shopping service is to understand in an unbiased way what the customer is experiencing, and determine if that experience needs improving to maximise profit potential. If a business has front of house staff that pay little attention to customer service then the customer will not make a purchase and may well not come back.

Another major factor about pleasing the customer is that word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool and there is very little control any marketing department has over that. If a customer has a good experience, that information will be passed on. Word of mouth recommendations bring in business when it is positive, and reduce it when it is negative. Finding out that a restaurant has poor service will not encourage anyone to go give it a try themselves, and that negativity is more likely to be passed on, despite the information being second hand.

It is not just the customer service that is important; it is they way the restaurant, shop or service is looked after. On a mystery shopper's brief there are several pages of variables that need to be checked and rated along side customer service. This can cover cleanliness of the floor, attractiveness of displays and even the how welcoming or warm the atmosphere of the establishment is.

When the brief is issued to a mystery shopper, there will be a general time frame when the report must be made. This could be because the behaviour of a certain member of staff is under investigation or to understand the pressure the existing staff may be under during a busy lunch time for example. The brief will also indicate what the shopper is to order, purchase or enquire about. Upon arrival at the service under investigation, the consumer spy will note the time, how many customers are present and how many staff are either serving, working or standing around. The role of a mystery shopper is to be a customer, therefore must conduct the investigation in as natural a way as possible. The staff may be aware that a mystery customer will be calling in, but will have no idea what day or what time.

Once the initial assessments have been made the shopper will rate the type of welcome offered by the staff based on the time it takes, and the level of friendliness from a smile to a welcoming comment. Timings are also made about the time a customer is left to browse before being offered help. In a business where the service is particularly bad, a mystery shopper could have to wait as long as ten minutes before finally asking for assistance. It is imperative that the report is completed because there are so many factors the company is paying to be investigated, so there is no option of leaving because the service is bad. It is also important to not be opinionated, lose calm or give the game away; the mystery shopper must always remain a model customer.

Once the queries have been made and qualitative assessments have been rated, the shopper then completes the report. It is important to remember how enquiries were worded and what the response was exactly for the report and the names or descriptions of the staff involved. The experience of the mystery consumer will benefit all customers that follow and improve the running of the business under investigation. Not quite the same as being part of the secret service but the role is definitely the surreptitious back bone in the success of consumer society.
About the Author
Dominic Donaldson is an expert in the customer service industry.
Find out more about mystery shopping and how it can help business productivity at Performance In People.
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