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Mystery Shopping Doesn't Have To Be A Mystery

Nov 11, 2007
Mystery shopping is not a new phenomenon it actually started its life in America in the 1930s as a way to test the integrity of financial services staff. So how mystery shopping changed over the last 70 years? For many, mystery shopping is still perceived as a low-tech process conducted by part-time staff with little or no training, the reality may surprise you!

A mystery shopping programme prepared and managed by a professional company, involves using highly trained assessors posing as customers (for many assessors mystery shopping is in fact a full time professional career). These assessors interact with branches or departments of an organisation, typically to assess their customer service and sales performance standards.

Reports are provided which usually comprise how the organisation has performed in relation to pre-agreed questions (these questions are formulated at the commencement of a programme and should integrate seamlessly with the organisations sales and service standards). Within retail, a typical report format would be split into a number of subsections covering areas such as 'First Impressions', 'Meeting & Greeting', 'Product Demonstration', 'Recommendation' and 'Close & Upsell'

Mystery shopping comes in a number of varieties, telephone, (where a recording of the call is also provided), email/website for complete evaluation of customers' online experiences (including the order fulfilment process), report-based mystery shopping visits and video mystery shopping visits, the latest and fastest growing service, which provides high quality video footage of the entire customer experience by utilising assessors wearing the latest hidden video camera technology.

It has long been recognised that mystery shopping across a retail network can identify through league tables an organisation's shining stars as well as their pits of despair! Well today the level of reporting and depth of analysis is being taken to new levels. Many mystery shopping companies can now provide a wide range of reporting available online, allowing you to track the precise progress of your programme, as well as conduct analysis for your entire estate or pre-selected outlets in areas such as which day of the week or which profile of staff (male/female, under 25s/ over40s etc) are delivering the best service.

Also, which product category your staff perform best with, and of course which areas of performance are improving or declining. A useful recent addition is also the ability for retailers to now benchmark their performance in key areas against averages for the retail sector.

Where mystery shopping has seen significant strides in recent years is in the understanding that it can provide not only a powerful and accurate means of measuring performance, but also be used as crucial tool for driving improvements. Many organisations have come to realise that measuring alone will not necessarily create a change in staff behaviours.

Nowhere is this more evident than when using video mystery shopping. The key for creating change is about getting staff to recognise service issues and understand the need for change. Many forward thinking retailers are now conducting regular video mystery shopping visits across their retail networks and then critically having a structured video review mechanism that involves individual retail staff self-evaluating the video footage of their branch's performance, creating their own action planning and buying into a programme for change.

Interactive DVDs are made available to highlight best practice for both induction training and continuous coaching development. These real-life examples of service delivery from real staff seem to have so much more impact than sanitized training videos featuring actors.

Certainly one of downsides of embarking on a mystery shopping programme, is once you start its very hard to stop, some describe it like going on a diet, if you are disciplined and you eat properly and take the right exercise you will lose weight, once you stop those good practices, the pounds start piling back on, and lets face it there is nothing more depressing than an overweight retailer!
About the Author
Shaun Parker has been involved with mystery shopping and is a specialist mystery shopper for businesses around the UK.
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