How Mystery Shopping can be Part of the Solution for Local Authorities

Mystery shopping can (if implemented correctly) not only give a good picture of strengths and weaknesses but it can also be the most effective mechanism for addressing any weaknesses found.

Operational managers will almost certainly agree that getting large groups of staff to change their behaviour is extremely difficult and takes a considerable amount of time and effort.  This is even more so when staff are spread over a large number of units.  We have, however, proven that mystery shopping used as a Continuous Improvement Programme can achieve more change in a shorter timescale than even very expensive options such as staff training courses.

This is because so often the reason staff are not complying with the laid-down Customer Service Standards is not because they don’t know how to do their job, nor because they are taking a slack approach, but simply because they don’t get regular feedback.  They may be rushing a transaction because they are concerned about the number of calls waiting to be answered, or by the length of the queue in front of them.

They may not be able to tell the difference between an external and an internal call.  They may not realise that even if there is only one person in the queue, but they need to complete the documentation for the last person they saw before dealing with the next, that an apology for keeping them waiting would be appropriate even if the wait was only for two minutes.

Using mystery shopping as a Continuous Improvement Programme gives individual staff feedback so they know how they come across to their customers.  We all know we should be proactive in telling staff when they’ve done a good job as well telling staff when we see something that could be handled in a more effective way.  Mystery shopping assessments can provide just that – a piece of paper which gives supervisors and managers an excuse to talk with an individual staff member about their personal customer service style.  Whether it’s a pat on the back or a discussion on how the situation could be handled better next time it will have a beneficial effect as long as everyone understands it’s about everyone trying to improve rather than an exercise in catching people out.

What can Mystery Shopping offer to local authorities?

Primarily, as with commercial organisations, mystery shopping is used to measure both the tangible and intangible elements of the customer experience. Such measurement is important because (as they say) “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Mystery shopping can be used to measure service levels met by customers using all the usual communication channels –

  • Telephone enquiries (contactability, speed of answering, efficiency, quality, call handling, transfers)
  • Out-of-Hours calls (what do callers meet when ringing out of office hours, what facilities are there for leaving messages and how quickly are they called back)
  • Callbacks (returned calls in response to messages left on answerphones or voicemail during office hours)
  • Language line (what facilities are there for callers who do not speak English?)
  • Textphone / Minicom (contactability, speed of answering etc)
  • Fulfilment track (how reliably and quickly is material requested by phone received by post?)
  • Emails and social media (contactability, speed of answering, efficiency, quality, language, layout)
  • Webforms (as for emails)
  • Websites (are telephone numbers and email addresses shown valid and up to date? How useable is the site? How quickly can simple tasks be achieved?)
  • Face-to-face (are premises easily accessible, well-signed, clean and in good condition, how welcoming are staff, how smart, was there a wait and if so how long, how well did staff handle the enquiry?)
  • Letters (contactability, speed of answering, efficiency, quality, language, layout)

We can also offer call recordings, high quality digital face-to-face recording and covert video visits.  This will allow your staff to watch/listen back to the experience and see for themselves exactly how the interaction went. This is a fantastic training tool as good examples can be shared across the company.

Increasingly, local authorities are trying to direct a lot of the contact to their websites, which is hugely efficient when done right. We’re able to arrange for assessments to be carried out on the website that can be  videoed and include audio from the user where any thoughts and frustrations can be shared throughout the experience.

Our Experience

Mystery Shoppers Ltd have extensive experience in working with Councils. Since 2004, our benchmark and bespoke programmes have provided data for training purposes and result in measurable outcomes in a standardised, easy to utilise format.

“(the project*) has helped me gain valuable insights into our face-to-face and phone channels. Importantly, their data are supported by an excellent suite of analysis tools.”

“I was very impressed working with Mystery Shoppers when developing plans to support our new Customer Experience Strategy. I received really useful help from the organisation on how to translate our requirements into an approach that was robust and would deliver what we wanted. “

“The results are used for improving our services and to help encourage customer centric service planning. The mystery shopper findings are particularly useful for services when the outcome might determine the satisfaction of a user with a service. For those services it is very useful to have an impartial assessment of our services.”

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