The Power of Insight: Building a Successful Mystery Shopping Programme

What makes a successful mystery shopping programme that provides actual, usable insights? In this article we’ll delve into the art of building a great mystery shopping programme for your business. Starting at the very beginning, a good mystery shopping provider will always consider all of your objectives, the customer journey as a whole and how the insights can be used for a multitude of things, not just enhancing the customer experience. Read on to find out more.

With over 30 years’ experience in mystery shopping, Mystery Shoppers Ltd have built up in-depth knowledge on what our clients’ needs are and ensuring that you really do get ROI on your mystery shopper programmes. The key to success for designing one of these is planning and all those little details!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” 

– Chinese proverb

To get all the information you want, your mystery shopping provider will need to put in the time and research. They should actively work with you to ensure your programme is not only bespoke to your requirements, but delivers on every single objective (whilst remaining engaging for your teams to be part of!).

Planning and strategy

The set-up phase is the foundation to a successful programme. This means understanding all of these areas.

  • Your business objectives 
  • What a typical customer journey looks like
  • Your customer demographic
  • Your customer’s frequently asked questions
  • Your industry and any compliance requirements
  • What you want to do with the results, and how you’d like to communicate them

A cleverly designed programme can also be used to reward positive behaviours within teams and provide staff training or coaching opportunities throughout your business structure. Choose a provider that is there every step of the way from project concept to assisting with your programme launch. 

Asking all the right questions

Data is gained from assessment forms that a panel of mystery shoppers fill out after each assignment. To get a wealth of information from these, your provider will first make sure that objective and measurable questions are being asked. What do we mean by that? A simple form would just ask questions like, “What was your experience like?” or “Were the staff helpful?”. Delve a little deeper into areas such as “Were promotional posters clearly displayed?”, “Did the staff member verify your age?” and “Did you receive any follow-up emails within X days?”. This will ensure that your teams can clearly see what is expected of them, and the questions themselves will drive performance in these areas going forward

A variety of channels can be tested from website assessments and mystery calling to social media response times. You can even launch a mystery employee programme that tests recruitment and onboarding procedures. 

Each and every assessment form should be designed with care and consideration. It’s not only vital that businesses are able to get useful insights from their programme, but that the form is easy for the shoppers to fill out to ensure they provide accurate answers. Remember that each form has three audiences to consider – the client, the mystery shopper and the staff member being assessed.

Before building your assessment form, your provider should ask you for: 

Your main objectives for the programme

Existing Training Materials (that could be incorporated to embed process )

Industry/Company Standards

The depth of insight required

How you plan to present the results

How the results will be used

Create realistic scenarios and shopper briefs

Providing shoppers with scenarios helps them to create a ‘character’ that they can role-play, and gives them ideas for the type of enquiries to make (ideally these will be typical customers enquiries to ensure they blend in). For example, councils might want mystery shoppers to assess their housing department to see how they deal with vulnerable customers when they make enquiries.

Scenarios can be varied, so different departments are assessed against set criteria e.g., if you are a council, you might have scenarios for the waste disposal department, car parks, recreational parks, housing, care etc. Your provider will help to choose scenarios that are realistic and enable the mystery shopper to assess your business effectively. 

Shopper briefs are a set of instructions for the mystery shopper, setting out clear guidelines for the assignment. These should be clear and easy to follow as shoppers will refer to them before, during and after an assignment.

Getting employees on board

A common misconception is that mystery shopping is just an insight tool. In reality, it’s a much more powerful tool than that.

Mystery shopping is a low-cost option that can help improve business performance and increase customer loyalty. It can highlight great behaviour, identify areas that require improvement and also encourage teams to perform at a high level consistently. Getting your whole team on board with the programme is the key to unlocking its wider potential. 

Without clear communication with your teams, your programme insights might not fully deliver. The best approach is to provide clear, honest communication on why the mystery shopping programme is happening, how and when (roughly) it will happen and what the results will be used for. 

Initially, employees may feel that programmes are solely focused on ‘spying’ on them or to catch any poor behaviour out, when this needn’t be the case. Simply explaining that it’s capturing a clear picture of how the business is truly performing and giving managers the chance to reward positive behaviours (as well as highlight areas where further support can be allocated), will ensure the programme gets off to a great start. You’ll be surprised at how much of a motivator it can be for team morale, too!

How well can you spot a mystery shopper? Many employees do try to catch shoppers out (spoiler alert (!) we WANT them to do this), but most mystery shopping providers should ensure that only mystery shoppers that fit the right requirements, and have the experience to match, are assigned. Businesses should also make sure that they are not narrowing down the demographic of shopper that can attend so that a wide range of mystery shoppers can be used (they don’t grow on trees!)

For more help on getting your teams on board and motivated, see our article.

Review, review, review!

Once a programme has been launched, quality control measures should be in place to ensure that good, qualitative and quantitative data is coming back. Here, assessment forms should be checked that they are being filled out correctly with anti-fraud measures in place to ensure assessments come from unique experiences and shoppers have assessed the right place at the right time. Most programmes can be altered at any point to ensure the target objectives are being fulfilled.  

Use clear reportage that is actionable

Reporting the mystery shopping results back in the right way will help drive improvement. A reporting platform, for example, which offers automated, online reporting with security access mirroring the company structure can be a great resource. 

Encouraging team members at all levels to log in to online dashboards, and view results, will really drive engagement across the business. Certificates for top-performing team members are a great addition too!

These platforms work best when teamed with a bespoke designed summary report to give insightful conclusions and recommendations from the customer experience experts themselves. 

Choose a provider which gives you the option to highlight any urgent issues straight away to managers and therefore ensure they’re dealt with immediately. These ‘action plans’ help companies who want a quick resolution to tangible problems. 

How often should I ‘mystery shop’ my business?

At Mystery Shoppers Ltd, we recommend running a mystery shopping programme regularly (whether that’s weekly, monthly, quarterly or even just annually is up to you). Doing so will allow you to track improvements as well as ensure that expectations remain consistent across the business and standards do not slip.

You can easily leave intervals between campaigns to allow you to implement staff training, or simply review your results and make a plan of action for moving forward.

Depending on your budget, you can look at assessing different locations or for the business as a whole. You can always then just focus on one area where more improvements may be needed.

Once your business has achieved the desired standard, you can look to re-design your programme to further grow and build on what you’ve achieved. If your levels of service were ‘good’ or ‘great’, why not strive for ‘outstanding’ next time? 

Gaining insights is one thing, but being able to action from your mystery shopping programme will enable growth and improvement, and makes for a smart investment!

To find out more about how our mystery shopping programmes can benefit your business, contact our client team on 01409 255025,

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