(As published in the Sunday Star Times, August 17, 2014)
How often do you mystery shop your business? I know it’s not a nice feeling to essentially spy on your business and the staff working there, but the benefits can definitely outweigh the cons. The feedback your mystery shopper shares may be confronting and it may be brutal – but in most cases it will be helpful in improving the way your business operates.
Mystery shopping is helpful for all businesses – not just those in the retail industry. Whether you are B2B or B2C, it’s important you experience your business through the eyes of a customer.
Have you heard that saying that you don’t realise what needs to be done around your house until five minutes before a guest arrives? Mystery shopping is a bit like that. You may have never noticed that your front reception desk is messy and ugly and plastered with an out-of-date poster. You may not have considered that the music you play in your store causes many of your customers to wince on entry. It may have passed your attention that the forms you get customers to fill out when joining your database so too long and off-putting that they never get properly completed. An honest and observant third party will alert you to all of these facts and help you improve the impression you give clients or customers.
You don’t need to spend a fortune hiring an expert mystery shopper – a couple of honest and perceptive friends or family members will do. Just make sure they haven’t been into your business before or you may find they get preferential treatment straight off.
In order to get real and helpful feedback, don’t tell your staff that a mystery shopper will be stopping by at some point. Some businesses warn their staff in an attempt to improve their performance and put their best foot forward, but not only does this not give an accurate representation of their usual performance and manner, it also makes employees nervous and puts them on edge. Let them act naturally so that you get an accurate account of the experience your customers have with your business.
Obviously it depends on your type of business as to how far your mystery shopper will go. If you’re a restaurant, get them to have a meal in, with all courses. If you’re a retail store, get them to go the whole hog and buy something – this way they can give feedback for the entire transaction, not just on the initial approach. Even getting someone to phone or email your business for information is helpful – they can report back on how long it took to get through to the right person, how helpful they were, what lengths they went to to help and so on.
Don’t worry about getting the mystery shopper to write a long report answering a million questions – that feels too much like an investigation. You’re better to get them to think about a few areas and give their honest feedback on them. Either give them a form to fill out or meet them immediately afterwards off-site and ask them questions, while the experience is still fresh in their mind.
Areas you may consider assessing are the level of customer service your staff give, the first impression your business makes, how the mystery shopper was treated, what they thought of your physical business (ie was it clean, tidy and representative of the image you want to portray?), what they thought the tone of your business was, what the knowledge level of your employees was.
Mystery shopping is not about finding ammunition on your staff or turning it into a witch-hunt. It’s about finding out where your business is lacking and how you can improve. When your mystery shopper gives positive feedback, pass it on and celebrate the wins – let your team know you appreciate the good work that they do. And immediately start working on those areas that you’re lacking in. Ok, what are you waiting for?