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The Mystery Shopping Process Defined

What's the Mystery Shopping Process

In today’s highly competitive market, your business cannot afford to lose even a single customer. Growing a business is more than just expanding customer reach and releasing new products or services. Establishing lasting relationships with consumers and building a solid market share are just as vital to progress as expansion and diversification. With this, the need to regularly monitor your brand performance has increased, resulting in a higher demand for reliable assessment services like mystery shopping.

Mystery shopping is a market research tool used by organizations to gauge various aspects of the businesses. But what does the mystery shopping process entail? And why is it important for you as a business owner to understand how your organization is performing?

The Mystery Shopping Process

1. Planning and Design

As with any endeavor, the first thing you have to identify is your objective. What are your goals for subjecting your organization to a mystery shopping program? How do you want the shops to be conducted? How will you use the findings to improve the quality of customer experience you provide? Mystery shopping companies like SeeLevel HX ask you essential questions like these to best formulate a program to meet your needs.

If you have trouble identifying the answers to these questions, then start by brainstorming problems or challenges your organization faces. Whether you notice a drop in sales, frequent customer complaints or declining employee enthusiasm, you must face and resolve these difficulties as soon as possible.

And remember, it is okay if you only have a faint idea of your organization’s problem areas. As long as your goals are clear, our team can develop the mystery shopping program fit for your business.

Mystery shopping can identify difficulties in any of the following areas:
• Product inventory, quality, pricing and placement
• Store location and environment
• Frontline employee performance
• Sales, marketing and operations
• Customer service
• Compliance in practices and procedures
• And more

A small hiccup in any areas of business that are vital to your daily operations can affect your overall brand reputation. However, SeeLevel HX experts can define and design an appropriate evaluation process to objectively measure the performance of specific aspects of your business.

Deciding how to execute the plan is essential to the mystery shopping process. Is it better to do on-site visits or online interactions? If you choose on-site visits, is there a need to record the activities using a hidden camera or record conversations with an audio device as proof of what transpires on the ground level? Typically, our clients prefer to use numerous types of interactions in order to see how consistent their customer service is across the board.

Customer journey map

Fig. 1. Customer journey map
(Source: Boagworld)

The program should tackle every touch point in order to gain a better understanding of how customers view your organization. With the right program in place, you can verify the touchpoints that are taking place along the customer journey, and the elements affecting a customer’s decision to continue (or discontinue) interacting with your brand.

Another essential part of designing a mystery shopping program is identifying the most appropriate demographic to tap into in order to recreate your business’ everyday shopping conditions. Using the wrong research sample introduces uncontrolled variables, which can alter the outcome of the program.

2. Guidance

After completing the planning and design phase with you, SeeLevel HX then prepares detailed information to provide to the shoppers. This step in the mystery shopping process prepares our mystery shoppers to complete the tasks based on the program guidelines.

Expectations between the mystery shoppers and the client must be aligned in order to prevent deviations from the primary program objectives. Guidelines are defined and clear, and specific goals and objectives are shared with the shoppers. Also, reporting methods are often discussed to ensure our shoppers deliver timely and thorough feedback.

Our mystery shoppers are proficient in providing both qualitative and quantitative feedback on their personal encounters with your brand. We can require them to provide reports that include both narrative and objective assessments, depending on the evaluation plan defined in the planning and design phase of the mystery shopping process. We will always make a recommendation of which we believe will work best, or whether a balance of both is ideal. The goal is always to deliver a clear understanding of where your business stands with your customers.

Mystery shoppers are usually instructed to visit a shop two or more times in order to set a benchmark of your employees’ performances. This removes any excuses of employees underperforming because of one bad day. Some programs are semi-monthly, some are monthly and some are quarterly. Again, we will help you decide what makes the most sense for your business, based on your goals and objectives and the available budget.

3. Execution

Our mystery shoppers can visit your stores, interact with your team via phone, live chat online or email or perform any activities your customers typically complete. Observations are recorded based on the plan defined in the first step of the process.

Mystery shoppers are instructed to be as objective as possible in order to extract necessary information and exclude personal bias. The mystery shoppers that execute the program depend on the demographics needed for your organization. We will not send an experienced restaurant shopper to evaluate a gas station, as those shoppers will not generate comprehensive findings. Instead, we will send a shopper who represents your typical customer.

The complexity of the instructions given depends on the information you want to extract from your business operations. For example, if you want to know the speed and efficiency of the service given in your restaurant, we can instruct our mystery shoppers to order a meal, ask for a couple of additional items, pay the bill and leave. This will show you how fast your employees respond to customer needs as well as their consistency in executing brand standards.

Another example of a complex task includes conducting a mystery shopping program to gauge your competitors in the industry. Experienced mystery shoppers know how to extract the information needed by competing businesses without revealing their identities.

4. Reporting and Analytics

Reporting and analytics are just as important for you as any other phase in the mystery shopping process as this portion gives meaning to all of the other phases. Evaluations made by mystery shoppers are collated and analyzed thoroughly to convert them into actionable reports rich with actionable insights you can use to improve your organization.

Our reports identify the high-performing areas of your business so you can build a stronger foundation around them. They can spot budding problems that you can address resolutions early on before they get larger. Identifying trends through these reports also helps you reformulate business strategies to accommodate future needs.

SeeLevel HX's report

Fig. 2. SeeLevel HX Report
(Source: SeeLevel HX)

The comprehensive reports and analytics SeeLevel HX provides make it easier for you to discuss organizational issues among peers on the management level. Sharing findings with other stakeholders is important in resolving the root causes of a problem.

You should conduct mystery shopping programs more than once and not only when you think it is convenient. Whether you complete them monthly, quarterly or annually, mystery shopping programs completed on a regular basis and incorporated into your assessment initiatives can help improve your awareness of your customers’ perceptions.

The mystery shopping program itself does little to change policies and procedures in your organization. How you interpret the results and apply the findings received at the end of the program determines your readiness to move forward and become an industry leader.

Mystery shopping programs can be applied to any industry, including the retail, restaurant, hospitality, transportation, manufacturers, finance and automotive sectors, just to name a few. The only remaining question is which market research and mystery shopping agency you should rely on to complete these tasks for you.

Conclusion

Improve your organization’s overall performance and brand reputation when you discover and understand the importance of completing a secret shopping program. Make the most out of your strengths and fill the gaps in your operations using mystery shopping, as a vital diagnostic research tool to ensure you stay ahead of the competition.

Receive a steady stream of comprehensive insights when you follow the mystery shopping process and discover how your business is doing from the customers’ points of view. The objective feedback and actionable reports SeeLevel HX provides can be used to stimulate positive changes in your organization. If you want to benefit from our expertise in market research, call or email us today.

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