What is Mystery Shopping and Why is it Important?

If you are wondering why your business isn’t hitting the top spot despite being in the perfect location, having well-trained staff and offering competitive products and services, it’s probably because you are missing an important point: You haven’t done a customer experience evaluation.

Mystery shopping is a method where the store hires someone to pretend to be a customer, in order to assess how the employees, accommodate shoppers. Employees are supposed to build rapport and eventually convince shoppers to make a purchase. Despite the name, there is nothing really mysterious about the process; it is only because the employees may not know their performance is being evaluated through a professional’s point of view (the mystery shopper). This is an effective way to read what a customer is thinking the moment he enters the store and how satisfied he is when he leaves. The mystery shopper will create a report that will be used to strengthen a business’s customer service. Below are several factors suggesting why every business should consider this method.

A welcoming ambiance is the first step in building rapport.

Customer experience starts at the moment a shopper enters the store. Employees are expected to greet them with smile and sincerity. A warm welcome is a good indication that your employees are aware of people coming in; that they acknowledge the customer’s presence and are ready to be of service. In restaurants, a reception staff guides customers to their respective seats after asking relevant questions (e.g.: how many are in your group? what kind of seats do you prefer? etc.).

This is the same for other types of businesses; for example, a hardware store. After the welcome spiel, a diligent staff immediately attends to customers who may not be sure of what they’re looking for. Sometimes, people go to stores even without a definite plan, they just stroll around until they realize what they need. A customer who made an effort to visit your store is more likely to make a purchase as opposed to a customer who chose to inquire over the phone. Imagine how much in sales (and upsells) can be done when an employee patiently guides your customer and encourages him to purchase an item whenever possible. 

Knowing when to Upsell

When the customer feels that you understand what he needs, and say, you are able to determine exactly what he is looking for, selling comes much easier. But sales do not end with that. An outstanding employee knows when to initiate upselling. If a shopper buys paint, it is only reasonable to offer him a paintbrush as well, and simply anything that is related to what he initially purchased. It wouldn’t hurt to make a suggestion and may actually add revenue. A mystery shopper aims to assess not only the employee’s ability to sell but the ability to convince the shopper to buy some more.

Less Pressure

Sometimes, no matter how well-trained your employees are, the thought of being evaluated or being observed makes them nervous. It puts them under great pressure and they tend to be too conscious of their actions, especially because a skill in sales is a learned behavior. Mystery shopping will allow them to perform naturally, and this helps a lot in bringing out the real picture. When an employee accommodates a customer spontaneously, it is easier to determine where the shortcoming lies. And when you know what’s wrong, this will eventually lead to better customer satisfaction. Aside from personal assistance, a mystery shopper may also evaluate an employee’s ability to relay information over the phone.

Handling Irate Customers

As much as we’d like to lessen the pressure, it is important to see how these employees are going to handle stressful situations. Every so often, we encounter a customer who is really hard to please. We even encounter unreasonable customers, those who would insist they should be getting a certain promo or discount despite knowing very well that they didn’t qualify to the given mechanics. The goal is to see how your employees are going to respond when they are put in the hot seat.

 Product Knowledge

When accommodating a customer, the phrase I don’t know is certainly the last thing that you would want to say, as this doesn’t only lie under lack of product knowledge, it will also discourage him from possibly buying an item because you seem to be uninterested. When an employee always has an answer to every question thrown at him, it encourages the customer to consider his suggestions. However, there are times that an employee may not be really sure about the product being asked. In this case, it is better to teach the employee to excuse himself for a while and ask for help. Employees aren’t perfect, but it is always their positive disposition and willingness to serve that is most important which can be discerned and appended when properly assessed.

To put it simply, conducting mystery shopping is a process of filling out an employee’s scorecard that is based on how they perform their duty. The mystery shopper gathers the data that will eventually help them figure out both the strengths and weaknesses of the store and its front liners. By utilizing what they’ve learned through this report, the management will be able to come up with solutions on how to make their customer service a lot better.

To help you further, here are some points that you should be focusing on:

  • Welcome greeting and closing remarks.
  • The store’s cleanliness and being organized.
  • The attentiveness of each staff on the floor.
  • The employee’s initiative to assess what the shopper needs and their ability to build rapport.
  • The employee’s ability to answer customer’s inquiry with accuracy and provide them with the right details about the products they’re planning to buy.
  • The employee’s ability to describe the use and features of their products.
  • The employee’s attempt to convince the customer to make a purchase; and the attempt to upsell.
  • Thanking the customers for purchasing an item.
  • The employee’s initiative to ask if the customer needs further assistance.
  • The employee’s politeness.

In-depth Understanding of Customer Experience

A secret shopper inspects the following altogether – the store’s ambiance (whether it’s comfortable and welcoming or not), employee’s salesmanship, product prices and integrity. It aims to give the owner an insight into how everything works when he is not around; how the employees handle each possible circumstance when the upper management isn’t watching over them. Most importantly, it analyzes your business’ ability to compete with others by knowing where you actually stand amidst the market competition.

If you are a startup, it gives you a whole new concept on how to be among those on top; if you are already an established brand, however, it will help you maintain a good ranking and possibly put you in a more stable spot. Aside from the assistance you can provide, shoppers are usually looking for a place where they can buy their most commonly used or preferred products. When a shopper see that your store has almost everything they need, it will allow them to just stick to your service rather than going somewhere else.

By acquiring real-time knowledge through first-hand experience, you are able to gather relevant information that will lead to making smart business decisions – you won’t be afraid of taking chances because you have a precise basis for steering your business onto a better path. Mystery shopping allows you to closely monitor your people’s performance and the quality of service they provide to every shopper; it teaches your employees why it’s important to be mindful of every customer’s needs and ensures you that every product being sold in your store are of high quality. It will let you know if your facility is in good condition from a customer’s perspective and create suggestions on how to maximize your retail location.

On the other hand, you can also send your own mystery shoppers to competing stores for comparison. It will be useful to know how the competitors are serving their customers and be aware if there’s something in particular about them that you do not have yet. The data you gathered can be used in creating tactics; their weakness can be your strong point, and it’s easier to beat them that way.

Nevertheless, there are also some points that have to be considered in the part of the business owners. Make sure the questions you provide to a mystery shopper are straight to the point and not subjective. Instead of asking “Did you feel welcome?” it is better to ask whether or not the employees greeted them properly upon entrance. This is to be fair to your employees because they need to know exactly what they did wrong and understand how to do it better next time. If an employee’s scorecard says he was too busy arranging some products in the aisle and didn’t pay enough attention to answer the customer’s questions, then this employee will be more attentive next time – simply because he learned to prioritize a customer even when he’s in the middle of doing another task.

Mystery shopping is probably the most effective way to identify the areas where you lack skills, knowledge, and competency. If you want your business to persist in an ever-changing industry, then you should finally consider conducting one.

We invite you to check SeeLevel for your Mystery Shopping needs and you’ll start improving your customer experience in no time.

By Lisa van Kesteren

Lisa van Kesteren is the CEO and Founder of SeeLevel HX, the mystery shopping agency for Retail, QSR, and Financial Service brands.  Utilizing over 650,000 professional mystery shoppers in every nook and cranny of the United States, she is on a mission to help brands improve the human experience of each and every customer interaction.

Lisa started her career as a Private Investigator and is considered one of the pioneers in mystery shopping. After building 2 different global divisions for large corporations, she launched her own company.  Lisa is a widely coveted panelist and speaker on customer experience, best in class data collection practices and the evolution of the On Demand economy.