Great customer service has always been important to business and it is, arguably, becoming one of the single most important elements to the few businesses that remain on the High Street. Customers are known to discuss incidents of poor service to their friends and family in a ratio of at least 10-1 compared to good positive ones. One way to ‘audit’ your own company’s standard of customer service is to utilise mystery shopping. It’s an old technique, having been commonly employed since the 1940s at least but it’s a good one. Here’s how mystery shopping can benefit your company.
The Benefits of Mystery Shoppers
Large companies may have in-house teams of mystery shoppers but for most company’s the services of a field marketing agency/mystery shopping agency will be required. Before you rush to hire one, here are the main benefits you can expect.
One clear benefit is the ability to see things through your customer’s eyes; nobody in your own company is likely to be able to do this so effectively. While the mystery shopper will give you this view they’ll also filter it through the glasses of their own professional skills. Unlike real customers they are trained in all aspects of customer service and behaviours. This allows them to identify what’s right and what’s wrong (most real customers can manage this bit) but, importantly, also identify the specifics of why. In terms of training opportunities this is extremely important.
Mystery shoppers will also give you a fully comprehensive overview of your customer service operations. Real customers may only report on one aspect. Again, this can be invaluable at helping you to target areas that need improvement and this targeted approach can cut training and development costs. Why re-train ten people (with the associated expense) if only a couple of individual’s need some help? On the same basis, if some processes work, then they can be left alone, allowing you to improve those that don’t more effectively and efficiently.
Setting up a Mystery Shopping Program
Given the competitive nature of most industries and especially for real world shops, the need to survive the rapidly declining High Street environment it’s likely that most firms could benefit from the insights that mystery shoppers can offer. If your company is one of them, here’s how to go about setting up Mystery Shopping Programme:
- Talk to the staff; it’s important that your workers are aware you intend to implement a program. This is only fair, in a moral sense, required, under employment legislation, but importantly can have a great effect quickly. Knowing that unexpected and difficult to identify scrutiny is on its way is a great motivator in itself. Maintaining a regular program of mystery shopping visits can also be a way to ensure that these high standards remain a constant, rather than a one-off effect.
- You should establish benchmarks for your customer service; decide what you want to evaluate and to what standard. This will help to identify the right mystery shopping supplier to suit your own needs.
- Identify appropriate providers and look for firms who are able, willing and experienced at providing tailored packages. In many cases a “one-size-fits-all” mystery shopping approach is not suitable.
- Shop around for the right firm for your needs. One firm may be the solution or individual freelance mystery shoppers may be better suited to your needs, depending on the size of your company. Most firms can offer shoppers from very differing demographics, some even hire professional actors, and those that offer fully trained customer service professionals are the best choice.
Real or Pretend Customers?
Some firms believe that using real customers, as opposed to “pretend” ones is more beneficial. The reality is that there are pros and cons to both methods, in reality maintaining both approaches can be useful. Real customers don’t always want to be interrogated, but some may appreciate the interest you show in their experience. The most likely to engage will be those who have just had an experience from the less positive end of the spectrum.
This can lead to an unrepresentative view of your staff’s performance. Many customers may also not be able to identify specific behaviours and or related training to rectify them. The mystery shopper can offer a professional “second pair of eyes” which can evaluate and provide additional insight. In terms of cost, although mystery shoppers will come at a price, this professional insight is often worth the investment compared to traditional customer surveys, questionnaires or interviews.