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Mystery Shopping Programs: Read This Before Implementing Incentives


More often than not, the information gleaned from mystery shopping reports will be used for an incentive, or factored into performance reviews. This is a great use for the program, but one where companies should proceed with caution.


Before tying mystery shopping scores into performance reviews or bonuses, consider the following:


1. Have you had the program in place, or are you just starting a program? It’s an interesting thing when a company announces to its staff that they will be starting a mystery shopping program, even when it’s promoted in a positive light (as it always should be). Staff become nervous, thinking that it is a “big brother” approach to keeping tabs. Others, who may have had a negative experience in a past life, may want to buck the system and protest loudly to anyone who will listen.


It is recommended that a program be implemented and run for some time before placing incentives on it or incorporating it into your performance reviews. This will give staff time to see the value of the program and that it is truly intended to make the company better as a whole. It will also give staff time to work on areas where they need improvement before rolling out the incentive/reward program.


2. Set the bar now for employee kickback: it will happen, even in the best of programs. After all, we’re all human and it’s human nature to defend ourselves. Decide as a company how you’re going to handle employee disputes from mystery shopping reports beforehand and communicate that with your staff. If you allow employees to fight every report that is less than stellar, it will send a message that they can try to argue their way out of a lower score, which will devalue the program.


That’s not to say that there won’t be reports where clarification is needed; this can happen from time to time, but when employees try to dispute every less than perfect report, you need a plan in place for them to accept that it is what it is and the program is not going to change.


3. Make sure the report is measuring what staff are trained to do: sometimes programs need to be tweaked after the first run or two. Make sure that each question on the report measures what you train, otherwise it will not be an effective program. Don’t ask a question that records if a customer was greeted within 10 seconds of entering the store, for example, if your staff were not trained on this or it’s entirely impossible given the store layout or business model.


4. Prepare management for the initial fallout: even if you have program in place for a while and then raise the bar by implementing an incentive program, something interesting happens. Employees will become defensive, claim they “knew it was the shopper”, or otherwise try to fight reports from time to time. It’s a natural progression we’ve seen time and time again, and I always share this with clients who have had a program and are now raising the bar in this manner. It’s not an issue with the program itself, it’s just staff reacting to the change. By preparing your managers for this, it will make the transition process as smooth as possible.


Mystery shopping programs offer an excellent method of collecting objective data to measure operational standards; using it to its fullest potential will make it even more valuable to your company. By keeping the above tips in mind, it will make incorporation into an incentive program easier and help staff buy into its value as well.