Mystery Shopping Uncovers Satisfaction Vs. Operational “Fails”


Mystery shopping evaluates the customer experience from an operational standpoint. Many questions shoppers answer revolve around the mechanics of customer service – did the employee suggest an additional item, did they mention the store’s return policy effectively, were they able to answer questions well. Often times, there are more subjective questions at the end that ask shoppers if, based on this experience, they would return to the store and/or recommend to friends and family.


It’s always interesting when a report reveals that many of the mechanics did not happen, yet the shopper indicated that overall their experience was positive and they would be very likely to return. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, but let’s unpack it a bit….there is a lot more value to this “inconsistency” than may be realized.


It’s important to follow the “would you return” question with a “why or why not?” This will give you insight into the shopper’s perception, and what it was that made their experience positive – maybe the employees didn’t upsell or hit certain performance points, but remember – this is a company standard, and most customers don’t realize that a “good” experience, as viewed by the company, is when the employee hits the required performance standards.


The overall experience questions are great in that they give additional consumer insight into what it is that is good (or not so great) about your business, and what may be important from a customer perspective.


On the flip side, it’s important to remember that the performance standards are also very important, and need to be executed consistently in order to maintain sales, customer retention, and aspects related to that.


It’s also very important to find out what made an experience positive and compare it to the performance standards to look for inconsistencies. This may help identify areas in which customer service levels may hinder the overall experience without the customer realizing it. For example:

  • A mystery shopper reports that part of what made the experience positive is that the employee answered all of his/her questions well. However, in reading the narrative component, it’s noted that while the employee provided answers, they were not correct. This results in the shopper (or customer) thinking they have information, though it is not correct. The next time they visit a location, this may come up again, and they may get a different (read: correct) answer that is not consistent with what they were originally told. This may lead to a sense of distrust and decrease the chance for repeat business.


  • Customers don’t know what they don’t know: it’s interesting when employees should be mentioning certain points to customers during an interaction, whether it relates to upcoming events, special financing options, or something similar. This is not mentioned to the customer, yet a typical customer will not know it exists, so they think they’ve received the best service possible. However, internally the company will know that the customer was not fully educated about all of their options. If they make a purchase today and later find out that there were other options/better prices/features they were not offered, it will not bode well for the company.


We have seen instances in which shoppers, through the guidelines and questions they are required to report on, deem their experience as less positive than they would have given the fact that the employee did not do some of the required behaviors; knowing now that these are items that should be offered, they feel as though they were not assisted to the fullest potential. Interestingly, this happens less with questions that focus on cross selling or upsell, and more on items where employees should be mentioning promotions directly related to the items of interest.


Mystery shopping reports provide a wealth of information beyond the question responses and narrative detail; digging deeper into the content of the report and looking for correlations can give your program even more value than realized.


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