When Is Mystery Shopping Not Effective?




A mystery shopping program is only as effective as its design and intent. Over the years we have worked with several clients to create an effective program that will help identify strengths and areas for improvement, and enhance the customer experience.

There are times though, when a program is ineffective. Here are the top reasons for mystery shopping programs not working:

The program focuses on the negative: they say it’s all in the presentation. This is certainly the case in mystery shopping. When companies present the program launch as a means to find things employees are doing wrong, it is set for ultimate failure.

Case in point: a retail store started a mystery shopping program and put pressure on staff and managers to ‘do well.’ They presented the program as being used as a part of employee reviews and stressed that low scores can warrant disciplinary action or termination.

What happened next? Employees were on edge, wondering if every customer was the shopper. When reports started coming in, managers came down hard on any lower performing evaluations. In turn, employees disputed many of the scores and questioned most of the reports. This caused frustration across the board, and the company wondered if it was worth continuing. Employees worked hard to try to identify the shopper each month and focused on who it might be and how to fight a poor evaluation rather than focusing solely on customer service.

The program does not match the company culture: It’s important that mystery shopping programs evaluate what is included in employee training – our motto is to “measure what you train on.” If your performance standards are not clear, or standards are not consistent across locations or districts, there is no clear way to evaluate employee performance. That being said, mystery shopping can be really effective at pinpointing these discrepancies and using the results to improve training procedures across the company.

Take another example that has been in the news recently – Wells Fargo has been in the limelight for fraudulent activity. Recent information was released that shows that Wells Fargo is incorporating a mystery shopping program to closely evaluate customer service going forward.

While this is great, imagine if they had a mystery shopping program prior to this – if mystery shoppers reported that they felt pressure to open an account, for example, it would not bode poorly for the bank employee. Why? Because this is what management expected them to do, despite how the customer perceived the experience. The bank’s culture (push customers to open accounts) did not match what is typical of a mystery shopping program (evaluate the customer experience and their perception of the company). Because their focus was profit driven, they would not be inclined to train staff to treat the customer any differently. In fact, it was reported that staff attempted to report their practices and it fell on deaf ears. In this case, a mystery shopping program may have been a waste of time and effort.

The results of the shops are only used superficially: it’s important to look at each shop report and identify areas of strength and weakness. However, if the company is not looking at overall data through the use of analytical reporting, there is a lot of valuable information that is not being fully utilized. You may miss trends or, conversely, see a couple of reports where an item is rated poorly and think it’s a trend even though it’s fairly isolated.

Making use of analytical reports gives deeper insight into performance levels. With enhanced technology, these reports are easier to use than ever. In the report sample below, heat mapping quickly identifies areas that may need to be addressed:



Mystery shopping is a valuable tool, but can often be misused or not used to its fullest extent. When used properly and coupled with other customer focused data points, it’s a treasure trove of information, right at your fingertips. If you have a mystery shopping program, it might be time to re-evaluate how you use it. If you are not using mystery shopping to evaluate service levels, there’s no better time than the present!


We’d love to hear from you! You can learn more about mystery shopping on our website or you can send us an email.


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