Why Do They Come Back When Scores Are Low?


Mystery shopping programs typically focus on the objective part of a business – are employee standards being met? Are behaviors that are taught in training programs being executed consistently? Are employees providing the service levels to customers that the company expects?

Despite the objective nature of the program, many clients also include an overall experience section in the reports, which typically ask two common questions:

“Based on this experience, would you return to this location?”

“Would you recommend this location to family and friends?”

While a valuable part of the evaluation process, this last section of a report can cause confusion and misunderstanding when a client sees a report in which the employees may have scored at unsatisfactory levels in the company’s eyes, yet the ratings for returning as a customer come back very high.

Consider a typical retail shop. The report may come back with an overall score of just 75% – in reading the report, the client finds that the shopper wasn’t assisted for two minutes, when the company standard is assisting all customers within 45 seconds of entering the department. The employee didn’t attempt to upsell or cross sell, nor did they talk about the history of the company. While explaining the benefits of the items discussed, the employee talked about three benefits and features, but the company expects them to talk about five, so they didn’t get full credit for that question. Yet, in closing, the shopper states that the employee was warm and personable, and they fully enjoyed the experience, rating their likeliness to return as very high.

What happened? At first glance, it wouldn’t make sense that the overall ratings were so high given that many of the things the employee was supposed to do didn’t happen. Does this mean that the shopper didn’t rate that last section correctly? Does it mean that the company’s standards are way off from what a customer expects and they need to change what they do?

Not at all.

When an overall section has high ratings while the remainder of the report may not, it is valuable information once you dig deeper and overlook the conflicting appearance of the scores.  Each company has its own standards as to what constitutes great customer service; mystery shopping can ensure that these steps are taken on a consistent basis. Throwing in the more subjective questions gives it a unique perspective; while the employees may not be following every step to a T, the overall experience may still be good in the eyes of a customer.

This simply means that customers may perceive the business as providing great service, and the measures you are taking to ensure standards are met each and every time will likely make it an even greater experience when all steps are taken. It may also give companies a better perspective on what they perceive as a great experience compared to what their customers think.

There are other reasons for the standards that are measured in a mystery shopping evaluation, which may go beyond evaluating the customer experience and satisfaction. One such example is the cross sell and upsell. This is important for sales and profits and should be expected of all employees, which is why shoppers are looking for this when they are conducting mystery shops. However, it will not make or break the entire experience in the eyes of a customer.

Remembering the reasons for the questions on the mystery shopping report and looking at the scores accordingly will help make the seemingly incongruent scores make sense. If this conflict causes concern within your company, there are some things you can do to alleviate it:


1.   Review the entire mystery shopping report with your staff or managers, and explain the rationale behind the questions and why shoppers are evaluating that aspect of the experience. It might also be helpful to explain the rationale behind having the overall experience questions and how they can score well while there may have been operational challenges present.

2.   Continue to ask the overall experience questions, but do not assign point values to the responses. This will keep them as an “informational” touchpoint only, giving additional and valuable information while not affecting the scoring that many companies use for analytical purposes.3.   Make sure you’re asking the right follow up questions. Some clients only ask the shopper if they would return, but do not ask the follow up question of “Why or why not?”  This can lead to valuable information that might not otherwise be included in the report. Shoppers are taught to be objective unless opinion is specifically asked for.

3.   Instead of asking these common overall experience type questions, change it out by asking, “If there is one thing we can do better, what would that be?” Many clients have gotten some great suggestions by asking this question and have used them in changes to the way they do things.


Mystery shopping is an excellent observational tool; making the most out of it will be beneficial to all companies. Measuring the operational standards is vital, and incorporating some subjective questions, in the right way, can go a long way in getting actionable insight into your business.


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