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Be Cautious of “Industry Standards” in Mystery Shopping


Often times potential clients or new clients will ask “how do we rank among our competitors” when it comes to mystery shopping scores. On a similar note, some companies only want to work with mystery shopping providers who special in a specific vertical, whether it be banking, fine dining, etc.


In some cases it is possible to get this information, at least on a general level. However, it is wise to be cautious when looking at this data. It may not be a truly relevant statistic.


Why is that?


Let’s consider a few things that may apply to your mystery shopping program and explain how this can affect an “industry standard”:


1. Is it truly an “apples to apples” comparison? In order for your company to be able to benchmark yourselves against others in your industry, you will need to make sure that the metrics and questions on your mystery shopping report are the same across competitors. That being said, most companies have a customized program since their business may be very different from their competitors. This is the same when a company requests competitor shops using the same program for their locations and their competitors…you cannot necessarily take that data, compare it, and come to the conclusion that “we’re better than them” because they had low overall percentages. Those scores are based on your company’s standards, not the competition’s. If competitive shops (or gathering benchmark data) is done in this way, it needs to be used for intelligence only, meaning that you can get insight into what they’re doing, and the shopper’s perceptions and reactions, but as far as usable data, this doesn’t give you a lot to work with.


2. Beware of overgeneralizations. one solution to the above is to gather benchmark data or industry standards based on those questions that are similar across programs within the industry. Yes, there are many questions that will be the same or very similar in nature. It is possible to take the data from those questions and benchmark it across a vertical. Just be cautious to make sure the questions are exactly the same and there are enough questions to make it effective.


3. Use progress as an example instead. This doesn’t need to be industry specific at all, but you could find data that shows the effectiveness of a mystery shopping program over time in order to gauge your progress once a program is started. For example, you could find data that shows a company who uses a mystery shopping program to benchmark their performance levels prior to a training program. They can then repeat the study after the training is complete to collect post-training performance data. When this data is compiled and averaged out, you may learn that performance percentages typically increase by an average of 10% when training is put in place. It will give you some idea of what you might be able to expect from your training program.


Everyone loves numbers (I’m a fan myself), and we tend to gauge decisions and progress on data. However, in the mystery shopping industry, this is not as easy as you may think because each program has different objectives and is customized. Using the analytical reporting features that come with your mystery shopping program will be the best bet when it comes to benchmarking your employees’ performance over time.




Mystery Shopping Case Study: Mobile Contract Inaccuracies


Mystery shopping is used for a variety of reasons, but this one has led to a formal complaint.


Which?, a UK based consumer association provides independent advice to consumers in many mobile and technology based services. In July, they conducted a mystery shopping project to evaluate the information provided by employees regarding mobile contracts. Specifically, they were seeking data to find out what consumers were being told about fixed rate contracts to determine if accurate information was provided.


Surprisingly, they found that 82% of the employees provided inaccurate information, stating that the price would indeed be fixed throughout the length of the contract, and did not mention any potential price increases. Even when specifically asked, a signficant number of employees assured the consumer that the prices would not go up.


This is in fact not true, as “four out of five of the main UK phone operators – Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Three – have taken advantage of a loop hole that allows them to increase prices on contracts that are marketed as ‘fixed’. Which? believes that this practice is earning the industry up to £90m a year.”


Additional consumer research found that 70% of those interviewed were not aware of the possibility that their price can go up during the length of the contract.


The findings of this study have led to Which? filing a formal complaint with Ofcom, a UK communications regulator, and have launched a “Fixed Means Fixed” campaign.


It will be an interesting story to follow, and illustrates yet another use for mystery shopping programs.



Feedbox: Real Time Feedback


If you have a customer feedback system in place, you know that it can provide valuable insight into the customer’s satisfaction and opinions. I often hear disappointment around the fact that the participation rate is lower than a company would like, or they’re still getting feedback only from the “extreme” customers – raving fans or haters.


There is a new type of service that is emerging in companies across the country with great success. Feedbox is a real time customer feedback program. It is different from traditional surveys in that it is a console set up in your restaurant, store, or office and customers can easily share their opinions and feedback as they are in the moment.


Why is this a benefit? Placing Feedbox consoles within your business can:


    • Increase response rates: the console is visually appealing, making it easy to notice and use


    • Better feedback: since customers are in the moment, their memory is fresh and they can provide more thorough insight. With traditional surveys, customers usually don’t take part until they have left your business. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 4 hours after the fact, there is memory degradation which can alter their feedback.


    • Immediate alerts: say you run a retail chain and in one of your locations, the restrooms and fitting rooms are an absolute disaster. With Feedbox, a customer can notice this and provide feedback on the console; because there is negative information, the location or district manager will receive a text message or email right away alerting them to the issue so it can be fixed.


  • It changes behavior: much like mystery shopping programs can keep employees on their toes, Feedbox can change employee behavior. Because it is placed right at the point of interaction, employees are aware of its existence and keep good customer service in the back of their minds as they’re going about their work tasks. Simply having the console present can make employees think carefully about their performance at work.


If you’re interested in learning more about Feedbox, please feel free to visit our website or send us an email.