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Is Your Mystery Shopping Program Missing Something?


Mystery shopping programs are designed to measure operational standards to ensure that employees follow guidelines and expectations for providing an excellent customer experience. While starting in the traditional sense of onsite evaluations, where mystery shoppers were deployed to visit restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses to evaluate the experience, the programs have expanded over time to incorporate other customer service touch points, such as telephone and website evaluations.


One aspect that is still overlooked, but gaining traction in the mystery shopping world, is evaluating social media. How, you ask, can social media be evaluated?


Simple. It’s a known fact that social media sites are quickly becoming a channel for customer inquiries, complaints, suggestions, and praise. We are well past the time of businesses simply pushing out content and customers engaging, getting deals, and entering contests. Customers expect more from a company’s social media sites, and it’s a good idea, when planning for 2015, to incorporate social media into the mystery shopping mix.


This can be accomplished just as a typical mystery shop is executed. Shoppers will visit a company’s social media sites and pose a question or comment to track:


  • Response time
  • Method of response
  • Employee knowledge


Direct and indirect communication can be evaluated, especially in instances when companies utilize social media monitoring programs. It is easy to identify social customer service issues through a solid monitoring program, but ensuring that the piece of communication is effectively shared with the appropriate staff, and is responded to in a timely manner, is just as important when evaluating the customer experience.


Ann Michaels & Associates recently published a press release highlighting this new component of mystery shopping. New services designed to incorporate social data, whether through direct mystery shopping or data integration into existing programs, were highlighted. As consumers become more demanding and expect strong service levels no matter where they choose to communicate, aligning your 2015 strategies to incorporate social media evaluations will be an important component to your program.


Customer Feedback: When Enough Is Enough


Customer feedback is vital to learning more about our customers – if they’re satisfied, if there were any problems with the service they received, or if there are any ways we can do better for our customers.


It’s one thing to ask for feedback, but it’s another to do it the wrong way. What would be considered the wrong way? There are a couple of ways a company can go wrong when collecting customer feedback:


1. Telling a customer how to respond


2. Asking too often or at the wrong time


Here are a couple of examples:

Telling Customers How They Feel

  • I shop at a particular large retailer often, and am aware that they have a customer feedback survey at the bottom of the receipt. Often times an employee will point it out, along with the fact that I would be entered into a drawing. On more recent visits, however, I noticed that the tone changed. It may be specific to the particular location I visit, and maybe not. At the end of the transaction, the employee invited me to take the survey and “if I gave them all 10’s for exceptional service, I would be entered into a monetary drawing.” Well, what if I gave them lower ratings based on my experience? Would my entry (along with my feedback) be dumped into some unknown viral wastebasket?


  • In reading a story about a consumer who had work done at a car dealership, the author tells his tale of the dealership asking for feedback, with a reminder that the manufacturer may be contacting him as well to get feedback: “They also gently reminded me the manufacturer might be contacting me and they would appreciate my giving them the highest rating.”


Telling consumers, or even “gently suggesting” how to provide feedback to a consumer, can be off-putting. It creates a sense that they really only want to hear the good stuff, and could even be a signal that the employee is worried about less than excellent feedbaack. It could be their job is on the line, they are in a competition to get the most positive feedback, or something else all together. At any rate, this is one way to decrease the feedback, or even true feedback. A customer may be inclined to give positive feedback, even if it wasn’t the case, because they liked the employee and wanted to give him/her credit at work, they wanted to be included in the prize drawing, etc. At any rate, this can be a no-win situation.


Asking too often/at the wrong time


  • Back to the dealership article….this author shared his experience post appointment. Specifically, the number of requests for feedback was simply too much.  The first request came shortly after returning home, and then there seemed to be a flurry of email and phone requests, along with a note that the manufacturer may be following up too. Consumers will give their feedback if they want to – asking multiple times will not get them to provide feedback, or it will – and that won’t be the kind you want at that point. One reminder if your automated system tracks responses, as we could all use a reminder from time to time. But, after that, just realize that you’re not likely to get feedback from that customer.


  • A colleague shared a story of purchasing an item online. When receiving the item, they were very pleased with most of it, except one part that arrived broken. An email sent to the company garnered a quick response – an apology and a promise to ship a new item right away. A couple of days later, this colleague got an email asking for feedback, and the next day, and the next day. Meanwhile, the item was not resent and follow up emails to the company were not returned. Yet the feedback requests kept coming. It was finally resolved, but by that time, the colleague was not interested in leaving great feedback. Had the issue been resolved first, or more quickly, or without repeated requests for an update, some really great feedback could have been left!


  • The last example leads again to multiple feedback requests. A story shared with me involves someone who had a great customer experience and, on her own, left a glowing review for the company on their website. Three days post-transaction, an email was received requesting feedback. And then, like the other examples, a flood of subsequent requests came, even though this customer already left feedback. While they were just ignored, it was an annoyance, and one that could have been resolved by dispatching the request more quickly after the transaction, and again limiting the number of requests sent.


Automation is great, but abusing it and/or not having great control over it can be a turnoff to customers, and defeat the objective of collecting customer feedback.


Do you have a story to share on customer feedback gone wrong? If so, please feel free to share in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!





First Comcast, Now Bath & Body Works – How Metrics Can Hurt Business

Did you hear of this story last week? If you’re on social media, or in the St. Louis area, it’s likely that you’ve read or heard about it:



This story went viral very quickly, and highlights some of Bath and Body Works’ operational procedures that landed them in some hot water with the special needs community.


To sum it up, a group of special needs students was participating in a project that entailed visiting stores to learn skills related to shopping, purchasing, and other life necessities. All was well until they visited the Bath & Body works store, at which time they were not allowed entry. Why? Because the manager assumed that they were not going to make a purchase, and explained that by entering without making a purchase, the store’s “numbers” would be off, so they could not enter.


The fact that it happened to a group of special needs students made this a much more emotional story, as it appeared that the manager was making assumptions that were very wrong to make – would the manager have stopped other teenagers in the same manner, assuming because they were teens that they wouldn’t make a purchase? Or what about a mom whose toddler or young child wandered into the store because they like smelling the different products? Would they have been asked to leave, since it may have been “clear” that they were there to browse, not shop?


Peeling away the details a bit, it struck me that this stemmed from a simple operational metric that must be vital to a manager’s success at this retailer – the number of customers who enter versus the number of purchases made. This is well known as a conversion counter or traffic sensor. It’s a pretty typical standard, but one that must be so heavily emphasized within this company that it causes situations like this happen.


I did some browsing online to see what the general buzz was, and found that Bath & Body works did do some quick damage control by addressing the issue on their Facebook page:


bbw fb


That was a positive move, yet one that brought to light the very issue that brought me to this article – employees, both current and former, flocked to the page to share their confirmation that the company relies so heavily on this metric, that they may be forgetting the “service” part of the experience:


bbw fb2



Of course, this is reflective of one manager at one of their retail locations, and may not be indicative of the retailer as a whole. However, this story was eerily reminiscent of the Comcast story that broke several months ago – when companies focus so much on one metric or training goal, the basics of customer service get lost by employees who, for whatever reason, take it to the extreme. In this case, the manager could have been facing poor numbers and was recently talked to by regional managers. Maybe the manager was close to a bonus (or being let go) and took things to the extreme. We’ll never know, but by relying on the success of the store based on this metric AND double teaming it with discrimination, it led to an ugly situation for the company.


A good lesson for businesses – metrics are important and useful to pinpoint strengths and challenges, and to ensure employees are meeting operational standards. However, they should never be presented as a “do or die” to the success of a location – it could end up hurting the company in the long run.