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Baseline Mystery Shopping


When companies have not used mystery shopping to measure the customer experience, they typically find out more than what they bargained for.


Typically, they start with a standard evaluation to get a baseline of what is happening in their locations. In most cases, employees are not informed that this baseline program will be happening so that companies can get a true picture of what is happening in each of their locations. This covert baseline allows for true measurement, as employees will not be “on their toes” knowing this is happening. The program typically runs with shops at a higher frequency, once or more per week, over a four to six week period across a variety of days and times of the day. This is a great start to see where employees are the strongest, and what operational procedures need to improve.


However, it often time reveals information that the company may not have been looking for, yet is very useful when measuring the customer experience. This is most true when companies are not already using customer feedback programs or asking the right questions.


Take, for example, the retail store that has several locations. They started a baseline program to evaluate the employees, determine strengths and challenges, and roll out a new training program. In the evaluation report, they asked mystery shoppers to indicate whether they’d return in the future, and their reasoning for it.


While their operational checkpoints were strong, with employees tending to stick to the correct policies and procedures, they found that many of the shoppers would not return because of their selection of products. A secondary theme they found among the baseline reports revolved around the way cashiers were bagging items – while this was not a part of the standard evaluation, comments in the last section asking why a shopper would or would not return revealed that many cashiers were not bagging items correctly, often times placing lighter items underneath heavier items, or not double bagging heavier items. While this was not something the company set out to find, this was an issue that was affecting the customer experience and one that could easily rectified now that they were aware of it.


Another beneficial question to ask is “If there was one way your visit could have been improved, what would it be?” or the offshoot “What is one thing we can do to improve?” Companies have received helpful and valuable feedback by asking these two simple questions as part of their program, especially when it’s part of a baseline evaluation.


It’s the little things sometimes that can really stand out when companies are measured using a mystery shopping program. Make the most of your program by asking these types of questions in addition to the objective, operational based questions to get the most impact from your program.



How To Get The Most Value From Your Mystery Shopping Program


Companies across all industries realize the importance of mystery shopping. It’s an excellent service, but one that can face hardships when budgets are cut or are limited.


I’ve seen companies who, in good faith, are trying to get the most information possible from their mystery shopping program.  There are times, however, when it’s not a good idea to move forward with a program that is too intense or makes it obvious when a mystery shopper is present.


The first example focuses on the retail stores with multiple departments. Many larger companies are inclined to have shoppers visit multiple departments within one visit to evaluate as many staff members as possible. The thinking behind this is valid, but doesn’t work across the board. In a grocery store, for example, this can work well – customers typically visit the deli, baker, and checkout in one visit. Adding a question of a staff in an aisle or in the produce section won’t make shoppers appear any different from the average customer. This could even be successful in a larger retail or big box store.


If you have a small drug and grocery chain, however, where the stores are much more compact and perhaps not as busy, this will not work as well. I know when I visit my local drug store, it’s not always very crowded and, because it’s rather small, I would stand out like a sore thumb if I stopped to ask questions at the pharamacy, beauty counter, from a staff in the aisle, and the photo center.


The second example revolves around quick serve restaurants that offer a drive thru. I’ve seen many programs where shoppers are required to dine in and then make a drive thru purchase. Again, in some (more rare) cases, this is okay; however, if this process is done month in and month out, employees will start looking for this pattern to peg the shopper. In these cases it’s best to mix it up if you really want to have both aspects of your restaurant to be evaluated consistently – maybe include the drive thru component one month, then do separate dine in and carry out shops for a few months, rinse and repeat. Not only does it keep employees on their toes, but it  also keeps your program fresh.


When shops are ungrouped like this, I realize there can be additional cost involved that you may not be able to handle. In that case, perhaps rotating departments to be evaluated each shopping period will give you the data you need while keeping the program anonymous.


Do you have any tips for mystery shopping businesses with multiple departments? Feel free to share with the community – we can all learn from each other!


What’s Legal in Recorded Mystery Shops?


We’ve seen an increase in the number of clients choosing to conduct video shops and/or recorded telephone call shops across many industries. These types of shops are excellent tools for training purposes, and allows clients to see (or hear) the interaction for themselves.


When clients start either program, they need to be aware of the consent laws for each state they do business in. Some states are one-party consent, meaning that only one of the parties involved in the conversation – in this case, the shopper – needs to give consent for the interaction to be recorded. In two-party states, all parties need to give consent.


The list of states that are considered two-party states, where all involved need to have consent in order to be recorded, include:


* California
* Connecticut
* Florida
* Illinois
* Maryland
* Massachusetts
* Michigan
* Montana
* Nevada
* New Hampshire
* Pennsylvania
* Washington


The remaining states are, at this time, one-party consent. How do you go about ensuring that you are following the laws of your state when moving forward with video and/or audio recorded shops?


1. Review your employee paperwork. Is there a disclosure in the handbook or other paperwork that employees sign stating that they are aware that they can be recorded at any time? If so, you should be okay.


2. Does your call center have a recorded disclaimer? You’ve likely heard the statement “This call may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes” when calling on various businesses. If your company has this in place, it’s a good disclosure to customers and a reminder to employees that they can be recorded.


3. Decide how to incorporate the disclosure into your new hire paperwork for future employees. You may need to create a consent form for current employees and hold staff meetings to alert them of the new process; however, make sure if you are mentioning that one of things that may be happening includes recorded mystery shops that you are presenting it in a positive light, just as you would when rolling out a traditional program.


Recorded shops bring mystery shopping to an entirely new level; considering this type of shop on an as-needed basis can really help pinpoint issues, gain information that can help in training procedures, and reaffirm the importance of utilizing a mystery shopping program within your company.