Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here

Mystery Shopping Programs: Read This Before Implementing Incentives


More often than not, the information gleaned from mystery shopping reports will be used for an incentive, or factored into performance reviews. This is a great use for the program, but one where companies should proceed with caution.


Before tying mystery shopping scores into performance reviews or bonuses, consider the following:


1. Have you had the program in place, or are you just starting a program? It’s an interesting thing when a company announces to its staff that they will be starting a mystery shopping program, even when it’s promoted in a positive light (as it always should be). Staff become nervous, thinking that it is a “big brother” approach to keeping tabs. Others, who may have had a negative experience in a past life, may want to buck the system and protest loudly to anyone who will listen.


It is recommended that a program be implemented and run for some time before placing incentives on it or incorporating it into your performance reviews. This will give staff time to see the value of the program and that it is truly intended to make the company better as a whole. It will also give staff time to work on areas where they need improvement before rolling out the incentive/reward program.


2. Set the bar now for employee kickback: it will happen, even in the best of programs. After all, we’re all human and it’s human nature to defend ourselves. Decide as a company how you’re going to handle employee disputes from mystery shopping reports beforehand and communicate that with your staff. If you allow employees to fight every report that is less than stellar, it will send a message that they can try to argue their way out of a lower score, which will devalue the program.


That’s not to say that there won’t be reports where clarification is needed; this can happen from time to time, but when employees try to dispute every less than perfect report, you need a plan in place for them to accept that it is what it is and the program is not going to change.


3. Make sure the report is measuring what staff are trained to do: sometimes programs need to be tweaked after the first run or two. Make sure that each question on the report measures what you train, otherwise it will not be an effective program. Don’t ask a question that records if a customer was greeted within 10 seconds of entering the store, for example, if your staff were not trained on this or it’s entirely impossible given the store layout or business model.


4. Prepare management for the initial fallout: even if you have program in place for a while and then raise the bar by implementing an incentive program, something interesting happens. Employees will become defensive, claim they “knew it was the shopper”, or otherwise try to fight reports from time to time. It’s a natural progression we’ve seen time and time again, and I always share this with clients who have had a program and are now raising the bar in this manner. It’s not an issue with the program itself, it’s just staff reacting to the change. By preparing your managers for this, it will make the transition process as smooth as possible.


Mystery shopping programs offer an excellent method of collecting objective data to measure operational standards; using it to its fullest potential will make it even more valuable to your company. By keeping the above tips in mind, it will make incorporation into an incentive program easier and help staff buy into its value as well.




How Mystery Shopping Helps C-Stores


Below is an excerpt from a recent commentary discussing the benefits of using a mystery shopping program to determine what drives customer satisfaction in the C-store industry that I find interesting and applicable to most, if not all, industries…


“The client’s mystery shopping program scores its channel partners three times year and what’s been revealed is that locations attaining high marks on mystery shops and audits sell more gas, regardless of fuel prices. In the first year of the program alone, the client’s channel partners experienced a double-digit increase in average monthly volume.”


You can read the entire article by clicking here. It’s a good read and drives home the point that mystery shopping is not only used as an objective measurement for operational standards, but can help pinpoint factors that will make companies a success.



5 Tips to Keep Your Mystery Shopping Program Fresh


A successful mystery shopping program is extremely valuable in the world of business. It takes work to keep it fresh and make sure there is a general employee buy in, otherwise the program can run into challenges. Below are some tips you can use to keep your programs fresh and a true mystery to your staff!


1. It doesn’t matter when and where – many clients opt to keep the date and time out of mystery shopping reports. It’s human nature to play “guess the shopper,” and the focus can shift from evaluating employee performance to trying to recall the shopper and dispute a lower score. Set the stage early with your staff. Explain that it’s not important who the shopper was, but instead focus on what happened during the experience, noting both the good and the areas that need work. Taking the focus off of “when and who” can help if you’re seeing employees focusing too much on guessing the shopper and disputing details.


2. Don’t show employees the reports right away – there are times when a report will contain concerning information that needs to be addressed right away. However, in most cases, there is no urgent need for staff to see the mystery shopping report. When clients conduct shops on a regular basis, many opt to let upper management see the report right away, but don’t share the  report with their location staff until the month is over. Why is this? If staff know each location is shopped once a month, and they get their report on the 15th, they know they are “free and clear” for the rest of that month. By not sharing the report until the month’s end, they will stay on their toes the entire month, never knowing if they’ve been shopped yet.


3. Throw them off course once in a while – because it’s human nature to guess shoppers, employees come to learn specifics of their program – they think, “Okay, we are shopped once a month, and the shopper will visit the restroom and ask a knowledge question.” Customers who do the same things as shoppers will be suspects. Change up the program for a month or two – don’t require a restroom check, or cut out the knowledge question. Another option is to change the frequency. Maybe add an extra shop a month for a while, or allow the high performing locations to only be shopped every other month. Throw the employees off a bit and it will keep them on their toes.


4. Focus on the positive – clients’ mystery shopping programs go a long way when there is a focus on the positive. Some clients will publicly share high performing shops across all of their locations. In monthly newsletters, they may highlight locations or specific employees who received high ratings on a recent mystery shopping report. A simple and public “kudos for a job well done” can go a long way.


5. Continually raise the bar – the best mystery shopping programs are those that grow with a company. Use analytical reports wisely; when you see that scores are consistently high, that signals that the staff are doing well with current standards and it’s time to raise the bar a bit. Review your program on an annual basis at a minimum and make revisions as needed to make sure you’re measuring current expectations and operational standards.


Maintaining your program takes time, but will pay off in the long run. Consult with your mystery shopping provider on a regular basis to get insight and suggestions for your program. Because they work closely with your program and have the experience from a variety of perspectives, they can often provide ideas and suggestions to keep your program the best it can be.