Mystery shopping is a term used to describe a field-based research technique to gather specific information about product quality, service delivery and compliance with regulation. It can be undertaken either by companies or organizations themselves or by market research companies and watchdog organizations like City Intelligence ( which is a private investigation agency in Delhi) working on behalf of their clients. Mystery shopping is being widely used by retailers, restaurants, furniture stores, supermarkets, banks, fast food outlets, hotels, health clubs, grocery stores, movie theaters, bars and almost any business where customer service is important.
The person deployed to perform these tasks is known as mystery shopper or a secret shopper. He or she poses as a customer to gather information on the establishment being evaluated. The mystery shopper’s identity and purpose are generally hidden from the organization being studied. The task of the mystery shopper includes functions like purchasing a product, asking questions, making and noting observations, behaving in a certain way, and providing a detailed report on the establishment about his experience.
A mystery shopper is generally a freelancer who is paid a fee for each mystery audit he conducts. Sometimes, an audit may require a purchase of a good or service in which case the mystery shopper is provided a full or partial reimbursement of the money he spends to fulfill the purchase criteria.
Most agencies, in order to gather good information, first create an evaluation form, including questions to cover all aspects of customer experience. The second step in mystery shopping involves finding people who match the target customer profile. The mystery shopping agency, after finding such people, provide them a questionnaire for recording their experiences. The mystery shopper is also provided some training on how to measure the services or the establishment on the given parameters.
These mystery shopper visits the outlet or the establishment pretending to be a customer. He makes a careful note of things, evaluating various parameters like product, staff interactions, amenities, product display etc. He is often required to do a video or audio recording and also collect proof of visit like visiting card of the sales person or pictures of the outlet.
After the visit, the mystery shopper prepares a detailed report of his observations by filling the form prepared by the mystery shopping agency. The report is then studied and analyzed by the mystery shopping agency. The mystery shopping agency also compiles data gathered from different locations. The final report, prepared, is then forwarded to the clients to help them improve their customer experience.
Mystery shopping is not limited to in-person experiences involving actual visit to the location. It may also involve telephone mystery shopping or online shopping. Telephone mystery shopping may provide companies great insights and help them measure their customer service representatives on different criteria like friendliness, knowledge, speed of providing resolution etc.
Data or information collected by the mystery shopper and reports prepared by the mystery shopping agency can help organizations in a number of ways. Though the most important benefit of mystery shopping remains getting direct answers from customers on questions like what would make them buy, what areas of the establishment need improvement etc., mystery shopping has many other benefits too.
Enables one to get feedback from the customer’s point of view - Using mystery shopping audits, businesses and organizations can get reliable and objective feedback from a customer’s perspective. It enables one to test specific areas such as experience, brand perception and customer satisfaction.
Improves the quality of service- Mystery shopping helps to measure the quality of services being provided by the sales person and other staff, especially in the absence of any supervision and enables the organization to make improvements in the customer service arena.
Enables customer retention and increase sales – With the focus being on ensuring high level of service and customer satisfaction, mystery audits can help make your services more appealing. It thus, helps in retaining existing customers and also attracts new ones through word of mouth publicity.
Enables monitoring of facility conditions from the customer’s point of view - Mystery shopping programs answer all major and minor question related to facility management like, if the store is clean or not, whether the display is right and as per specifications, is the store layout as per the instructions from the top, are the customers comfortable with the sitting arrangement, is the customer comfortable with store lighting and temperature etc. Tests the functionality of internal standards and procedures - When businesses implement top-down standards and procedures, they have no way of knowing if the standards and procedures are producing the desired effect at the store level or not. Mystery shopping is one of the best tools to test if new operational procedures are working or not and how they are actually performing at the store level.
Helps in better staff management - Mystery shopping enables you to recognize the better performing employees and reward and promote them. At the same time, it also enables you to catch employees who are not performing. An impartial and proper staff monitoring procedure also helps in identifying training needs and sales opportunities and also enforcing employee integrity and knowledge.
Catch illegal activities and gather evidence – Mystery shopping helps employers detect and catch illegal activities at work by employees. It also helps businesses confirm that rules are being adhered to, guidelines are being followed and laws and policies are being complied with to avoid all types of troubles. In case there is a deviation, it also helps the employer collect evidence of the same.
Helps in building brand image – Identifying the problem areas in customer service helps businesses to take corrective action, improve customer service and create a better reputation and brand image.
Enables a better decision making process - Knowing customer’s perspective regarding the quality of service can help businesses take better and more informed decisions regarding hiring, promotion, product quality, training, sales, display etc. It helps in better managing and better planning.
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