Taking the mystery out of a mystery shopper program

Mystery Shopper-web

May 2018—

The right program can give you the data—not opinion—to improve your store’s customer experience.

As furniture stores fight to compete with online shopping, providing a unique retail experience that can’t be replicated on a website is becoming increasingly important. Customer experience—how it feels to shop your store, the level of customer support you offer, your staff’s product knowledge and other subjective criteria—is crucial, but also hard to measure.

Metrics you can easily measure (how long it takes your customer service to answer the phone or the ratio of sales to customer complaints) can be helpful, but they can also be misleading, not giving a real picture of how customers experience your store. Your staff may be picking up the phone fast, but what quality of support are they giving? Your customer complaint rate may be low, but if only four percent of dissatisfied customers actually complain, you’re not hearing from the majority of people who aren’t happy with you.

What’s the solution?

One popular way to get valuable feedback on the intangible aspects of your customer journey is to experience that journey as an actual customer, and this is where mystery shoppers come in. Mystery shoppers give qualitative as well as quantitative feedback on their experience, returning valuable information on customer service, shopping experience and the physical store.

A successful mystery shopper program requires a clear set of objectives. To get a return on your investment, it’s essential to set out what you want to achieve from the program. You might be investigating a specific problem area; a poorly performing store, a particular sales trend, or recent customer complaints, or you might be evaluating the effectiveness of a part of your store; staff training, a store refit or product knowledge on a line of furniture you recently added. So, knowing what information you want from a mystery shopper program and what changes you want to implement as a result will help you create a focused, effective process.

It’s tempting to enlist the services of friends to roam your furniture store. Resist the temptation. They will often tell you what you want to hear or might not be in the position to give you intelligent, fact-based feedback. We’re not suggesting friends and customers can’t give valuable feedback—they can and probably have done just that over the years.

But if you’re looking for specific information targeted to a specific area of your store, stick with the pros. There are many companies that provide mystery shopper programs. The best of them will work with you to tailor a program for your specific needs. Drawing on their expertise, their database of shoppers and their specific analytics systems will produce useful results.

Some key considerations when selecting a provider are:

  • The size of their shopper database
  • The criteria they select on
  • The experience of working in retail furniture
  • How the data will be treated (analytics systems, feedback methods and recommendations)
  • Past successes

Designing a program

Once you’ve selected a provider, you’ll need to design a mystery shopper program. Think about these questions:

  • How many shoppers will you use?
  • If you have multiple locations, how many will be covered?
  • What will the duration be?
  • How often will each store be visited?
  • What specific criteria will they evaluate?
  • What will they be expected to spend and buy, and how will they report their findings?
  • How will shoppers be selected?

Genuine customers

Many large companies that provide mystery shoppers draw on large databases of consumers, selecting shoppers based on demographic details so they can get feedback from someone who would normally shop your store. These days, these mystery shoppers are rarely full-time professionals, but instead are genuine customers selected because they fit your customer demographic. They may already shop your stores, or those of a competitor. They are likely to be paid small amounts for the visits they make and may make no more than one visit each.

Evaluation criteria

Part of your program design will involve formulating the questions you want your mystery shoppers to ask. Overall, this will depend on what they’re evaluating. They may be testing staff product knowledge, sales techniques, customer service, friendliness, approachability, or after-sales support.

What to do with the results

Getting the data from your mystery shopping program is just the first step, and part of your discussions with a mystery shopper provider should cover what they can do with the data to help you analyze and act on it. Also, will they give you recommendations as part of their package?

Simply reporting findings to staff, whether positive or negative, will not instigate change. Your mystery shopper data should be used to formulate improvements in training and systems that support staff in giving better customer service. Overall, this means using the data to create actionable steps for management and staff.

Rewarding staff

Mystery shopping is not about calling out staff on bad practices. You’re really evaluating your own processes (your staff selection and training systems, for example), not individual staff themselves. Are you providing adequate training and support? Are staff happy in their jobs? Do they understand and communicate your brand values?

Mystery shopping data should be used to make improvements to these systems in your rather than to punish individuals, so the benefits and return on investment are long lasting.

RetailerNOW is changing.

Insights Magazine will be replacing RetailerNOW as the official publication of the Home Furnishings Association. With this change, you will be able to find the same great content on the HFA website. All current members/subscribers will automatically receive the new print editions. You can continue to view content on this website until January 2020.

About the Author

Emily Cleaver
Emily Cleaver writes on retail and business trends and creativity. You can find her at http://www.wordboutique.co.uk