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Customer Experience: Delivered, a newsletter for users and prospective users of mystery shopping

Mystery shopping... measuring service quality, performance, and the customer's experience

Types and terminology of mystery shopping

How mystery shopping fits in to the overall customer experience management program

How your company can quantify the return on investment from your mystery shopping program

Developing a Request for Proposal for mystery shopping

Factors to consider in selecting a mystery shopping provider

MSPA Code of Professional Standards and Ethics Agreement

Mystery shopping... measuring service quality, performance, and the customer's experience

The level and quality of service you deliver to your customers is vital to your company's success. Your customers' total experience with your company and your staff dictate whether your company will succeed or fail...whether you will be profitable or not. Simply having expectations about what sort of experience your customers will have is not enough...you have to measure, you have to inspect. Objective, anonymous, third-party assessments of the customer experience will provide the information you need to ensure that your expectations for customer experience are carried out in reality.

Mystery shopping programs are valuable because...

  • Most customers who have unsatisfactory experiences will not complain...they will just never come back
  • Dissatisfied customers are likely to tell many others about their experience, who in turn probably will avoid doing business with the offending merchant
  • The use of mystery shopping to provide independent and impartial feedback reduces any perception of favoritism in incentive programs
  • Mystery shopping helps determine whether customers' actual experiences are as intended.
  • Shopping programs can identify areas of training which need improvement and can identify areas of training that are working particularly well

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Types and terminology of mystery shopping

Services Offered by Mystery Shopping Providers

24-Hour Reporting:
Reports/results are delivered or accessible to a client within 24 hours of the store visit. Of course 48 hour and 72 hour reporting follow the same logic.

Audio Recorded Shops:
Shops in which sound is recorded. Could be for either customer service or integrity. Restricted by law in some states.

Competitive Shops:
Shops in which a clients' competitor is visited and information is noted on the same survey used by the client. Usually requested to compare customer service or pricing with a competitor.

Customer Service Evaluation:
The typical mystery shop in which individuals pose as customers and then, after leaving the facility, fill out a survey form regarding policy compliance, customer service, selling skills, facility appearance and/or product quality. Also called General Mystery Shopping.

Customer Service Training:
Usually requested/conducted as a follow up to mystery shopping. The results of the surveys are tabulated and based on the information acquired, training will focus on areas needing improvement.

Mystery shopping conducted on the internet.

Discrimination Testing:
Mystery shops of establishments to collect information on treatment of customers with varying demographics. Sometimes requested by the client to ensure equal treatment, sometimes requested by the government. Depending on the setup of the program, these shops may be restricted by law.

Incentive Based Shopping Program:
A mystery shopping program whose results may spur a reward to the employees who were shopped.

Integrity Evaluations:
Shops in which employees evaluated covertly are in order to measure/determine their honesty. Usually requested due to a problem and typically focused on the cash transaction between the shopper and a specific employee. Restricted by law in some states. MSPA advises only those with private investigator licensing perform integrity testing.

Internet Performance Evaluation:
Utilizes the internet to evaluate performance of internet related transaction. Typically involves measuring email responsiveness to customer inquiry from web site.

Internet Reporting:
The capability of a Mystery Shopping company to send reports to the client over the Internet; or the capability of a client to access the reports via the Internet.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) Reporting:
The capability of a Mystery Shopping company to receive reports from shoppers via automated telephone response system. In addition, IVR may be made available to capture comments directly from actual customers, which can be used in conjunction with mystery shopping as a means of measuring customer satisfaction.

Merchandising Audits:
Overt or covert visits by representatives who are asked to check merchandising and point of purchase issues; including, but not limited to, the stocking, placement and pricing of specific merchandise and POP materials. Usually requested to ensure policy compliance by either a retail store or the manufacturer of the product.

Mystery Shopping:
The use of pre-recruited and qualified consumers (typically independent contractors) or professional staff trained to evaluate a business anonymously using a prescribed evaluation form. The evaluation may take place in person at the business establishment or through other public media such as telephone or internet. Mystery shopping is also referred to as Secret Shopping, Spotter Services, Shopper Programs, Undercover Performance Evaluations, Anonymous Consumers, Shopper Audits, Virtual Customers® and so on.

Operations Audits:
Overt/covert evaluation of adherence to operational guidelines. Usually survey based with yes/no questions and supplemental comments. Not based on opinion, rather based on actual policy compliance.

Price Audit:
Overt/covert recording of the prices of various products or services. Usually used to evaluate pricing compliance by retailer or manufacturer; or to respond to price changes among competitors.

Questionnaire and Program Design:
A service offered by Mystery Shopping or Marketing Research companies in which they assist the client with survey questions and program design. The vendor may make recommendations as to the focus of the shop, the content and wording of the questions, the number and frequency of the shops, reporting formats, incentive programs and the use of the information.

Specific Individual Evaluations:
Usually integrity related. A shop requested by a client because there is reason to believe that procedures are not being followed by a specific employee. (Could involve evaluating an employee's adherence to training, whereas employees who graduate from training are targeted for a mystery shop evaluation.)

Telephone Performance Evaluation:
Utilizes a survey to covertly evaluate the compliance with telephone procedures of an employee or call center.

Video Recorded Shops:
Shops in which video is recorded. Could be for either customer service or integrity. Restricted by law in some states.

Marketing Research Services & Techniques

Customer Satisfaction Measurement:
Surveys of a client's actual customers measuring their level of satisfaction with various components on overall satisfaction.

Focus Groups (Qualitative Market Research):
Overt meetings of targeted people who are asked to give an opinion or comments on various concepts, products or services. These are often tape- or video-recorded.

Internet Surveys:
The posting of a survey on the Internet so that either a shopper can fill it out online; or a client can access the information online.

Mailed Surveys:
Surveys that are mailed to a client via the US Postal Service or a private carrier.

On-Site Interviewing:
Interviewing of a clients' actual customer base while they are shopping. Typically performed at the entrance/exit of a business establishment. Intercepts: Asking customers questions about the service they have just received as they are exiting an establishment.

Telephone Interviewing (Quantitative Market Research):
An interviewer overtly utilizes a survey to ask questions of a statistically representative number of a clients' customers via telephone.

More Mystery Shopping Terminology

Manufacturer's Promotions:
Shops in which an employee should suggest a certain brand of product without prompting by the mystery shopper. The shopper requests a product (i.e. spark plugs) without mentioning a specific brand and then notes whether the employee suggests the manufacturer's brand. Usually if the employee suggests the designated brand, the mystery shopper will identify themselves and immediately reward the employee by asking them to sign a cash or gift voucher.

Mock Shop:
A practice shop which is almost always unpaid. Some companies require applicants to perform a mock shop in order to evaluate their observation and writing skills.

Mystery Calling:
Performing a mystery shop by phone.

An account of a shop written in the form of a story as opposed to a closed ended questionnaire.

The document with the questions to be answered by shoppers. Also called a shopper report, evaluation form, or survey.

Suggestive Selling/Cross Selling:
Suggesting an additional item in the process of a sale. For instance, suggesting a pair of socks to go along with a sweater is suggestive selling; or suggesting a Visa to go along with a new checking account

Selling of a more expensive item than the one the customer inquired about. For instance, suggesting a larger size beverage is up-selling.

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How mystery shopping fits in to the overall customer experience management program

Customer experience measurement should include the objective experience data that mystery shopping provides. Mystery shopping records "snapshots" of the way in which customers are engaged by the business. Specific measurable items are assessed to provide an objective look at the customer interaction. Mystery shopping can answer questions such as "how long did it take for the customer to be greeted by a sales associate?" and "did the person who answered the telephone state the company name and his or her name?" It may be valuable for a mystery shopping program to be augmented by customer satisfaction measures such as customer surveys, interactive voice response (IVR), and other means of measuring how customers feel about a business. However, customer satisfaction measurements should not be used exclusively to guide customer experience management programs because they are not objective. While gathering information about the attitudes of customers can be important, customer feedback is, by nature, subjective and can be influenced by emotion. The objectivity of mystery shopping is critical to any effective customer experience management program.

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How your company can quantify the return on investment from your mystery shopping program

Bottom line performance can be influenced, in either direction, by many factors, so quantifying the financial return on investment of any new initiative can be difficult. The behavioral return on investment in mystery shopping programs can be readily measured, though, provided the results of the mystery shopping program are effectively used to change employee behavior. For example, if a mystery shopping program reveals that, fifty percent of the time, employees fail to acknowledge customers when they enter the store, the company might take specific steps to ensure that employees understand that it is expected of them to greet customers within thirty seconds of arrival. Subsequent mystery shopping might reveal that customers are greeted within thirty seconds ninety-five percent of the time. The return for the company is that a specific expected employee behavior has improved by forty-five percent. The financial value of that improvement may be hard to gage, but consider this: a customer who is made to feel welcome and valued is far more likely to do business with a company than a customer who is ignored.

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Developing a Request for Proposal for mystery shopping

A Request for Proposal (RFP) for mystery shopping should provide sufficient detail about your expectations to enable a mystery shopping company to determine precisely what will be involved in the program for your company. While an RFP need not necessarily be a lengthy and involved document, it should answer a least a few basic questions:

  • What is the purpose of the program? That is, why do you want to conduct the program and what do you intend to do with the results? If you do not know what you will do with the results, you should let the mystery shopping companies that receive your RFP know...and you should expect them to offer advice.
  • Who in your company will have responsibility for the program? It is important for mystery shopping providers to know who will be the decision-maker with program responsibility, because there may be circumstances in which the information obtained during the program may suggest a need for modifications to the program.
  • What experience has your company, and the person with internal program responsibility, had with mystery shopping previously? Mystery shopping providers frequently will make recommendations about program scope, content, and execution. If your company does not have much experience, the mystery shopping provider needs to know that so the company can be prepared to offer more detailed explanations of its recommendations.
  • Is price the most significant factor in selecting a mystery shopping provider? Before you decide that price is the most significant factor in your selection, we recommend you consider how important your customers are to your business. Your investment in mystery shopping is ultimately an investment in the quality of the customer's experience with your company. For most businesses, customers are not commodities that can be replaced at will, so treating investment in the customer's experience as a commodity can be a dangerous practice. All of that having been said, if price really is the most important factor to you, you should let it be known; while many companies may not respond to your RFP, those that do will understand how important price is to you.
  • Other factors that you may consider including in your RFP are:
    • Expected time frame between shops and receipt by client of reports
    • Scope of shops (e.g., number and types of issues to be addressed, time involved in shops, activities of shoppers, etc.)
    • Development and review of survey instruments
    • Uses to which data collected will be put
    • Degree of training to be developed, if any, as a result of outcomes of shops
    • Number of locations to be shopped and frequency of shops in each location and in total
    • Geographic areas of shops
    • Incentives, if any, for employees who meet specified criteria
    • Timeframes for shops (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly, certain seasons,specific dates, etc.)
    • History of the mystery shopping company, references from similar clients or industry, and what type or reporting they have available (internet, e-mail, etc)

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Factors to consider in selecting a mystery shopping provider

Like any business engagement, the selection of a mystery shopping provider will depend, at least in part, on the "chemistry" between the players. If your interaction with the representatives of a mystery shopping company leads to an instant rapport with them, that may be a significant factor to you. Obviously, though, the key issues to consider involve the company's ability to develop and execute a mystery shopping program that will satisfy your company's needs. Some of the factors that might be important to your selection decision include:

  • Company's experience in conducting mystery shopping in your industry. All other things being equal, a company that already knows your industry may be in a better position to serve you than a company that will have to learn as it develops your program
  • Company's access to shoppers in necessary locations. Today, almost any mystery shopping company can rapidly develop access to mystery shoppers in virtually any area, so finding shoppers is not likely to be a significant issue. However, if your program will involve rapid deployment in many locations, the size of a company's existing database of shoppers and the locations of those shoppers could be important. If those are important factors, let the respondents to your RFP know that in advance and let them know where you will need shoppers.
  • Company's ability to offer additional customer experience measurement and management tools. If it is important to your company that you have a single source for mystery shopping along with customer satisfaction measurement, interactive voice response, customer service training, and other customer experience measurement and management tools, you will want to inquire of prospective providers whether they can offer them, either directly or through collaboration with other firms.
  • Company's commitment to behave with integrity. Every industry has players who do not reflect well on the integrity of its members. Mystery shopping is no different; there are companies that will behave unethically and will make promises they cannot keep. While there is no foolproof way of checking into the integrity of a company, we recommend you put it flatly to prospective providers: if you learn that they engage in unethical behaviors while under contract with you, they will be replaced. MSPA requires its members to sign ethics agreements annually (the content of which appears below). While we cannot guarantee that every member will abide by the agreement, we can say that MSPA takes seriously the integrity of its members.

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MSPA Code of Professional Standards and Ethics Agreement

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is dedicated to improving service and promoting excellence in the mystery shopping industry. A fundamental aim of the Association is to ensure that standards are maintained. To improve the value, reputation and stimulate the use of mystery shopping services, it is important that information about mystery shopping services is accurately communicated to both the business community and the public at large, while complying with applicable government laws, regulations and ordinances.

MSPA expects members to follow principles of honesty, professionalism, fairness and confidentiality to guard the interests of the public and our clients in order to promote good business practices.

The Mystery Shopping Providers Association's Code of Professional Standards is established to ensure that MSPA members conform to the following principles:

  • Commit, in principle, to the purposes of the association: improving service and promoting excellence in the mystery shopping industry;
  • Conduct mystery shopping services in an honest and ethical manner;
  • Conduct mystery shopping services according to industry procedures and regulations set forth and agreed to by MSPA members;
  • Instill confidence in mystery shopping and encourage public cooperation;
  • Instill confidence in the business community that mystery shopping is performed in a professional and fair manner;
  • Respect our clients, their employees, our employees, fellow MSPA members, and the general public.

In addition, we agree to the following Rules of Ethical Conduct in that we will not:

  • falsify or misrepresent reports;
  • mislead shopper applicants on actual job opportunities regarding mystery shopping;
  • ask or encourage anyone to break confidentiality agreements with other firms for whom they conduct mystery shopping assignments;
  • use any MSPA media to publish complaints against shoppers, vendors, clients, or other mystery shopper providers;
  • refuse to pay, or make a deduction from a shopper's pay, for failure to perform any function which was not explicitly described in written instructions.

If, after a thorough investigation, a member is found to be in violation with our Rules of Conduct, membership in our Association may be withdrawn or other disciplinary action may be taken.

This agreement must be adhered to by each member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association as well as employees of members.

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