A customer quietly walks into a shoe store, buys a pair of shoes, leaves, and then tries to return them, unused, the next day. After she leaves the shoe store she decides she needs a bite to eat, pops into a restaurant, and asks to be seated. After lunch, she drops in at her bank to iron out a problem with her checking account.
She may have had good or bad experiences along her route. She either succeeded or failed in getting a refund on the pair of shoes; she got a good seat at the restaurant, or one tucked away in a corner next to the restrooms; she found a helpful bank employee who solved her problem or had to deal with a surly, defensive clerk who blamed the problem on the customer.
Whatever experiences she’s had, the companies she visited are going to found out, because she’s working for them. She’s a mystery shopper.
Large and small companies in the U. S. and Canada are relying increasingly on mystery shoppers to discover strengths and weaknesses, not only in their personnel’s interactions with customers, but in company policies and procedures that either optimize or hinder their ability to serve their customers. Mystery shoppers engage the company’s customer service personnel, make transactions, and then file detailed reports on the experience. Companies then receive data and recommendations that can range from training needs assessments, comparison with competitors, and recommendations for incentive programs to manager assessments and management training needs.
Generally companies who hire a mystery shopping firm get a baseline report after an initial visit, then schedule periodic additional visits that allow them to analyze, over time, both their strengths and weaknesses and the effect of changes in policy on customer service. Many companies, after their initial baseline report, choose to let their employees know that they will be receiving visits from mystery shoppers; some share the results of the reports, good and bad, with their employees as they institute procedures designed to fix customer service weaknesses.
One result? Employees who know that their interactions with customers can be monitored at any time will be more conscious of their behavior, and be more willing to engage in problem-solving if a customer has a complaint. Additionally, ff employees know that customer service and resolution of customer complaints is a top priority, they may be able to identify problems that they encounter in meeting customer needs and even be able to participate in coming up with solutions. Far from being a situation where companies are “spying" on their employees, a mystery shopping arrangement can provide both customer service personnel and management with better tools to improve customer relations and, in the long run, the company’s bottom line.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics. She expresses her opinions periodically on her blog, http://beyondagendas.blogspot.com .