Mystery shopping is an extremely important tool to have in your customer experience management toolbox. Why? Because it measures each location’s adherence to brand standards. Brands invest six or seven figures in their merchandising strategies and planograms, sales associate training, line management protocols, and healthy and safety regulations. Those investments are wasted if teams don’t adhere to them.

Mystery shopping is an objective, standardised method for measuring operational excellence and the execution of brand expectations at every location. Implementing a mystery shopping programme requires thinking through how to design the questions to ensure both the quality of the data gathered, and the actions you want to encourage in the behaviours of the managers and teams receiving the results. Here are four things you should avoid when structuring your programme:

  1. Use subjective questions. The whole purpose of mystery shopping is to provide objectivity—not opinion. When questions are structured so they become opinion-based, they lose credibility. Question design needs standardised, clarifying comments so that your managers and teams know what to repair to drive performance improvement at the location level.
  2. Set up scenarios that identify shoppers. Shoppers need to remain anonymous. Anything that allows teams to quickly identify shoppers should be removed from the scenario. For example, we worked with a QSR company that wanted shoppers to approach the till with a £20 in hand. How many of us pay in cash—or have the cash ready at the till?
  3. Allow managers and operators to constantly question results. Pushing back on one questionable shop result is understandable. Pushing back on 10 of them is not. When a location receives many poor scores, it’s not the shop that’s wrong—it’s operations. Make sure operators use the data to take action—not complain about the shop.
  4. Look at only aggregated data. Sure, the overall score for your shops, aggregated at the brand level is important. However, it’s more important to look at how all of your locations perform and the distribution of scores. If locations perform very inconsistently on your own standards, brands are at risk. Location-level data provides the insights needed to drive change…at the location.

Market Force prides itself on the extraordinarily high quality of its mystery shopping programmes. Companies rely on us to deliver insights about thousands of locations and these tips come from our experience as the largest mystery shop provider in the world. Contact us if you would like our expertise in helping you build a world class mystery shopping programme. 

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As Vice President, Operations, Emily oversees Market Force's mystery shopping operations in North America and helps build programmes that meet regulatory guidelines and retain customers. She also holds a BA in government from the College of William and Mary.