It’s no secret that data plays a critical role in customer experience. In order to provide personalized and convenient solutions, brands must have a deep understanding of their customers. This data allows companies to have strong insights into their customers, their industry and their progress.

Many companies rely on survey and feedback data to gain this information. While these data sources are incredibly useful and helpful in understanding customer perception, they don’t tell the entire story. To have a full picture of customer experience data, companies must combine the experiential data from surveys with more objective and operational data. That objective view comes best from mystery shoppers. Brands that properly leverage mystery shoppers can create a consistent and high-quality customer experience.

The Role Of A Mystery Shopper
Companies create customer experience strategies in boardrooms, but putting them into practice is a different story. Customer experience, especially the on-site experience, is becoming increasingly important. In many cases, it determines if a person will make a purchase or return to the store. The in-person experience is one of the largest factors in a customer’s perception of the brand. Making sure those boardroom strategies are implemented and effective helps brands gain a better understanding of the success of their customer experience initiatives and pinpoint potential areas of improvement.

The concept itself is fairly simple: the mystery shopper goes undercover as a customer to see what the experience is like. The shopper can check on a number of in-store aspects, including the cleanliness and organization of the store, friendliness and helpfulness of employees, ease of use of technology and much more. Mystery shopping measures observable behaviors and qualities of a brand that contribute to customer perceptions. There isn’t anything to set the mystery shopper apart from other customers so that employees will treat them the same way as everyone else.

After visiting the store, the mystery shopper compiles their notes and records observations via structured questionnaires based on standards, training, and expectations. In many cases, a brand will have certain tasks for the shopper to complete or particular areas to observe.

How To Leverage Mystery Shopper Data
Customer feedback surveys are ubiquitous in customer experience measurement programs. But they can often be like report cards. A company can see its scores in certain areas but not have any idea of what in-store behaviors drive those scores or how they can be improved. Executives may think that a high turnover rate can be solved by lowering prices, but it could be that customers want more personalized service. The specifics of how to improve experience aren’t fully transparent in just numbers.

Why is the mystery shopper’s role important?
Customer experience surveys alone only tell part of the story. It’s not uncommon for brands to see their satisfaction numbers holding steady or even improving without their revenue or sales numbers increasing. On paper, it could appear the brand is delivering a stellar experience. The mystery shopper tells the rest of the story. By stepping into the shoes of the customer, the mystery shopper can fill in the details. Customers may report that they’re satisfied, but perhaps the store is organized in a confusing manner or employees aren’t offering additional product upsells or incremental services.

Like surveys, mystery shopper data doesn’t tell the full story. It will highlight how well front line employees execute the brand promise, but it becomes truly powerful when combined with survey data to provide insights into what matters most for customers. Those anecdotal examples combine with numerical data to showcase the entire customer experience. Brands need perspectives; an accurate and objective measure of what is happening in stores from mystery shoppers, and a qualitative perspective indicating how customers feel about their experience.  Research from customer experience consultancy, Market Force Information, finds that companies that leverage customer surveys with a mystery shopping program see an average of 3-5% increase in sales, with the two metrics in combination providing a far more predictive indicator of performance.

Like all types of data, mystery shopper data is only effective if it is analyzed and applied. To be effective, mystery shoppers need to gather large amounts of data by repeatedly visiting multiple stores at different times of day. The goal is for the customer experience to operate at the same high level no matter if the store is empty on a weekday morning or incredibly busy on a Sunday afternoon. Visiting multiple times provides more data points for a more accurate view of the experience and its consistency.

Data is a powerful and crucial foundation to creating a strategic customer experience. By not taking advantage of mystery shoppers, brands are potentially ignoring half the story, missing the opportunity to ‘inspect what they expect’ in terms of how they deliver on their brand promise. The best companies evaluate all their data sources to truly understand the full customer experience and its impact on sales.

Blake Morgan is a leader in customer experience. She is a keynote speaker and customer experience futurist and author of two books on customer experience; “The Customer Of The Future: 10 Guiding Principles For Winning Tomorrow’s Business” and “More is More: How The Best Companies Work Harder And Go Farther To Create Knock Your Socks Off Customer Experiences.

Blake is a guest lecturer at Columbia University as well as adjunct faculty at the Rutgers executive education MBA program. Blake contributes to Forbes, the Harvard Business Review and Hemispheres Magazine.

For more information on Blake Morgan: 
www.blakemichellemorgan.com
linkedin.com/in/blakemichellemorgan​