A Marketer’s Perspective on Mystery Shopping

I’m often asked “Rob, what do you think of mystery shopping?”  It’s an interesting question to pose to a CMO as mystery shopping traditionally is the domain of COO’s. But I think it’s important because when I spend marketing budget to drive traffic into restaurants, I want a great ROI. That only happens when my operational partners deliver a great experience. So here are three reasons why I like mystery shopping.

It’s usually done by trained professionals. When you hire a reputable mystery shopping organisation, they have high standards in recruiting and educating their mystery shoppers. It’s a core competency of theirs and one that is worth paying for. If you don’t believe me, send your friends and neighbours into your establishment and ask them what they think. I can promise you will not get an unbiased viewpoint nor will the information be that actionable.

It’s better at measuring operational standards. If your operational standard is to deliver food to the table within 14 minutes of ordering, you won’t get that from a guest satisfaction survey. In that format, all you can ask is “Did you receive your meal in a reasonable amount of time?”  The person is completing the survey after the meal and in all probability was not timing the delivery. With a trained mystery shopper, you can ask them to time the delivery to see if your standard is being met.

You can see whether your brand standards are creating great guest experiences. I like using the two methodologies together so I can see whether what I train on makes guests want to come back. Did I meet the mark or exceed it?

As I often tell those new to the restaurant and retail marketing world, if you are marketing Coca-Cola, you really don’t have to worry about the quality of Coke in the can. But in the multi-unit retail world, you do have to understand execution for food quality, service, speed and execution. Mystery shopping is a great tool to have in your toolbox to both optimise opportunities and manage risk.

Rob Crews has spent a career growing retail brands. He has been a CMO at QSR, Fast Casual, and Casual dining companies, created global programs for Wendy’s and Church’s Chicken, and most recently led Ovation Brands to a successful sale of the company. He is a highly sought-after speaker and consultant in the multi-unit retail space.

Brexit: What’s the Impact to Your CX Strategy?

The referendum results taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union has created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Financial markets initially responded unfavourably and analyst assessments of the economic impacts in the short term cover virtually any potential outcome Euromonitor forecast declines in GDP and increases in both unemployment and inflation. (See http://blog.euromonitor.com/2016/06/the-brexit-vote-is-in-what-next-for-the-uk-leave.html). In stark contrast are predictions that restrictions on immigration may create a labor shortage. Predictions for impact on the EU as a whole and investor confidence vary widely. Forrester predicts wide-scale impacts on technology investments. This ambiguity and uncertainly will continue until the two year exit strategy is defined and negotiations completed.

What is certain is that now is the time to pay extraordinary attention to your customers. At Market Force, we weathered the 2008 economic downturn with our clients. Those who maintained a laser focus on product, service and value, came through with flying colours. Some lost their focus and went bankrupt. Others suffered damage and recovered, including corporations in the banking and auto industries.

We’ve also seen the measurable consequences when companies pull back on their CX investments. In three different situations, detailed below, pulling back on investments or stopping measurement significantly impacted the ability to meet corporate objectives and satisfy customers:

  • For a large retail bank: Customer engagement scores for advisors responsible for accurately presenting products and upsell, dropped by almost 50 points, from 72% in compliance to 25% in compliance. When measurement restarted, performance returned to previous levels.
  • For one of the world’s largest QSR companies: NPS declined by 5.6 points and a critical upsell behaviour—recommending a beverage—dropped by almost 80 points from 91% to 9%, creating friction with their beverage partner. When measurement restarted, upsell increased but took time to gain traction.
  • For a major wireless retailer: Performance on five critical selling skills declined between 3 points and 10 points with consequences for ability to attract new customers and sell accessories. 

The uncertainty caused by Brexit creates both risk and opportunity for any corporation. Market Force considers this a time of opportunity and will continue investing in technology, focussing on text analytics, social media listening, and mobility

And we will continue to invest in the teams that serve you, focussing on our ability to help you execute on your brand standards, delight your customers, and position you for financial success. Market Force is here at the ready to help you navigate these uncertain times.

Schedule a briefing


Ray is the consummate road warrior. His 25 years of experience as a senior-level executive has taken him to over 40 countries in multiple roles. As CEO for Market Force, Ray champions the role of technology and innovation in creating programs that improve our clients' brands. 

Mystery Shopping: Four Mistakes To Avoid

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. 

Schedule a briefing


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. 

Customer Experience Management: Revamp Your System!

Have you been measuring the same things in your customer experience surveys for the past three years? Has your mystery shopping programme been in place with little change? Has it been 6 months or more since your team met to clearly assess your measurement programme—including spend and ROI? If so, it’s time to step back and do a clear-eyed evaluation.

Too often, measurement systems are left running untouched for months or years. That’s a mistake. The market is dynamic, customer expectations change, and your own products and services change as well. Granted, there is a cost to making changes:

  • You do want a stable measurement system to track and trend results;
  • If compensation is tied to results, changes may need to roll out slowly;
  • There’s work involved—and that includes aligning stakeholders.

However, the benefits of carefully evaluating and fine-tuning your programme far outweigh the challenges. You will want to:

  1. Find the gaps. What methodologies need to be added to assess brand and store level performance? What focus areas or questionnaires need changing?
  2. Align the questions. Remember to construct a questionnaire matrix to ensure that you use the same wording and scales across your measurement instruments.
  3. Evaluate communication. Go out to franchisees, the front line, managers—all users of the data—and ask whether they are getting what they need to better manage their business. If they aren’t, you’ll need to rethink that strategy.
  4. Raise the bar. Demand more of your teams. We have one client who raises standards every year in order to remain best-in-class. The bar he’s set in demanding exceptional customer experience has become a real challenge to competitors.

Market Force provides CX Strategic Planning workshops to assist with this process. We’d be glad to discuss how we might help you. In the meantime, check out a video published by The Telegraph interviewing Cheryl Flink, Chief Strategy Officer for Market Force. You’ll find some great tips for designing your customer experience management program. 

Gino Virgadamo is a Key Account Manager at Market Force Information, specialising in the pub, restaurant and petrol-convenience industries. Over the past 4 years, he has helped businesses understand key drivers & trends, as well as provide strategic planning to drive ROI and stay ahead of the market. 

Determine Whether Your Brand Standards Matter

Mystery shopping measures operational excellence. That includes a wide gamut of behaviours ranging from the effectiveness of sales associates in presenting products and asking for the close to a cashier’s ability to run a checkout line effectively. It’s a great tool for observing behaviours within a location and determining whether the brand promise is being executed. But how do you know if those standards are effective?

You’ll want to match performance against brand standards to other metrics, particularly customer satisfaction or loyalty metrics and the number of negative contacts (calls, social media posts, etc.) at the location level. Take a look at the data you have for measuring operational excellence. (That typically comes from mystery shops or audits). Create a baseline showing low to high performers. Then chart against that your top KPI’s for loyalty or satisfaction (e.g., Net Promoter Score or top box satisfaction). You should see that as performance on brand standards increases, so do your loyalty metrics. Then add another item: The number of negative contacts coming into your call centre or negative posts from social media. You should see that as performance on brand standards increases, the number of negative contacts decreases. And remember, managing negative experiences costs your business, so decreasing them immediately returns money to your bottom line.
If you do not see that relationship, you may not have designed the right brand standards. That means you are spending your precious training budget on the wrong things because you’re not picking up on what matters to customers. A final tip: Your chart should show a sharp increase in customer loyalty and satisfaction metrics as performance on brand standards increases. If the line looks flat, you need to set the bar higher for your operational standards.
A sample graph can be seen on our Technology page under “Unique insights for combined data.” Check it out, and of course, we’re happy to discuss how to integrate your metrics so you can draw some meaningful conclusions and act.

We've noticed you might not be visiting the appropriate version of our site. Would you like to: