Mystery Shopping Can Improve the Customer Experience

Customer Experience Design, Mystery Shopping

Since its origins in the 1940s as a way to measure employee integrity, mystery shopping now serves the major service businesses including retail, entertainment, hospitality, financial services, and healthcare. Over this time, hundreds of mystery shopping companies have managed and analyzed millions of shops to benefit thousands of businesses.

The mystery shopper creates value by standing in the shoes of customers and describing what they see and then sharing the issues and the ‘missed details’ from the experience with business leaders who can fix them.

Service brand leaders still need to know what they’re missing. More, they need to know what customers are wishing for. Mystery Shoppers and the skilled professional staff that guides them can shift shoppers’ focus on what customers want (instead of on what companies want to deliver). This small adjustment in perspective can lead to valuable experience and service design innovations that differentiate brands—and translate into billions in new sales.

Some companies are already getting it right. Premium auto brands in North America have done a good job at listening to their customers, then matching their waiting room experiences to what customers wished for. About fifteen years ago, while waiting for car repairs, customers were limited to walking around the showroom. About ten years ago they got seats to sit in—but still in the showroom. Finally, five or so years ago, most dealerships introduced their own service waiting rooms with wi-fi, comfy couches, HD TV, and even premium roasted coffees. The concept has become so successful that now, new car purchases often include a trip to visit the service center—before the paperwork is signed. Apparently, what was once a nice-to-have is now a must-have. Who wants to spend two hours in a poorly lit waiting room with no wi-fi, no free coffee, with only eight month-old magazines to look at? No way!

If your company is facing stiffer competition or if you’re feeling the need to make some big changes and need a business case, ask your mystery shopping company rep to help you design a project that goes beyond the rational components of the experience (Did the rep smile? Was the food hot?) to dig into the emotional side of things (How did the experience make the shopper feel? What did they wish the business would do?). Those instructions will yield useful new insights about the customer and how they want the business to serve them differently.  That information can be converted into business cases, ideation themes, new service designs, and most importantly, differentiated experiences customers will notice, remember, and share.

Once the “shops” are done, bring in an experience designer. Their first job will be to shop your business themselves, then to apply the shopper insights to present you with a variety of experience designs for your team’s review. Each option should be aimed at creating encounters customers that engage customers, that they will crave and want to tell stories about. Also, at increasing sales and profits by reducing efforts and encouraging different (and better) behaviors.

A good experience designer can think through the customer, employee, and shareholder perspectives at the same time to generate practical and profitable ideas that give everyone more of what they want. (It might sound impossible for someone to do that, but it’s not. Designers are trained to think differently. They are good at weaving multiple needs into a single solution.)

The bottom line is this: if you are already using mystery shopping, you can shift your programs slightly to yield dramatically new and more profitable options. If you’re not, mystery shopping is a great technique for obtaining valuable shopper insights you can use in creating more value for your shoppers—and keeping more profit for yourself.