How do you make sure that the standards of your business are being upheld at all times?
So, you’ve built a brand that resonates with customers, and you’ve gone through the necessary steps to ensure that your product is something that customers really do want. You’ve set up shop and your business is serving customers – but how do you ensure that customers continue to get the best experience possible when they come to you? As customers continue to place higher importance on enjoyable customer experience, business owners will want to focus on that too in order to continue driving traffic into the business. Micro-managing your business down to the last detail might seem like a necessary way to make sure that your business consistently delivers. However, as any experienced business owner knows, making sure that all aspects of your business are running as intended takes a great deal of time, effort and attention to detail – and you can’t possibly be everywhere at once. This is especially true when it comes to businesses that act as service providers, where you will inevitably come to the point where you will have little choice other than to leave your customers in the hands of your employees and hope that their skills and training are adequate when it comes to delivering a service that lives up to your brand’s promise and reputation.
As an involved business owner, you perhaps think about conducting tests and evaluations to assess your employees’ service performance. However, this might not be the best idea because it has been established that people perform differently when they are aware that they are being observed (a phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect). Therefore, the employees might be able to pass the test when they are fully aware that they are being tested, but might not uphold those same standards while serving customers on a day to day basis, especially if they don’t have someone checking up on them.
With that in mind, some businesses might just decide that they want to ask their customers directly about their experience so that they can get honest feedback. Many places have done this by utilising TouchPoint Feedback – or some form of customer experience measure, which asks customers for their feedback on each individual stage of the customer’s interaction with the service. However, studies have shown that this approach isn’t necessarily the best way to accurately gauge the customer experience, as most customers are unable to recall details about the service that has been delivered to them and instead focus mostly on the outcome of the encounter. This means that the overall result of the feedback can be influenced by many things, some of which can be as simple as the customer having a bad day. In these situations, the inability to pinpoint the exact detail that needs to be improved may lead you on a wild goose chase in an attempt to discover the actual problem. Without the details, you may not be able to analyse the current situation efficiently and strategically plan improvements.
So if personally evaluating your employees and getting feedback directly from customers are both insufficient, where does a business owner go from there? Your business has clearly defined standards, the SOP’s are in place, and your employees are well aware of their role, but that still doesn’t alleviate all the concerns that you may have as a business owner, such as:
- Are our service provides and brand promise delivering on the front-line?
- Can we hold our front-line service providers accountable?
- Are customers’ experiences highly variable or consistent in quality?
- Where are the under-performing service providers, and what needs to be improved?
- Where are the best-performing service providers, and what can the organisation learn from them?
- Do you need to manage customer experiences, to take them from “good” to “great”?
Enter mystery shoppers. To put it simply, mystery shoppers are (secret) agents who are tasked with visiting a service provider (e.g. restaurants, clothing shops) incognito in order to collect information about the service provider and assess the quality of the goods/services provided objectively.
Mystery shopping is a major industry worldwide, with a broad range of organizations using this approach to provide a measure of performance relative to service standards established by their management teams. Currently, mystery shopping is utilised by various service organizations, including hospitality, retail, and banking, for the purposes of quality assurance, training, market research, and competitive analysis. Mystery shoppers are highly valuable to service providers because the identity and agenda of the mystery shoppers are not known to the employees serving them, ensuring that the employee’s behaviour and performance is not affected by the knowledge that they are being evaluated.
Unlike normal customers, mystery shoppers are trained to note factual details instead of mere perceptions. This includes small but important details that the average shopper would usually miss, such as: how many rings before the phone was answered? How long was the queue? What form of greeting was used?
This makes information gathered by mystery shoppers more reliable for the purposes of analysis, which is why data from mystery shoppers has also been shown to be higher in quality as compared to customers’ surveys despite utilising the same instrument. Things that seem more abstract such as politeness are also evaluated with detailed, structured ratings scale that allow shopper’s individual preferences or norms to minimally influence the data. An example of such a rating scale can be seen below:
A business owner may also opt to let the employees know that they will be subject to checks without revealing exactly how and when the checks will take place. Doing so can ensure steady performance from the employees as they may be checked at any time without them knowing. In psychology, this concept is known as a variable interval schedule, and studies have shown it to elicit very steady performance from employees.
In particular, mystery-shopping results are used for three main purposes:
(a) to act as a diagnostic tool identifying failings and weak points in an organization’s service delivery through an objective evaluation from a customer’s perspective;
(b) to encourage, develop, and motivate service personnel by linking performance measurement tools directly with appraisal, training, and reward mechanisms while also taking employees accountable on subpar practices, and
(c) to assess the competitiveness of an organization’s service provision by benchmarking it against the offerings of others in an industry.
As the information is all factual, non biased and reliable, the data can also be used in order to educate stakeholders and to plan for future business growth endeavours.
How to set up a Mystery Shopping process ?
Here’s how we do it at Oppotus…
- Training: Shoppers will be trained on data collection and paying attention to specific details before conducting visits.
- Testing: Shoppers will test the specially designed mystery shopper data collection app to familiarise themselves with the flow and evaluation areas.
- Visit: Following scheduled date and times, shoppers will visit the business at the specific outlet required. First-time shoppers will always be accompanied by team leads/researchers in order to ensure that the shoppers understand the standard practice and to give shoppers opportunity to clarify any questions they may have.
- Interact: As trained, shoppers will interact with the personnel accordingly while making relevant observations
- Observe: Shoppers will walk around and observe the internal conditions of the outlet, such as cleanliness, whether all the facilities are working as it should. Shoppers will also take special note of specific predetermined areas
- Capture: Evidence of any form of non-compliances can be taken immediately using a smartphone camera and be uploaded to the cloud
- Input: Instead of relying on memory, shoppers can input data into the smartphone whenever necessary to ensure no missed or forgotten data
- Output: Data obtained is ‘real-time’ and available readily for report generation.
All of our mystery shoppers use an app in their own respective smartphones in order to ensure that the process is easy to use. Through this app, mystery shoppers can:
- remain discreet while evaluating the service providers,
- prevents data loss by immediate upload to the cloud,
- carry the evaluation tools without being bogged down with stacks of papers.
They will be able to evaluate details on the service encounter factually and methodically using checklists, which allows for a more detailed report and prevents those working as mystery shoppers from forgetting any of the important details.
We at Oppotus are passionate in delivering a professional and reliable mystery shoppers program. The app that we use for mystery shoppers allows us to tag the mystery shoppers’ geo-locations to ensure mystery shopper is actually inside the outlet and collecting the relevant data. Team leads will also drop by to ensure all procedures are followed by the mystery shoppers and periodical audit will be done on the shoppers in which regular non-compliances will be removed from the program to ensure a compliant shoppers pool. On-going recruitment of fresh shoppers will also be done to ensure a sustainable pool. We also provide detailed reports based on in-depth, detailed, and reliable information and strategy consulting in order to improve and grow your business.
If you are interested in upholding the standards of your business and ensuring a great customer experience, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!