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Is Mystery Shopping Outdated? April 29, 2011

Posted by Ann Michaels & Associates in Uncategorized.
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It’s a service that’s been used for decades and has expanded its reach across hundreds of industries. Do you think it’s becoming outdated?

I ran across this article on mystery shopping in the UK, and was a bit surprised by the following quote from Jeremy Michael, who used to be in the mystery shopping industry:

“Years ago, it was the best way to find out what was going on in a store, but now you’ve got much more modern methods,” he says.

He goes on to talk about the value of talking to customers directly, which I agree is valuable. However, it does not replace mystery shopping, and with the modernization of technology, the industry also has different tools and methods to flesh out their programs.

What is key in understanding the benefit of mystery shopping is the fact that mystery shoppers are acting as your typical customers, but aren’t at the same time. They are doing the same things as customers do, but are trained to look at operational aspects of the company, whereas customer feedback focused more on the overall experience.

Both methods are valuable to understanding and bettering the customer experience; however, mystery shopping is definitely not outdated, nor is it unnecessary.

A newer trend in the industry is an “interview the shopper” approach, which combines mystery shopping with the feedback aspect. Recently, our company was used to evaluate an assisted living facility for a client. They asked one shopper to evaluate not only their locations, but three key competitors. The shopper was utilized for the entire project and completed objective evaluations of the operations of all facilities, just as is done in traditional shopping. However, the company took it one step further and invited the shopper to attend a board meeting to share her experiences on a more subjective nature, and talk about the customer experience outside of the objectives she was evaluating during the mystery shopping portion.

Afterwards, I had the opportunity to speak with both the shopper and client to learn more about what they got out of the experience. The shopper was very pleased, stating that she felt she was really making a difference, even more so than had she only completed the mystery shopping portion. She felt heard by the company and was happy to be able to share some of the subjective information that is typically not allowed on a mystery shopping report.

Similarly, the company felt they gained even better insight into the project. For example, the shopper was able to provide them with more detailed feedback than a typical customer would with comments such as “I know you require your staff to do X, but as a customer, I felt that it was too pushy and did not portray the facility in its best light. If I were really looking at facilities, this may have caused me to look at your competitors.”

In short, mystery shopping has a long history, and will continue to be a good method for evaluating service standards and operational procedures. It will never be a replacement to customer feedback or even social media management services. What are your thoughts?

Until next time…happy shopping!

Have you Been Planted? April 27, 2011

Posted by Ann Michaels & Associates in Uncategorized.
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Mystery shopping is evolving – it’s no longer a quick in and out assessment of a business. Instead, it has become a valuable training tool for many companies across the globe.

One of the newer trends is looking at existing customer experiences using a method we call “Plant a Shopper.” The traditional mystery shop evaluates a new or potential customer’s experience, and companies are now keying in to the existing customer’s experience – after all, it’s more expensive to gain new customers than it is to keep the existing ones.

Banks have been doing this for some time, and now we’re seeing an increase in other industries as well. Park Districts and libraries are doing these types of shops, as are household services such as lawn care or housekeeping.

It’s a bit different from traditional shopping in that it is more long-term – in the case of a park district, you would be required to sign up for a class or program. After each class, you would provide an evaluation touching on key points, such as the instructor’s professionalism, how the class is managed, content, etc. At the end of the class, you would provide an overall assessment of the entire experience.

In the case of a bank, you might be required to start an account and then use the account in various ways, such as making transactions with the tellers, placing phone calls with inquiries, or emailing the bank to gauge the response. After a set period of time, you would go back to the branch to close the account. This gives banks a snapshot of the entire experience.

As a shopper, they are generally good shops to get – you typically get consistent work at a good rate. However, before taking this type of project, you need to make sure you’ll be able to commit for the entire length of the project. If not, you risk non-payment for any of the work you’ve done, since it would likely have to be rescheduled with another shopper.

As mystery shopping continues to evolve, there will be many ways in which shoppers are utilized to give companies the insight and information they need.

Until next time…happy shopping!

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