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Mystery shopping: A pathway to quality, consistency, and adaptation

Arisa Vongchai

From fast-food franchises to bank branches and shopping malls, the modern business landscape lets enterprising companies reach their consumers all around the world. Yet as popular brands extend their reaches to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of locations, a new challenge emerges. Although every branches of a business are established upon the same core values and service standards thus maintaining the same standard of customer service across the business network means constantly monitoring every branch even as they adapt to a fast-paced environment.

To maintain a consistent customer experience across all locations, organisations may assign Quality Control officials to check on each of their branches with prior notice. Of course, by letting branches have advance warning of upcoming visits, these branches can use the opportunity to temporarily fix and cover up existing issues. Such a setup is effective in ensuring that each of the branches knows how to fulfil its brand obligations, nevertheless it does not guarantee that the branch does follow these procedures while the head office does not come to investigate each branch.

A different methodology may be needed to help maintain high service standards across all branches. Mystery shopping enables companies to conveniently gather data regarding the customer experience in each branch, which in turn leads to identifying friction points and eventually correcting them. By implementing this approach instead of their pre-announced QC visits, the management team can preserve time by does not have to concern visiting each of the branches.

A blessing in disguise

Despite not being a commonly known term, mystery shopping has been standard business practice for many firms since the 1940s. Its recent surge in popularity has led to the establishment of several companies that provide mystery shopping services for their clients.

Mystery shoppers are generally hired by stores, banks, restaurants and other service providers to pretend to be ordinary customers. They primarily help observe and test customer experience quality by either purchasing things at the store, or using the services provided. They then file reports about their shopping experiences and identify any aspects that need to be improved.

Although the practice of mystery shopping may put extra pressure on employees to always deliver high service standards, its lessons typically lead to benefits that extend to the entire organisation. Real problems can only be addressed when they are identified, rather than avoided by covering up existing issues to pass a pre-scheduled QC visit. The key for management is to take responsibility for the failures that do occur, putting the onus on themselves to identify and to implement the necessary procedural improvements.

Examining operations thoroughly from the inside can help strengthen a company – but it is not the only way for businesses to figure out their way forward. Competitor researches allow companies to keep track of their business rivals, and mystery shopping can be a key tactic in this effort as well.

Know the enemy

Mystery shoppers can expand on their traditional mission by helping businesses learn from those around them. By visiting competitors and reporting back with useful intelligence, mystery shoppers can greatly expand their clients’ knowledge base. They can help analyse competitors’ product quality, price, customer engagement, brand reputation, and business processes. Studying the competition in such ways can help open-minded businesses come up with the best deals, sales practices, and market strategies for their products.

It is always wise to keep tabs on what competitors are doing to avoid falling behind in a highly competitive environment. Using mystery shoppers to gain insights on business rivals is fair game, as long as such efforts avoid disrupting or undermining their operations.

Identify and Improve

Within any market sector, the businesses that understand their competitors, experience their services from a customer’s standpoint, and proactively detect and address internal weaknesses within their own branches, will have a considerable advantage over those that fail to educate themselves in these ways.

Mystery shopping is a highly effective tool for conducting this type of research. If its insights are acted upon correctly, mystery shopping should ultimately lead to cleaner work environments, higher service quality, enhanced customer satisfaction, and improved brand reputation. The brands that deliver a great customer experience will find it much easier to win the hearts of consumers. These successes soon translate to greater profit margins, with studies indicating that a positive customer experience will encourage  7 out of 10 shoppers spending 13% more money.

With today’s businesses expanding by increasing their branches (including online platforms), mystery shopping may be significantly important for your business. From highlighting internal issues and inconsistencies, to gaining big insights from competitors, mystery shopping helps businesses maintain high standards in all their branches around the global.