How Mystery Shopping Improves the Customer Experience

How Mystery Shopping Can Improve the Customer Experience

In order for a business to build a positive online reputation that drives sales, you must consistently deliver a great customer experience.

That’s why it’s so important to get the customer experience right in the beginning and keep it that way. But how do you evaluate your performance? An effective way to do this is by using a strategy that has been around for decades – mystery shopping.

With the cost of acquiring and retaining customers being at a premium, businesses need to analyze their many customer touchpoints on a regular basis. This is why using mystery shopping to improve the customer experience makes sense.

Mystery Shopping Defined

The concept of mystery shopping has been around for a long time.

Defined, mystery shopping is a marketing tactic used by businesses where individuals, posing as real customers, go through the purchase process within their store. The mystery shopper reports back on what they observed during their experience – good or bad.

The business then uses this information to make improvements to their operations and customer experience. The “mystery” part is to ensure that employees do not alter their behavior so an unbiased assessment can be made.

When you think of mystery shopping, what comes to mind is reviewing the instore experience – such as the store layout, purchase process and customer service.

However, today’s mystery shopping programs involve so much more than just a visit to one of your stores. There are many other touchpoints, both online and offline, along the customer journey where businesses can engage with customers that are included in a mystery shopping exercise. This multichannel approach provides a more complete picture of how the business is faring in delivering the customer experience.

In this article, we’ll discuss four key areas businesses should assess using a mystery shopping strategy to improve the customer experience and your brand’s reputation.

1. In-person Experience

Face-to-face interactions between customers and employees are at the very heart of your company’s customer experience. What your employees say and do when engaging with customers can make or break your business.

This is why evaluating your in-person customer experience delivery is at the top of any mystery shopping to-do list.

The role of the mystery shopper at this stage is to put themselves in your customer’s shoes. When they visit your business, they will observe and document their interactions with your employees. Things like, how they were greeted, were their questions answered and did they feel appreciated.

For business owners, one of your most important roles is setting the example regarding what an exceptional customer experience delivery looks like for your employees.

Doing this well and reinforcing that example over time will ensure this area of your business passes the mystery shopping test with flying colors.

2. Online User Experience

Consumer buying preferences have changed drastically. What’s changing is that more and more consumers prefer to interact with businesses online. From doing research to making purchases to returns, the buying public uses many online channels to conduct business with you.

As with face-to-face customer interactions, fine tuning your online user experience is just as important. Below are a few critical online customer touchpoints where using a mystery shopping strategy can help you accomplish this.

  • Website. Obviously, your website is an important link to your customers. Having a third party review key functions such as, the purchase process, contact form submission and chat bot system can uncover improvement opportunities.
  • Social Media Accounts. Consumers are more likely to visit a brand’s social media accounts as opposed to their website. They are using these platforms to give feedback and request support. Mystery shoppers can provide helpful feedback on response times and exchanges between customers and your employees.
  • Search Engine Experience. Online research is an important part of the customer journey. Because of this, knowing what potential customers are seeing when they Google your business is critical. A mystery shopping firm can check your search results and recommend steps to ensure your brand shows up on the first page.

3. Business Operations and Procedures

How a business operates day-to-day is another important aspect of the customer experience. A mystery shopping firm offers a fresh set of eyes to review your policies and operations in a real-life setting to reveal any shortcomings that may turn off your customers.

  • Store layout. The physical layout of your store or business significantly impacts the customer experience. Are products neatly stocked on shelves and displays? Is signage informative and easy to read? Is your business accessible (ADA compliant)?
  • Checkout Process. The checkout experience is another key area for the customer experience to shine or fail. In today’s high-tech world, no one wants to wait to make a purchase. Having ample checkout lanes, self-service and online options for customers to complete purchases quickly is imperative.
  • Customer Service Policies. Most businesses have policies in place to manage a variety of customer situations. This includes returns, satisfaction guarantees and health and safety policies. While it’s important to have a policy on paper to set expectations for the customer, how well is your staff carrying out these policies?

A mystery shopping initiative can answers these and other operations-related questions to help ensure your business is on the right track to a better customer experience.

4. Competitor Benchmarking

In almost every industry, the competition for customers is intense. This is why you should also include a review of your top competitors as part of your mystery shopping program.

Gaining an understanding regarding how customers interact with a competing brand in the same industry can help you compare that of your own customer experience delivery.

As with mystery shopping your own business, the process for evaluating competitors’ customer experience is similar.

Through their observations, mystery shoppers can get valuable insights as to how your competitors are engaging with customers to keep them coming back.

The data you collect from mystery shopping your competition can be used to benchmark your customer experience against others in the market. This can be valuable in the competition to win customers.

DIY Mystery Shopping

Whether you decide to hire mystery shopping firm or not, business owners should periodically “mystery-shop” their own business. Below are a few areas you can review yourself with minimal effort.

  • Google your business name. When you do this, you should see only citations about your brand on the first page of results.
  • Call your main phone number. From time to time you should check and see if someone is answering the phone for your business. How were you greeted? If no answer, is your phone system working properly?
  • Submit a “contact us” form and check to see how long does it take for someone to reply back to you.
  • Read a sampling of the news feeds of company social accounts. What type of engagement is your business getting? Is your team responding to comments?

DIY mystery shopping can give you valuable feedback regarding the customer experience in a short amount of time.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve seen how mystery shopping improves the customer experience, it’s your turn. If you decide to conduct a mystery shopping project, outsourcing it to a professional firm makes the most sense.

The case for hiring a mystery shopping firm is easy to justify. The biggest pro is that you are bringing in an unbiased third party that has expertise in evaluating how well a business delivers the customer experience.

Their knowledge will guide you on what areas to assess based on your industry and business type. The reports they provide will outline recommendations to improve customer experience delivery and how to go about making them. This includes identifying training opportunities to improve employee performance.

Another way to look at mystery shopping is that it allows you to discover ways to reduce friction so that customers find it easy to do business with you. If you are successful here, this will lead to an improved online reputation and increased sales.

How do you monitor and improve the customer experience in your business? What are your thoughts on using mystery shopping to accomplish this? Let us know in the comments below!

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