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8 tips for getting rich mystery shopping survey data

Mystery shopping data is only as good as the overall strategy for collecting it and setting up realistic customer experiences. Here are eight tips for investing your resources wisely.

No business wants to hear it's not performing up to par, but seeking data on areas of improvement can make a business more competitive. The mystery shopping survey can be a tremendous tool to improve customer experience in restaurants, retail locations and call centers. But how do you deploy a program that will capture the data needed to clean up your establishment?

Some businesses run their mystery shopping survey activity in-house. Others use third-party CX management companies, such as true[BX] and 360 Intel, to manage their programs. Whichever road you take, a mystery shopping plan is essential.

Here are eight tips for implementing a successful program.

1. Mirror your shops with a typical guest experience

Tyler Goodwin, CEO of 360 Intel, said the initial reaction of businesses is to have shoppers jump through a number of hoops, which doesn't necessarily reflect real-life experiences. For example, a restaurant may want shoppers to order an appetizer, two entrees, dessert and an alcoholic drink, as well as have the shopper ask to speak with a manager to either give a compliment or complaint.

Too many detailed requirements can increase the likelihood that the shopper will not complete the shop correctly; moreover, unusual behavior may send up red flags to employees, causing a shopper to be spotted, ultimately fouling the mystery shopping survey data.

2. Be sure mystery shopping surveys include a good balance of the objective and subjective

Too many detailed requirements can increase the likelihood that the shopper will not complete the shop correctly.

One way this can be accomplished is by asking shoppers to answer both a multiple-choice question and follow it up with a comment, said Andrew Walker, COO of CX management platform Prism Intelligence.

Walker used a restaurant customer's real-life example: On the shop report, the business asked, "Was your salad mounded 1 inch above the bowl?" -- to which shoppers answered yes. But another question asked shoppers to describe how appetizing and attractive the salad appeared. Based on these two questions together, the restaurant realized customers didn't find the salads all too appealing and instead started mounding the vegetables 2 inches above the bowl.

3. Customize your shop report

While it might be easy to choose to use a standard template, it likely will not meet the needs of your business. Goodwin said shop reports should align with the business's needs so shoppers will collect the right information for the mystery shopping survey.

4. Communicate with staff companywide

Set clear expectations with employees in regard to their job tasks and CX roles, said Tory Tsakiris, CEO of true[BX]. They also should all be told what criteria mystery shoppers will be evaluating.

"If you don't do this, it can just be negative toward morale," Tsakiris said. "Make sure they know it's not supposed to be some sort of spy program."

5. Have open communication with shoppers

Shoppers need to know what's expected and required of them, because they are being watched, too, Tsakiris said.

Online customer survey photo
Mystery shopper surveys need a good balance of objective and subjective data solicitations.

6. Pair mystery shopping with an employee rewards program

Tsakiris suggested quarterly recognition of some sort for employees, such as drawings or gift cards. This rewards them for a job well done and always keeps them wondering when they will be shopped.

7. Hold leadership accountable for scores and satisfaction

Businesses should use a mystery shopping program to stay ahead of the competition.

"Don't just do it to do it and give yourself a pat on the back," Tsakiris said. "Some people still want human interaction. If they don't like the service, they will take their business elsewhere."

8. Deploy consistent, ongoing shops

Goodwin recommended two mystery shops per month per location to be sure staff is on its toes.

"If you're only doing one shop a quarter, that's not a statistically significant way to draw conclusions," Goodwin said.

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