Maximize Your Mystery Shopping ROI With This Simple Checklist


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Is your Mystery Shopping Program a waste of time?

This question might seem odd, coming from us. But it’s a crucial one.

Many retailers kick off mystery shopping programs with the best of intentions. They understand the unique importance and value of brand audits. They want to make their stores preferred destinations.

In the rush to execute, however, some retailers don’t fully consider:

  • Which aspects of the customer experience should be measured
  • How to present the program to in-store personnel
  • How to maintain the integrity of the program
  • How to use the data to improve the customer experience in meaningful ways

Thus, they see little return on their investment.

The truth is, the success or failure of any mystery shopping program is determined early on, before a single secret shopper sets foot in a retailer’s stores. Corporate sets the tone, and senior management holds the cards.

If your mystery shopping program isn’t meticulously planned or conducted with the right kind of energy, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. And the data won’t get you anywhere.

The Most Common Mistakes Retailers Make

Mystery shopping is a tool for improving the customer experience. Like any tool, you must understand how it works, and you must use it with skill. Otherwise, it won’t be effective.

Here are three ways retailers undermine their own mystery shopping programs.

They misunderstand what the program is designed to do.

Mystery shopping is designed to empower store managers, invigorate employees, and lead to immediate, impactful changes that please and benefit customers and drive sales. It should be a positive and productive experience for all involved.

When it’s deployed as a stealth operation to catch employees off guard—with in-store personnel feeling like they’re on an opposing team—retailers damage the brand culture and employee morale (which, as you might expect, does little to improve the customer experience).

They misunderstand what drives satisfaction.

What does it mean to “satisfy” a customer? This is one of the most important questions every retailer must get right.

A client of ours has grown his company from 230 stores to 2400 stores in a few short years by focusing on just two measures: comp sales (today versus one year ago) and the customer satisfaction score. This CEO understands what our experience in every retail category proves: Sales growth correlates directly to customer satisfaction.

This might seem an obvious point. But what drives satisfaction is widely misunderstood.

It all boils down to meeting basic needs first. By emphasizing both store conditions and customer engagement (with the goal of making shopping easy, enjoyable, and successful), store managers and associates make sure the customer is taken care of and his/her mission is accomplished. This is the real revenue driver—not the cheery cheerleader persona many store managers assume secret shoppers are looking for.

They make it all about the money.

Tying the program solely to employee reviews and bonuses—in other words, making it punitive—can lead to trouble. If the threat of a low score hangs over them, store managers will stay fixated on the score. They’ll pick apart mystery shoppers’ reports and constantly argue for points instead of focusing on how to use the data to improve the in-store environment.

These are just some of the reasons mystery shopping programs fail. We’ll reveal the rest—and show you how to implement a winning program that brings huge revenue gains. Click here to download our free eGuide, Mystery Shopping 101: Best Practices for Program Success.

Your Mystery Shopping Checklist: Do These 5 Things (Well)

To ensure your mystery shopping program meets the highest standards—and to keep the positive energy flowing—you need a solid foundation for the launch and an ongoing investment in the program’s success.

1. “Brand” the program.

Tie the program into this year’s theme or your brand’s cultural terminology. This is the language your employees speak fluently. The more resonant the program, the more enthusiastically your in-store teams will work to make it a success.

2. Keep the program top of mind, at all times.

Senior management must communicate the purpose and expectations of the program repeatedly and consistently. Their ownership and leadership of the program speak volumes to employees at all levels of the organization.

3. Step through the shop.

As company leaders visit individual stores, they should walk through the results of the mystery shop on the sales floor. Get a firsthand feel for what the secret shoppers are reporting, and look to identify the opportunities and challenges for a particular store based on program results.

4. In the event of a low score, kick into high gear.

Be ready to respond to a low score with a store-level action plan that identifies and corrects the causes of poor performance.

5. Update the program and survey as needed.

Your mystery shopping program must always reflect what’s happening in the company. Revisit the questionnaire on a regular basis, and make sure you’re measuring the right things.

Success Is Rooted in a Supportive Culture

To bring game-changing improvements and revenue growth, a mystery shopping program needs a corporate culture that supports it. All employees must understand the purpose and value of the program, and there should be no daylight between the C-suite and the sales floor.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with mystery shopping. Is there anything you would add to the checklist above? Let us know in the comments below.

Kevin Leifer
Kevin and his team at StellaService help their clients build solutions that optimize front-line team performance and improve customer experiences across contact centers and stores.


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