The only Mystery Shopper you really need is your Customer


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The “customer experience” buzzword and all the hype surrounding it is more of a recent phenomenon. Dig a little deeper and you’ll notice that businesses have, surprisingly, felt the urge to measure and monitor crucial consumer metrics since long before. And in order to get a fresh and different perspective on the quality of products/services, a lot of these businesses are going down the Mystery Shopping Route , and are still doing it!

Firstly, what is mystery shopping? Let’s say you run a business and you want to check the quality levels at your store – be it store cleanliness, employee behaviour, or say even range of products available.

You get in touch with a third party agency that specializes in mystery shopping services. The agency then selects people who pose as ‘mystery shoppers’ and visit your brand’s showroom/outlet, conducting a store audit on a number of aspects which are mentioned beforehand on a survey. The catch here is that you won’t know when, where or how your business and its various aspects are being evaluated.

Mystery shopping began way back in the 1940s as a means to assess employee integrity within an organization and over the years, it has evolved into a technique used by even the largest of brands to monitor quality levels – whether it be assessing customer service, frontline employees or store layout.

What we are more interested in, however, is whether mystery shopping can double up as a reliable means to track and improve customer experience. In other words, how much can your business rely on mystery shopping to know more about the day-to-day customer?

How does Mystery Shopping fare in tracking CX?

Truth be told, while mystery shopping is a standardized approach, although a bit archaic, to quality assessment, it falls short on a number of parameters when we look at the bigger picture. And the big picture here is understanding the customer as a whole, knowing their aspirations to conduct business with you, catering to their likes and rectifying mistakes that leave a bad impression about your company.

Here’s precisely why Mystery Shopping can’t make up your standalone customer experience improvement strategy

1. You don’t get to survey every single customer

Although mystery shopping is a standardized approach towards evaluating various parameters at a store, it is the opinion of relatively small group of shoppers – small, when you compare them to the size of your original customer base.

Also, each customer’s expectation is different. With that in mind, asking one person to reflect the opinion of thousands is just not fair – to you, to your store staff and to the customer! This not only makes the data solicited from mystery shoppers limited in scope, but any insight derived from it can be highly misleading and inaccurate.

2. The Mystery Shopper is more concerned with nitpicking

Replay the definition of ‘mystery shopping’ and you’ll find another important takeaway; the mystery shopper needn’t be a typical customer of your brand. The mystery shopper is sent with the sole aim of scrutinizing the way you conduct overall business, or certain aspects of it, and report everything later on a survey to the concerned authority.

Mystery shopping is a very magnifying lens view of CX. The shopper has been given a strict set of parameters that they need to assess you on, so they are going to look into every single detail, which is great.

But do your ‘actual customers’ do that? Do customers actually look to see if the floor of the store is sparkling clean? Maybe. Maybe not. But 9 times out of 10, their decision to shop with you again is based on more surface-level aspects.

3. It takes a toll on your resources

Irrespective of the popularity mystery shopping has racked up over the years, there’s no doubting that it eats into your pocket. Businesses invest huge amounts of resources into mystery shopping – this is because most companies hire a third party to oversee and manage this process. And when you factor in the other shortcomings of this process, it’s a risk not worth taking!

4. You don’t get to exactly ‘know thy customer’

The post-audit questions posed to mystery shoppers do not deep dive into ‘why’ a particular rating was entered. In other words, mystery shopping surveys lacks dynamism. Here’s a sample question in a mystery shopping survey.

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Your business might be curious to improve ambience and if an actual customer gives a poor rating, say below 3, you would want to know why, right? However, on a typical mystery shopping survey form, you cannot decide the flow of questions that appear. As a consequence, any insight derived from mystery shopping activities are largely surface-level and do not provide a detailed analysis into the customer experience.

5. Inability to take instant action

What if one of your store staff has a momentary lapse of good conduct, and doesn’t live up to the mystery shopper’s expectations – the strict, guideline-driven expectation that has been given to the shopper? Before this information reaches you through the third part agency, it’d take days and in some cases even weeks.

And unless the employee is made cognizant of his/her mistake and given proper training to correct it, there’s every chance that they behave in the same manner to an actual customer. Well. that would have a wider impact on your business – the customer might not purchase from your brand ever again and to make things worse, they could go on a full-on rant on social media!

On one hand, while it is mandatory to assess customer experience, it is crucial, on the other hand, to do it in real-time. Why? Because the cost of conducting business has gone up. So has the cost incurred when you lose even a single customer.

How does a CEM tool get you closer to customers?

Even before entering the ‘understanding my customers’ phase, a Customer Experience Management tool helps you create more dynamic surveys. You get to completely customize the questions you want to ask, determine questionnaire flows with every minute detail taken into consideration, in an effortless manner.

At the same time, targeting a wider audience group is possible through a whole range of customer interaction channels – SMS surveys, tablet feedback, IVR, Email surveys, Web surveys and much more – that can be leveraged to listen to your customers. Moreover, the cost of installation, running costs and other miscellaneous costs are minimal.

But here’s the biggest difference. A CEM tool enables your business to respond to customer feedback in real-time – you get to act on the customer’s feedback/opinion even before they leave your store. Addressing negative feedback has never been simpler!

So, what is the Verdict on Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping, as a methodology and full-fledged activity, is definitely a proven and standardized audit process. That said, it fails to capture the whole customer experience spectrum – what makes a customer buy from your brand, how do their emotions change across the customer journey, what are their major pain points and why do these pain points arise?

Mystery shopping is built on the premise of a long drawn out questionnaire that offers surface level and very limited insights into your business processes. On the other hand, you might be asking very simple questions through a customer experience management tool but the insights you derive out of it are much more relevant, deep and actionable. You get to actually ‘know your customer’ and in today’s competitive business world, this gives you a large and firm upper hand over competitors!

Ganesh Mukundan
I'm a content marketer at Hiver. I've been writing about customer experience for the past 5 years. I'm passionate about narrating delightful customer stories, researching CX trends, and deep-diving into concepts such as VoC and Customer Journey Mapping.


  1. I was a young 18 year old working for a bank in the Bay area, when I was awarded a prize from my banks Mystry Shopper unknown to me and felt so awesome to be told I had done everything correct at my teller window…..since it was a struggle for me to get the job with No experience….so now 60 and three boys later with business degrees, I often see and say when the cat is away the mice do play….and I disagree with the remarks of “No use for a mystery shopper ” Because it keeps many on their best behavior never knowing when mother shopping walks in!!!!!


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