Mystery shoppers: Well-trained they present real added value

© panthermedia.net/vladimir voronin

Mystery Shopper have trained eyes and know where to look at. © panthermedia.net/vladimir voronin

Tuesday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. Petra B. enters the store. She is on a mission. Petra B. is a mystery shopper. Armed with her wallet, a trained eye and exact instructions by the storeowner, it is now up to her to put the service quality of the store under the microscope. Mystery shoppers are the kind of customer, salespeople should be especially polite to. However, as the term ”mystery shopping“ already implies, service personnel is not able to distinguish them from regular shoppers. And there is a good reason for that.

Mystery shopping has long been the tool of choice when it comes to marketing research. This is the only way to measure actual service quality in retail objectively. However, you cannot create something out of nothing, as the old saying goes. Which is why it is important for companies that want to improve their service through mystery shopping to also train mystery shoppers well and properly. Only shoppers that know exactly what’s important are able to ask the right questions and keep an eye on the key departments at the store.

Poor preparation falsifies results

Great for the industry – but only at first sight: A study by the market research institute Dr. Grieger & Cie. in early 2013 revealed that order volumes for mystery shoppers – and therefore interest in improving the customer service wasteland that is Germany – have increased overall. Individual preparation by supervising market research institutes however has decreased. Oftentimes though, companies that request mystery shopping projects don’t know how inadequately the test subjects are being prepared for this important job.

Frequently, mystery customers are merely informed in writing. Subsequently, nobody makes sure the mystery shoppers have really understood their assignment. In the study, 46.6 percent of interviewed shoppers indicated they only received documents. Only 8 percent had a clarifying, personal conversation. ”This is a risky development: companies rely on mystery shopping results, though the necessary quality is not being achieved in many cases,” Gunnar Grieger comments on the study. ”This is why you have to assume that the derived measures are in part based on wrong information,“ the press release states. Only if they are well prepared, are mystery shoppers able to actively help in improving service and store design.

Mystery store checks

Once the mystery shopper is in the store, his/her focus is not just on service personnel. First, the mystery shopper looks around the store. He explores- depending on the customer request – the entrance area, checks whether he can get his bearings easily and examines lighting and decoration. The checkout area is also important: here, the shopper looks to see whether enough registers are open so the customers don’t have to wait in line too long.
Aside from cleanliness and orientation, merchandise presentation, sales mix and sales campaigns promote sales. In this case, mystery shoppers check whether special sales campaigns are staged properly, so that customers can also spot them as something unique.
© panthermedia.net/Arne Trautmann

Mystery shoppers ask critically and remember the staff's reaction and answering. © panthermedia.net/Arne Trautmann

Let’s get down to it: how good are the employees?

Mystery shopping is similar to a beautiful apple where a worm is not exposed until you bite into the apple. After the store has been visually examined, now the issue turns to testing staff knowledge. After all, these days service is crucial in retail. Well-trained mystery shoppers have done their homework and understand what the customer wants to know. They specifically seek out consultation from employees and pay attention to every little detail. They look for friendliness, helpfulness and of course, the actual assistance offered to the potential customer for his/her problem.

One important aspect in retail is to offer customers products that might actually interest them. In this case mystery shoppers – depending on their mission – pay attention to whether staff also goes beyond the customer’s actual question and his/her shopping needs, along the lines of:”Are you familiar with…“ or ”You might also be interested in this“. Good service staff should make sure that the customer concludes his/her purchases in an entirely carefree and satisfied manner.

Test purchases are made on all levels

Test purchases don’t just help stores to optimally adjust products and services to the wishes and needs of customers. Since e-Commerce is becoming increasingly important to retailers, online performances of commercial enterprises also need to be extensively tested:”Since direct customer contact is often missing, it becomes even more important in this instance to check a website about its functionality and convenience,“ explains Christian Karrenbauer, Managing Director of the MSM Group in our interview. ”The pinnacle of all this is an integrated multi-channel approach. In this case, you can launch a complaint with the call center for instance and then return the product at the store. This demonstrates the quality of a retailer in terms of a functioning multi-channel strategy,“ he goes on to explain.

The test purchase is not a test purchase

Retailers who truly want to improve their business and service cannot do without mystery shopping agencies that prepare their mystery shoppers well and extensively on their projects. This is why a comparison between choices and services by providers always pays off. Those who try to save money in mystery shopper training, lose important input to improve their store and service in a customer-oriented manner, thanks to inaccurate reports. After all, only mystery shoppers who know what their buyer is looking for are able to specifically check for it.

After the test purchase is in the bag, it is then the retailer’s responsibility to draw the right conclusions from the mystery shopper’s input. After all, the testers’ suggestions and impressions should be incorporated into company practice. After a certain amount of time, a second test phase then makes sense to check whether and how suggestions have been implemented and concerns eliminated.

Elisabeth Henning; EuroShop.de