How Mystery Shopping can Improve your Customer Service


To borrow an analogy from Terry Eagleton, bad customer service is a lot like bad breath. You can’t smell your own. No-one is likely to tell you that your breath stinks. On the other hand, they’re extremely likely to tell other people that your breath stinks once you’ve left the room.

Business should take steps to ensure that they don’t suffer from poor customer service – and retail businesses, whose fortunes rest so heavily on its ability to serve customers, should view it as a paramount concern.

Information is of vital importance. You must establish exactly how good your customer service is, and what can be done to make it better. And you must do it often. In this regard, a mystery shopping company can prove a valuable resource for retailers. They can provide an insight into a customer’s perspective, for reasons we’ll explore in this article.

Long-serving retail managers may, on occasion, have received complaints from their customers, sometimes informal complaints delivered on the shop floor, sometimes in the form of a written letter.

Those that pen such letters are typically faced with a dilemma: they are dissatisfied enough to complain, but not so much so that they will take their custom elsewhere. This could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps they simply enjoy complaining. Perhaps a sentimental attachment to the shop in question causes them to hesitate.

The contents of these letters should be studied closely. That said, they represent a dubious means of gauging the customer experience as a whole – both in terms of their quality and their quantity.

Such letters are rare, because people rarely complain about bad service – at least, not to the business which inflicted it. The few complaints that do arrive therefore represent the tip of an iceberg – and one which could potentially sink a business not equipped with a suitable early warning system.

Bad customer service is hard to keep secret

The modern customer expects to receive a good service. Should they receive it, they will be satisfied and return, but they aren’t likely to tell anyone about it. This much is obvious and widely-appreciated. Bad customer service, by contrast, is far more likely to form a topic of conversation. Let’s consider a hypothetical example. A customer visits her local supermarket to find that three of the self-service checkouts are broken. No relief cashiers are summoned to the tills, and she is forced to wait fifteen minutes – after which, she is appropriately furious. This customer then tells ten friends about the incident. These friends then tell five of their friends. That’s a total of sixty people deterred from visiting the supermarket? And suppose that there were ten people waiting in this queue and they are share similar conversational habits? That’s around six hundred people!

While these numbers are hypothetical, the way word of mouth can spread an idea across huge swathes of potential customers is well-founded and backed up by research. The old adage holds true here: it’s far easier to keep existing customers than it is to gain new ones.

Mystery Shoppers can give targeted feedback

Some problems, in isolation, are too trivial to be noteworthy. No-one is likely to articulate, for example, that a member of your staff was not wearing a name badge, or that his beard was untidy, or that her earrings were too ostentatious. They may instead say make a much more nebulous claim – that the staff were unprofessional, for example. It is often difficult to know where to begin addressing such a vague protestation.

A mystery shopper report allows you to ask targeted questions, which the mystery shopper will be looking to answer as soon as they set foot inside the shop. The questions can focus on concrete details of the shop: how long were you waiting? Was the person who served you wearing a name badge? Was the store kept tidy? The answers to these questions can then provide a basis for any corrective action.

Mystery Shoppers are impartial

Needless to say, managers should occasionally solicit the opinions of those involved with a business. They may have their own perspectives, which may prove useful. However, these perspectives will be coloured by their role in the business. A field marketing company of the sort which provides mystery shopping suffers from no such bias, as they exist entirely outside of your business. They have no stake in its success or failure of the business and their opinion can therefore be trusted.

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