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The Benefits of Responsible Mystery Shopping

It is strange that one of the most effective methods of collecting a good knowledge of your workforce and the quality of service they provide -- the mystery shopper -- is also one of the most poorly executed and misused.

Mention the term to the average employee in a customer service role and the chances are they will visibly stiffen with unease. This is a waste of an excellent opportunity for your staff to gaze into a mirror and see their customer service flaws in a way that doesn't put the store, brand or company at risk.

The concept of mystery shoppers -- undercover researchers posing as customers -- is well established and in business, and dates back to the 1940s. Businesses looking to assess their workforce would hire the services of an external agency to supply a mystery shopper, who will test shop staff against a pre-determined set of criteria such as friendliness and helpfulness of staff, or cleanliness of premises.

The aim is to enable companies to discreetly monitor the performance of their staff through the feedback of an expert third party.

There are several clear benefits to employing the services of a mystery shopper. These include:

  1. Allowing companies to view their business through the eyes of the customer.
  2. An independent evaluation of the success of a company's training programmes.
  3. The identification of specific areas within a business that need improving.
  4. Speed and efficiency: A mystery shopper is often a cost-effective and expedient way of assessing the workings of an organisation.
Clearly, the mystery shopper offers a great insight to the scrutinising eyes of management, but there are down sides as well. The clandestine nature of mystery shopping has a tendency to unnerve customer-facing staff, particularly if they are only informed after the event. Companies run the risk of alienating their staff, damaging morale and creating a climate of suspicion and resentment, none of which is good for business.

The key to making a mystery shopper's visit work, is transparency and trust between management and staff. By informing customer service of your decision to use a mystery shopper, you will offer reassurance by demonstrating that you are not going behind their back.

It should be made clear that the intention is not to start a witch-hunt against individuals, but to try to enhance the company as a whole.

Deployed in this way, the occasional mystery shopper will allow you to keep an eye on things, without appearing too much like Big Brother.

(Photo .Martin., CC2.0)

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