An established shopper program can be the answer for customer service management
Written by Gary Harper
Recipe for mystery shopping success: Take one individual shopping experience, combine hundreds to thousands more. Add a full scoop of measurement, analysis and reporting using a full-service program. Repeat, to create a cycle that sets the stage for successfully managing customer service.
One of the most important parts of this recipe for success is making sure that your mystery shopping program encompasses a complete, well thought-out program that follows a general set of guidelines or steps:
Step 1: Establishing objectives
The most important step in any mystery shopping program is establishing objectives. You need to determine what you want to accomplish. You may want to gather information about employees’ customer skills, see how employees are presenting products or determine whether the retail environment is safe, clean and attractive. Or any combination of the above. It may be measuring employee training programs, tracking or benchmarking your business against the competition. The variation is endless. The key factor is to clearly establish where you are, where you want to be, and how mystery shopping can help get you there.
Step 2: Questionnaire design
The questionnaire must be designed for the sole purpose of measuring and meeting established objectives. Typical retail mystery shopping questionnaires often cover: customer service, facility cleanliness and orderliness, speed of service, product quality and employee product knowledge. The questionnaire should satisfy the objectives of the program and yet be focused and concise for quality of information and accuracy of shopper reporting.
Step 3: Recruitment
The larger the professional mystery shopping or research organization, the more likely it is to have a pre-recruited pool of mystery shoppers nationwide ready to complete assignments. If such a base is not in place, shoppers must be recruited.
Step 4: Shopping instruction
Once assigned to a program, mystery shoppers are given verbal and written guidelines to help understand the clients’ objectives. As part of the assignment, the shopper agrees to perform the shop within an acceptable time frame.
Step 5: Shopping procedures
Mystery shoppers visit the client retail locations during the specified time posing as typical customers. The shoppers then complete the questionnaires and report the results to the mystery shopping supplier via phone, mail or E-mail. Shoppers obtain receipts during their visit for validation purposes. Data is collected, coded, tabulated and/or compiled into reports.
Step 6: Quality control
Quality control is a vital step and an often overlooked process. During the quality control process, the completed questionnaires should be proofed to verify the time, location, data and other information of the shop for accuracy. While 100 percent of the documents will go through the quality control process, we insist that at least 10 percent of a program’s gathered surveys should be second-party validated to make sure a credible sample has been received.
Some suppliers contain and manage an in-house data processing department. Others contract outside data processing houses. Some client businesses prefer the use of a supplier that has on-site data processing capabilities because modifications to reports or changes to the deliverables can be provided to the client more expediently. Flexibility is a key attribute of a mystery shopping company since the customer service management process is ever changing. The mystery shopping supplier should be ready and able to adapt to the needs of its customer.
Step 7: Information analysis
This is the stage when information is provided from the supplier to the client. When compiling and comparing reports at this stage, a client should be able to isolate areas for improvement as well as highlight their strengths and weaknesses. Once compiled, the data is sorted based on the required deliverables. Reports can be delivered to the client’s headquarters as well as broken out by region, district, site etc. The supplier’s experience can be used to provide a thorough understanding of the results, what they mean to a client’s business and how the client can best obtain actionable information. Mystery shopping results should also be compared with other client market research data and overall customer satisfaction study scores. Executive summaries should be supplied to highlight important results.
Step 8: Client action
Once the data is delivered, appropriate action steps need to be put in place. These action steps are to be taken once an accurate assessment has been made and the client has come to a full understanding of the scope of the information provided. A few examples of client action include: modifying the current operational standards, focusing on training needs, or rewarding employees for achieving certain levels of customer service. The important thing is to communicate results, develop an action plan and monitor implementation of all action steps through fulfillment.
Step 9: Repeat progress tracking
The last step is to track progress. This involves repeating Steps 1-8 after a period of time - optimally once per month or once per quarter. This time slot enables retail locations to make necessary changes and focus on areas of needed improvement. Repeating this process regularly provides an important corporate function. It demonstrates to employees that you are committed to providing your customers with the highest quality of products and services by keeping customer service top of mind with employees. Studies show that when mystery shopping monitoring is done and appropriate action steps have taken place, companies typically see marked improvement in customer satisfaction levels.
Make sure your mystery shopping program is a recipe for success. Following these important steps will help in your efforts to not only obtain valuable mystery shopping measurement but literally to manage customer satisfaction.