How should we set up our mystery shopping program?

How should we set up our mystery shopping program?

Written by Greg Cole


A list of questions to consider

For most companies considering the initial implementation of a mystery shopping program, confusion rules. There is frequently no one involved in the process who has much experience designing or using a program and therefore there is little idea of how to begin. Different departments within your organization pull in different directions with their own needs and requests, and you end up falling back on the mystery shopping provider for guidance, slowing things as questions and recommendations go back and forth.

Luckily, the situation needn’t be this confusing. Below is an outline of some of the information mystery shopping provider companies typically need to know as they begin putting a program together. These questions are not all-encompassing but by having considered the general areas outlined, you will come to the planning process already armed with some basic ideas about how you want your program to work.

Why do it?

Why do we want a program?

What do we want to know about our operations?

What does senior management expect to get out of the program? What does operations expect from it? Which other departments of the company will be affected and how will they be included in both the planning and reporting of the information?


What will we use to establish the standards and practices on which to base the evaluation format? Do we have an operations manual or another set of guidelines that could be utilized in the design process?

Will we design our own form or use a generic format provided by the shopping company?

What areas will we emphasize or give the most weight to while designing the evaluation format? Quality, service, facility condition/cleanliness or some other?

What complaints or suggestions are we hearing from our customers and how can we address them in our evaluation design?

Who from within our organization will have input on the design format?

What kind of evaluation format will we use? Will it be scored? Have a narrative? How lengthy/detailed?

How often will we shop each location?

How many locations will we shop – every location or a sampling?

Will the evaluation involve the purchase of a product or service or otherwise require the shopper to spend money? Will we need to provide this payment up front?

How long should each shopping experience take? Will the shopper be required to return a product or otherwise make multiple visits to a location?

What kind of objective measures can we use to reduce the subjectivity of the process and thus build better credibility with field operations? (Thermometers, stop-watches, scales, pictorial quality guides, product samples, instruction manuals for shoppers, etc.)


Who will be in charge of the program internally – operations, marketing, quality assurance, some other department? Will we dedicate one employee to act as the liaison between the shopping service and the field operations?

What type of appeal process will be established? Who will administer this process? Someone in our company or someone from the shopping service?

Will the program be linked to any motivational program? Manager’s bonus? Employee non-monetary reward system? On-the-spot cash reward? Line employee cash bonus?

In what form do we want to see the results reported? Will we receive a copy of the original form or only a summary? Aggregate numbers only? Who will receive the results? Only headquarters, area managers, or will they be sent directly to field operations units?

Will the shoppers need to have a specific profile to match our customer base?

What kind of shopper rotation will be required? Will recognition of the shoppers by operations personnel be likely? How will we handle recognition if it occurs?

Do operations locations have obvious limiting factors which could affect the timeliness of shopping visits (restricted business hours, limited access, etc.)?

How to use it

How do we expect to use the information gathered?

How else could the program be used: as a marketing tool, in advertising, etc.?

What other systems (motivation, incentive, corrective processes, etc.) will be needed to make the program work most effectively?

What kind of corrective process will we set up to deal with problems exposed by the evaluation process?

How will we communicate successes and failures of the program to the field? A regular newsletter? How will we recognize top performers?

How will we know if the program is a success? How will we measure the results?

Thinking through the areas shown above will allow you to better assist your provider during the initial design stage and insure a smoother and more timely planning and implementation process. You will more quickly begin gathering the information needed to help you be operationally efficient and responsive to your customers and therefore more profitable.


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