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5 ways a Mystery shopping  program can go wrong (and how to avoid it)

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As part of a holistic Customer Experience Program, Mystery Shopping is a GREAT tool to gain insights and feedback on the the day-to-day from the customers' perspective.  Secret Shopping, like NPS and VoC, is a great tool to use to gain information that can be transformed into usable and actionable data, but it can have limitations. 

Let us discuss some issues your Secret Shopping (or Mystery Shopping) program can encounter and how we can help overcome these issues.

  • We had one shot, and we blew it: We have heard of this issue when new clients come to us looking for solutions when they had previous poor experiences in running a mystery shopping program. What this tells us is that they were not measuring at a useable frequency.  One Mystery Shop completed once a quarter is great for a maintenance program, but if your company has launched new trainings, methodologies, communication methods, etc., once a quarter is not sufficient.  We recommend that client look at front-loading their program and have at least three shops completed per location in the first month.  This way you will have the minimal amount of useable data to gain the desired actionable insights from.  Three is a great tie-breaker number. Instead of assuming that if one KPI failed, it always fails, you can get a better sense if it is just a moment in time, or a process improvement plan item.

  • Our team didn't take the results seriously: Usually when clients come to us looking to start a program, they are concerned that the team will not ‘buy’ into the program or have reported that they have previously cancelled programs because of the lack of engagement. The first questions that we usually ask when this comes up is: Was your team empowered to correct the missed KPI’s? Was the team celebrated for all the KPI’s they scored? Was the scoring not weighted correctly? Were the corrected KPI’s being measured? These questions usually created deeper conversations about needs vs wants, SMART goals and how to engage and empower employees. An incorrectly maintained program is just as dangerous, if not more so, than no measurement program at all. Ensure that when you are setting up your program that it is driven from a positive culture and allows employees/franchisees to be empowered to own and correct the results.

  • The results were ‘not accurate’, and our team fought back: This is an interesting issue that we have heard about. Often it can become what seems like ‘he-said-she-said’ and the program managers are in the middle trying to find the truth. The best ways to overcome this being an issue is to try a few things:
    • Only score objective questions. It is great and insightful to ask for subjective feedback, but 99% of the time that is where difference of opinion will create disagreements. If the objective and evidenced based questions are the only KPI’s that score for the overall report, the subjective questions are included as feedback to create tracked data from and do not reflect on the overall report score.
    • Empower the team to proactively correct issues: If an employee knew an issue was happening (like a light burnt out) and was actively working on correcting it, not a problem! Set your program up with Appeals and give the employee the ability to note the situation and cure the scoring. If the employee knows that they will be heard and that their efforts will be valued, they will take the score-curing seriously and will engage in the program more.
    • Track your score curing: If the same location or the same person is consistently pushing-back on results, be agreeable and cure the scoring, but track the changes. If the same KPI score is constantly being cured, this is a sign that the program is doing its’ job. At the same time, how is the program being run that team members do not see the value in looking at a missed KPI as a chance to make an improvement verses seeing it as being a punishment? Celebrate the earned KPI’s, but also note that recognizing the loss of a KPI is an opportunity for growth, not failure.
    • Introduce Video or Audio Mystery Shopping: If you suspect that something may be amiss and the employee/franchisees are adamite about their position, schedule random video or audio mystery shops (where available by law). It is hard to argue with hard evidence.

  • It was the first thing we cut when we hit budget cutbacks: This one is true even for us with our clients when the pandemic hit. In most cases, this was completely understandable. If your brick-and-mortar store is closed, we can’t send people in. But it got us thinking if our customers new how much value was added by having a mystery shopping program? Missing simple upsells and cross-sells regularly in your ground-floor sales experience can cost your company thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention that shoppers are very deliberate with their choices now. Reducing how many people can be in a location at one time, line-ups, etc., are causing shoppers to be very intentional with their experiences. One poor experience could not only cause this shopper to never return but become a negative evangelist for your brand which can be damaging to your wallet-share.


  • We didn’t make time to manage the results effectively, it was too much work: This one is especially important as positions have shifted or roles have merged with other roles. It is especially important to note that one person does not have to handle everything themselves! Shoppers Confidential has software technology that can automatically email reports, summaries, submitted surveys, etc. to anyone at various security levels. If the maintenance team only needs to see things related to maintenance issues, not a problem, we can email them only those KPI’s directly to them in a report. Or better yet, assign each KPI to a team member. Taking our time to onboard you as a client to serve your needs best may be heavy front load time but will improve your ability to effectively use and implement the fantastic data you are gain in the long run.


Bottom line, Mystery Shopping is a snapshot in time. Same as a social review, an NPS or VoC survey, and they all need to have enough balancing data to support it to make sense of it all. Our integrated and effective reporting system aggregates all your mystery shopping data will offer you a 360° view of your customer experience. Paired with Action Planning, Appeals, Social Listening, NPS and VoC, and you can have a completely holistic view. And our years of experience will help ensure that you mitigate any potential roadblocks from making your mystery shopping program a success with tons actionable data.


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