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Mystery Shopping – Black Ops or Best Practice? How great operators get the most out of this service.

Many businesses test their employees to understand how their standards work, their level of knowledge, customer focus, and service skills via mystery shoppers.

Information gathered discretely and constructively by operators posing as customers provide businesses with a documented snapshot of a customer-business interaction.

Companies use this information to course-correct their operations and often as training tools. So far, so good, but this primarily applies to the hospitality sector and high street operators – what about the BTR sector?

Black Ops or Best Practice?

Mystery Shopping often conjures images of secrecy, deception and borderline clandestine operations.  Hence, businesses often shy away from utilising this service, fearing that it will upset the employees, cause disruption, and be a costly but useless tool. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mystery shopping has existed since the late 1940s – it originally started in the US to measure employee performance and general service or product delivery.

Banks and department stores used this service to understand employee-customer interactions better. What began as an on-the-shop-floor interaction grew into a multi-assessment tool, reporting on the many ways businesses are in contact with their customers:

  • Social Media (communication and response times)
  • Telephone (response times, rapport building)
  • Face-to-face (in person or via video recording)
  • Website (user-friendliness, navigation, branding)
  • Email (timeliness, content, rapport building)

There are many more criteria, but you get the point: this is a full MOT inspection of your business. You do take care of your car, don’t you? : MOT, service intervals, a wash now and then, etc. – why not do this at your business? There are so many benefits for you, your team and your business to not look at Mystery Shopping.

A bit of theory…

The principle behind the best practice approach is relatively old: it started in the 1920s with work on industrial quality by the American statistician Walter A. Shewhart. His work influenced a fellow mathematician and statistician – Edward Deming. He invented the Deming Cycle of Quality, a standard quality control tool, also known as the PDSA Cycle.

The following graphic shows a typical PDSA cycle and its four stages: Plan, Do, Study and Act.

The company plans what process needs to change and follows a prescribed path of evaluation, data gathering, testing, analysing and summarising the outcome.

The crucial last step is to act on what comes next: what needs to change and to start another cycle to verify the processes continuously. The secret lies in the ongoing activity of using the  PDSA approach to eliminate pain points in your operation.

best practice cycle

Mystery Shopping as benchmarking tool BTR

The BTR sector is very similar to the hospitality industry: it depends heavily on human interaction to sell your community or brand, with many moving parts influencing the outcome.

A regular audit programme allows BTR operators to stay on top of how they market their business and shape customer interaction whilst getting first-hand insight into the customer perception of their business.

One can learn from organisations such as Ritz-Carlton Hotels that took quality control to new heights: the only two-time winner in the service category of the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge Award. The award cemented Ritz-Carlton’s business as an eminent service organisation, not only internally by increasing revenues considerably but also externally as a benchmark for exemplary services. The legendary “Green Book” remains the best practice bible for high-quality, focused operators.

To get the most out of embarking on an audit programme should be carefully evaluated: what processes need improvement, what changes to the customer journey need tweaking, and what is the timeframe for it? It makes no sense to have one or two snapshot audits – they can only reflect a point in time, similar to tossing a coin. Only with a planned approach will you understand if measured behaviour is systemic or simply a random occurrence.

Whatever you decide, rest assured that you are embracing a best-practice approach that yields many benefits to your business and your customers.

Meet us at UKAA Annual Conference on 15th November 2022

Sebastian will be part of a panel discussion (Session 5 at 1.30 pm
“Lead to Lease – are you getting it right”?)
highlighting the benefits of Mystery Shopping audits and presenting his company as an exhibitor. Please visit us at Stand No. 3 and find out if Mystery Shopping is black ops or best practice!

Company Information:  MORICON Consultants Limited

Registered Office: Kemp House, 124 City Road, London,  EC1V 2NX, UK

Company Reg : 11282307     VAT Reg: 293304896