Choosing a Mystery Shopping Provider: Five Essential Questions

February 17, 2011 by David RichComments

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With literally hundreds of providers eager to help you implement a mystery shopping program, knowing where to begin and what to look for can feel like a mystery in itself. Fortunately, finding the provider that’s right for your and your business comes down to answering five essential questions.

1. What’s Their Track Record?

The increasing recognition that mystery shopping programs can be used as an indispensable tool for increasing revenue and improving service has recently generated a proliferation of fly-by-night providers. And, while many of these providers assuredly offer quality services, researching the history of your potential mystery shopping provider is vital.
To get a read on any potential provider’s track record, here’s what you should consider asking:
Where has the provider been doing business, and for how long? Look for a provider with proof of a six month track record, minimum (obviously, the longer the better!).
Can you contact satisfied customers for a recommendation? In the customer service world where the “customer is king,” be suspicious of any provider who can’t offer such a list.
What qualitative and quantitative data gathering and analysis measures does the provider use? If they can’t clearly outline such measures in the abstract, can they really do it with your actual data?
What they will offer you and how much it will cost? More importantly, how do their rates and services compare with at least one other provider?

2. Who do they serve?

Just like your business, mystery shopping providers offer specific services to specific industries. Some of the most commonly serviced include retail, manufacturing, hospitality, and entertainment, but industries that deal with property management, banking, travel, and even medical fields also employ the services of mystery shoppers.
The following questions can help you assess a provider’s knowledge and expertise within your particular field:
Can they provide examples of previous clients in your industry?
Can they provide specific information as to how the mystery shopping programs they’ve provided for others in your industry were conducted, and what outcomes were recognized?
Note: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the impact of their programs upon profits and revenues, as well as how the data was constructively analyzed for the client.

3. How do they work?

Your prospective provider might provide mystery shopping programs, but that doesn’t mean the way they conduct their business should be a mystery, too. It’s essential that your potential provider explains in detail exactly:
a) How they plan to conduct their research;
b) How they will compile and analyze the data;
c) How they will present this data to you in a highly useable and easily implemented way.
You may also want to ask for the following:
A layman’s explanation of the provider’s methodology, including their qualitative and quantitative approaches. (Check to see if their methodology extends beyond the store by finding out whether or not they offer strategic assessments, retail study tours, presentations, and workshops to help inform and educate your workforce).
The “So What” question of their methodology: “So what does this mean for my business and my bottom line?”
The provider’s ability to custom-design a mystery shopping solution for your specific needs.
Because effective mystery shopping programs don’t end with the mystery shopper, make sure the provider offers a full suite of customer service strategies in addition to mystery shopping, including:
Onsite site audits;
Customer Surveys
Exit interviews;
Social Media & E-Com.

4. Who are their shoppers?

Knowing how shoppers are chosen, trained, and equipped to do what they do is important if you want to feel confident in the data collected; after all, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out,” is usually true. And while you obviously don’t have to get out there and introduce yourself to the shoppers themselves, it is a good idea to have the provider explain the qualifications of their workforce. Remember, their shoppers could soon be shopping in your stores and you want to make sure they pass the muster.
To determine the qualifications of their shoppers, ask about the following:
Qualifications (e.g., What requirements must shoppers fulfill? Do shoppers have to hold a High School diploma or is there a minimum age requirement?);
Experience (e.g., What is the average number of years in the industry of their overall workforce);
Training (e.g., Are shoppers trained specifically by the provider? Are there ongoing educational opportunities offered?)
Rules of Ethics and Conduct (e.g., How is shopper conduct monitored? What measures are in place to make sure shoppers are not submitting biased data?).

5. What about their own customer service?

A good mystery shopping program can often be a long-term investment—one that can pay dividends—so, beyond the fancy letterhead and slick sales presentations, you need to make sure the provider has its own customer service standards. While it’s hard to define, providers that offer that “something extra” are usually the ones committed to working for the best outcome of your business in both the short- and the long-term.
Here are a few ways to spot the “something extra” – a sign you’ve found the perfect provider for your needs.
The provider doesn’t simply collect data; they show you how to benefit from it.
The provider doesn’t just amass statistics; they empower you to use the data by providing the proper tools to help you make sense of your business.
The provider offers complete service programs that show a direct impact on increasing sales, boosting average sale per transaction, yielding a higher number of units per transaction, motivating your workforce, and monitoring employee adherence to corporate policy.
With so many providers on the market today offering programs that all sound alike, finding the one that offers you true value through an emphasis on excellence, passion, and quality is essential to making the most of your mystery shopping program.

Topics: Customer Experience, Blog

Written by: David Rich

In more than a decade as President and CEO of ICC/Decision Services, David has grown the business into an internationally recognized customer experience management firm. In addition to ICC/Decision Services, David has started, bought and/or sold several companies in categories including the in-store demonstration, event marketing, market research, and social media space. He received his bachelor's degree from Syracuse University.


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