Sign in / Join
Shopper in a restaurant waiting her turn

The Fallacies & Mistaken Impressions behind Mystery Shopping

Why would a customer in the queue who looks innocent enough carry handwritten notes about the dress code, cleanliness of the store, and the speed of service?

And, is this a tiny camera lens peeking out from her purse?

You ask yourself! There is no detective Sherlock Holmes in sight, but is it possible that you’ve just spotted a mystery shopper?

Let’s figure this out.

Probably one of your goals as an industrialist is to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses and to understand your business’ best sales performance techniques as well as its shortcomings, all to what makes you a market front runner. But how do you gain unbiased access to this critical data?

Well, that’s where mystery shopping comes in. However, according to consultants in the field, mystery shopping still has a negative connotation in the minds of many people. And this could be due to a lack of knowledge about what it actually entails and what type of data can be expected as a result from it.

Then how do we clear out those misconceptions?

BIM POS is happy to sit with experts from the field of hospitality who generously open up to their years of experience and hands on knowledge dealing with this subject. Both, Ralph Nader CEO of Amber Consulting and Elie Haddad CEO of MOC Hospitality Consultancy, have emphasized that when it is properly executed, mystery shopping can be considered the most effective way to ensure brand standards. They add that competition is on the rise in today’s world and for any company to be successful it is essential to be consistent and always keep their brand promise.

Then, why is mystery shopping put in a rather bad light; and how does the experts crush that?

Let’s dive right in!

Misconception: Mystery Shopping only serves to catch employees doing something wrong;

This is one of the most prominent criticisms with regards to mystery shopping; however, this should not be the case. The main goal of using this method is to identify differences between defined company standards and the reality in everyday life.

Yes, mystery shopping is a third eye and can put pressure on the staff, but for the better good,” Nader says.

If the results imply that staff is not behaving according to the desired standards, this might not necessarily be their fault. High standards each and every day ensure the right employees do the right things; he adds.

To Haddad, this may simply be a consequence of inadequate training and a lack of information. How about if employees are trained to the fullest, but then work for managers who don’t run the operations up to high standards? he asks. This is like spinning your company’s wheels and lowering the brand perception in customers’ eyes, and this is how mystery shopping spots on.

Thus, before blaming it all on the employees, mistakes in execution should therefore firstly be discussed with superiors and management. If done effectively, mystery shopping is a powerful means for constructive feedback and the improvement of communication and training within a company.

Waiter taking an order at a restaurant as mystery shopper

Misconception: Employees attitude to mystery shopping is by itself de-motivating

Another aspect is the constant assumption that employees don’t like when it’s done to them as it’s simply a means to spy and as a result fire them. Ralph Nader believes that “if you want to fire someone, you don't need a shopping report to prove it.”

Both experts assure that when implemented properly, mystery shopping is intended to focus on a holistic understanding of the business environment and isn’t about focusing on one specific employee. Additionally, employees should be made aware of the purpose of mystery shopping. If they know that all the mystery shopper wants is to give constructive feedback and lay the ground for improvement, there’s nothing not to like about this method.

…and when asked if companies should keep mystery shopping a secret from their employees:

Nader says that it has to be said that companies don’t always keep the use of mystery shoppers a secret from their employees. On the contrary, they want them to know why they think that this method is effective, which goals they’re pursuing with it and hence alleviate the doubts employees might have about mystery shopping.

Haddad’s take on this is that telling your staff about your mystery shopping plans can also have an additional positive effect. Naturally, you won’t tell your staff when exactly the mystery shoppers are going to be around; at most you would give them a particular time span.

A possible consequence of that may be that your employees are always on their best behavior, following all the rules and standards which you have taught them. Consequently, they will act according to your set norms even when there is no mystery shopper around.

Showing how customers look like mystery shoppers

Misconception: mystery shoppers are always difficult customers no one really wants to deal with

According to research, this is still a common belief. When faced with a difficult or rude customer, many employees believe that they have encountered a mystery shopper. Mystery shoppers are generally not supposed to stand out from the crowd.

Certainly, there are also cases in which companies want to see how employees deal with rather complicated customers but usually mystery shoppers won’t act any different than a usual customer. From the shoppers’ perspective, the last thing they want is to look suspicious or be memorable.

Being memorable may mean that they cannot return to mystery shop that location and, in extreme cases, the shop they performed may be invalidated. Hence, being rude, loud or demanding can certainly make the shopper memorable; they will not make unreasonable demands, be argumentative, act rudely toward the employees or otherwise behave offensively.

Cozy coffee shop in hamra lebanon

Misconception: mystery shopping is only for big companies or for just one particular type of business such as retailers

“Every big business has started small; and who doesn’t want their business to grow?” For every customer who complains about a minor problem, fifty remain silent.

Can a business owner hold back to the idea of not using mystery shopping service? Haddad asks. While it may sure be retailers that first come to mind when thinking about the implementation of mystery shopping, there are many other industries that can benefit from it just as well.

Let’s take hotels, banks or salons for example where positive competition among team members or within different outlets can turn the tables - they also have standards and rules which they want their staff to adhere to. So why not use a mystery shopper to check if everything is going the way the management has planned it.

To Nader, basically, any business that daily deals with customers from face-to-face can and should consider mystery shopping to improve get detailed feedback about their performance. “You can burn through a neighborhood with bad word-of-mouth and, without having random shoppers checking on it for you, you may never know how to improve it,” Nader adds.

He continues to shed light on the importance of mystery shopping in relation to promotional programs that any business need, whether small or large:

a. it allows you to compare which outlet is more ready to sell or advertise a promotion in comparison to another one where the staff could be less informed and trained.

b. if the staff is enforcing any promotional program according to the standards then this will enhance the relationship between the staff and the customers leading expectantly to a sale.

Customer Satisfaction vs. Mystery shopping

Misconception: Mystery shopping agencies could break your budget

“You might not blink at spending $500 per month in advertising but balk at spending a fraction of that on measuring customers’ experience in your store.”

In fact, great customer service has a massive impact on profitability. 

Yes. According to one of the business researchers on Mystery Shopping, it’s just like Market Research; and here is the big difference. Mystery Shopping can change staff behavior while Market research measures customer perceptions; they are very different. 

Mystery Shopping goes to deep detail about store operations and can be used to coach staff directly about specific activities. Change these behaviors and you can have a direct impact on bottom line sales, as the latter proposes. “The profit comes from the people wanting to return, not the discount promotions you run to entice new shoppers,” the latter explains.

Last, in today’s fast-paced world where people can access information from pretty much everywhere they go, it’s essential for companies to keep their brand promise. Measuring how this is executed throughout a business network is, however, not an easy thing to do. In this case, mystery shopping can be the solution. Oh, and now do you still believe the one standing in the queue is a mystery shopper?

Layal Dabbous

Leave a reply