Mystery shopping is not useful!

Recently I came across a report from ContactBabel describing how respondents rated the usefulness of various CX learning methods. Interestingly and perhaps not surprising, were the respondents low scores for the usefulness of mystery shopping. This is a £billion industry – that’s an awful lot to spend on something not seen as useful.

As it stands now, I can understand why mystery shopping is not higher up this list. For many it is simply compliance testing carried out by professionals with a checklist. Maybe there is a different perspective we should consider – perhaps it is not the concept of mystery shopping that lacks usefulness, but rather the execution and objectives.

Compliance not customer experience

The objectives set out for many a mystery shopping programme are focused on compliance and control: Do people follow the correct procedures, are process being adhered to, do staff say ‘have a nice day’ at the end of the conversation (or something equally trite). This isn’t about customer experience, it’s about compliance. It makes the fundamental error of assuming that the ‘process’ (what the business needs to do in order to deliver a good customer experience) is right, and any deviation from this is wrong.

Mystery shopping graph

ContactBabel’s “UK Customer Experience Decision-Makers’ Guide”, available from

Professional mystery shoppers

Getting a group of professional people to visit your establishment or contact your call centre will never get to the truth of the customer experience. They are not genuine customers in market for your product or service so it is never authentic. The methodology is improved with video mystery shops but generally you still rely on the subjective opinions of the professional. It may be a good way to check compliance, but even then its expensive and rapidly being replaced by technology. And the professionals get spotted – even though they say they don’t. With every retailer I have ever worked with, their front line staff always tell me that they can spot the mystery shopper. Surely we can have an objective measure of the customer experience and an effective gauge of compliance in one?

5 ways to transform mystery shopping

There is still hope for mystery shopping to be a useful tool in objective measurement and assessment. If organisations changed the objective and the execution, mystery shops could be one of the most powerful tools for understanding customer experience. Here are five ways mystery shopping (or secret shopping as we call it) can be transformed:

  1. Real customers – who are genuinely in the market for your product or service. You don’t need professionals; it is more accurate and authentic to capture the response of genuine customers. Plus they won’t get spotted by your front line staff!
  2. Real response – capture the genuine response of customers and staff. Use discreet biometrics and covert filming to capture the Tripping Points® of the experience. This captures the objective unconscious response of customers. A far more useful insight that allows you to find out how to improve the experience for customers and employees.
  3. Real analysis – analysis of biometrics, movement and speech (what customers and staff actually say) can check compliance, garner new insights and replace the tick box.
  4. Real insights – uncover both the conscious and unconscious behaviour of customers. Objective data from which to measure and assess the experience.
  5. Real customer objectives – change the objective from compliance to customer experience so you can uncover what’s wrong with the process and how it’s being delivered. And you won’t need to lose the compliance check either.
We call this Biometric Secret Shopping – not particularly catchy we know and we’re planning a session in the pub to try to be more creative, so feel free to suggest something better. Biometric secret shopping uncovers the unconscious behaviour of both customers and employees. It uses real customers who are in market to discover the Tripping Points® of the experience. This way you can objectively understand where and why things go wrong and how you can improve the customer experience.
If you are interested in learning more about how Biometric Secret Shopping can uncover new insights and improve your business then please get in touch