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The Road Ahead: emergent and current trends in Mystery Shopping
(and how you can respond)

Takeouts from the MSPA (Mystery Shoppers Providers Association) Conference 2017, Belgrade

I’ve just arrived back in the UK after the MSPA’s annual conference. For me, it’s a great opportunity to see how our industry is evolving and maintaining relevance. Taking a look at the big themes, it’s clear mystery shopping is becoming more central to, and a powerful barometer of, the entire customer experience. Maybe this is why we are now searching for new value and validation more than ever. Key ideas, and potential responses, revolved around several issues:

  • Seeking and creating real value in a market full of cut-price, reduced value competitors
  • Creating more in depth mystery shopping as part of a holistic customer journey
  • Promoting diversified customer measures – with mystery shopping part of a wide mix
  • Empowering our customers to drive significance, embody values and build a better world, in a time of ‘conscious customers’
  • Educating the industry to achieve a Growth Mindset in customer engagement: embrace failure, be honest, and take iterative steps to learn, grow and improve.

We must seek real value in a market full of cut-price, low-value providers

As the industry grows, we’re seeing increasing commoditisation: the proliferation of ‘tick-box mystery shopping at far too cheap a price’. The race to the bottom undermines the power of what we do and gives customers in the end, little of real value. To respond we can:

  • Make certain we have the highest quality field force in place, ensuring high-quality data, translating into real insight that customers can make robust judgements on.
  • Work together more collaboratively, sharing insight, and avoid making known pricing strategy something to be fearful of.

We must go deeper to create holistic experiences.

The ‘moment in time’ snapshot view is increasingly being made part of (in savvy brands) experiential, ‘deep dive’ MS activity. This is inherently holistic –across the entire customer experience from first to last contact. This reflects a move to true omnichannel experiences, and reasserts (if we needed to) that customer experience is key to competitive advantage. To respond we need to:

“customer experience is key to competitive advantage”

  • Find the right place for MS in the holistic customer journey – in store, online, what blend? Where will it work best and deliver personalised insight across other interactions?
  • Support our customers to work across silos to create the holistic view of their business that the consumer assumes and demands.

We mustn’t make MS the only measure

In a time when the ‘customer journey’ is more complex, nonlinear, ‘one to one’ - and therefore impossible to ‘map’, Mystery shopping is increasingly wide-ranging in its application. But in today’s complex omnichannel environments, you need more tools: MS is only one measure of experience. How to use this?

  • Diversify and deploy all relevant tools for the end customer. NPS? CSAT? VoC? Effort? You need more than one string to your bow.
  • Drive Mystery Shopping across it all; MS can cover every part of the chain, measuring different aspects of CEX more flexibly. In a world where each customer’s journey is a unique story that brands co-design with the customer, MS can be the core of that narrative.

We must help our customers focus on their customers, drive values, and build a better world

We all want to align to what the end customer needs and cares about. In a time of the ‘conscious customer’ this is increasingly about aligning to more profound cares and the world customers want to live in. Customers demand value, but they also measure values and they certainly want to know that a brand is living those values. So, we in turn must help our customers drive their values front and centre. Partly because it’s right, but also – as we can see from the strength of Unilever’s sustainable brands in 2016-2017 – it can have real impact. Reacting to this is about:

  • Ensuring that we play our part in ‘designing the significance economy’: building social responsibility into our vision. We can help our customers to embody their values, educate their people on their importance, and become valued partners in building a better world.

We need to embrace our mistakes – and seek growth, change and iterative steps to success

It’s easy to understand the fear of error (and error-acknowledgement) in service. But error-avoidance is a bad strategy long-term. Mistakes happen; the best approach is to acknowledge it, and respond with small, fast, practical changes. In a world of transparency, real-time data, fast-moving change and fast-changing customers, this is more efficient at evolving service culture than big, cumbersome transformations.

This ‘growth mindset’ approach is heavily drawn from Lean methodologies, based on constant iterative change in manufacturing as key to efficiency, and combines this with the concepts of mindfulness (resonating with the point above). The effect of adopting growth mindset approaches, however, has implications across every aspect of service and complex interactions (it’s increasingly being used in education). The results are provable improvements: in identifying the real value; in collaboration; in workplace satisfaction; in personal and professional development and identifying the key people who will grow your business (Google, Twitter); in perceived responsiveness and satisfaction from customers; and faster routes to cumulative success (Amazon, Microsoft). When those four companies are adopting a strategy, it would be foolish to dismiss it.

  • The key response? Seek openness and change. Don’t be flawless and support your customers to remove blame and truly drive learning and constant improvement. By helping your customers embrace the power of ‘small dial’ improvements in their end customer service, you enable them (and our industry) to build cumulative success rapidly – and drive a more resilient and future proof service culture.

Taking a look at these themes, from the most tactical (fighting against commoditisation) to the most strategic (evangelising a growth mindset), we can see that they are all about defining our industry as it enters a more mature phase and becomes more critical to customer and business strategy. I hope we can all learn from those ideas. In my own work, I’m struck by how our company has taken those lessons to heart from day one – everything we do is about making our world a happier one not only for us and for our customers, but for our customers’ customers. We focus on driving constant learning, achieving step change in service one assessment at a time. Why? Because every improvement and development – and every act of kindness – that we can drive has a positive impact on every life it touches.

Danielle Sones
Experience Director
danielle@aba.co.uk / 0161 431 1221


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