Is Mystery Shopping still relevant in a world governed by data?

Bringing data and the employee together through an effective Mystery Shopping programme can galvanise the whole business to be completely customer centric.


Beyond a tick-box exercise: Mystery Shopping comes of age

Gone are the days, thankfully, where the mention of mystery shopping programmes would have caused a groan of discontent amongst employees. Over the last 30 years, reputable providers of mystery shopping (MS) programmes have made great strides in changing the negative association of ‘snooping’ that was prevalent in 1950s-1980s, when the programme’s primary purpose was to check on the integrity of employees. The 1990s saw a shift towards harnessing the power of MS programmes to drive change and improvement in the customer experience (CX), with customer-focused organisations using MS as more than just a simple tick box exercise; instead, they saw it as a means to better understand and glean insight about what was happening to customers on the frontline.

The advent of data in Customer Experience: MS superseded?

And then along came ‘data’, providing a rich source of customer insight and a game changer in how organisations operate. Many organisations saw this as the holy grail – a way to replace their MS programmes with self-service data, and gather insight from a wider base, in higher volumes and at a cheaper cost. Of course, this ‘budget-friendly’ approach to customer insight carries a cost to both the employee experience (EX) and to the customer experience. Customers, with the ‘load’ placed on them, quickly develop survey-fatigue; today’s customers are extremely aware of the tools and techniques involved in surveys, and in response, move to the wider and much less controlled channel of social media, which gives them an effective tool to ensure their voice is heard far more publicly and with (often) a more immediate impact than ‘traditional’ VOC programmes. Employees, often left behind by self-service customer data gathering activities, can become marooned and uninvolved, forever striving for increased efficiency and tasked with turning the dials on the ‘data’; a disconnect emerges between how employees are treated, and how the organisation wants them to treat customers. An absence of a visible service framework that outlines what employees are expected to deliver can also lead to further discord.

The backlash against data – bringing the employee and customer experience together

For many businesses, the advent of ‘data’ was viewed as the answer to everything, with access to data facilitating the automation (and efficiency) of operations. Highly process-orientated organisations can fall foul of thinking data on its own is an answer or it can replace the human element. Eventually, there is backlash – there is a human response. (Think Amazon and the current PR campaign underway within the UK to reposition how they view and look after their employees).

What we are now seeing is a conscious shift to focus not just on employee engagement, but on the employee experience. Organisations are increasingly aware that they need to put their employees (not just their customers) at the heart of the business. Happy employees perform better. Engaged, motivated, committed employees feed into, and are an integral part of, improving the customer experience. And for consumers, our social conscience is playing a greater role in our choices; we are choosing to support companies that treat everyone within their organisation – consumers, suppliers, employees – well. The employee experience is the other half of the customer experience equation – both need to work in equal measure.

Mystery Shopping – empowering employees, and supporting a customer-centric agenda

And this is where effective, positive MS programmes are once again being recognised as an invaluable tool, perhaps more so as a means of improving the EX rather than the organisations sole means of understanding their CX. Overwhelmingly, as organisations try to ‘redesign’ around customers, the layer between the organisation and the customer – the employee – is critical to get right. Nowadays, perhaps the real purpose of the MS programme is to not simply check up on employees or gather customer insight, but to build the layer between organisation and customer, to help align CX and EX – to rejuvenate and galvanise people to engage their customers more effectively, and to provide a positive channel of communication to reinforce company values and expectations.

Data PLUS Mystery Shopping – galvanising the employee experience to drive change

Data can provide granular insight, performance analytics and predict trends, but ultimately it is the employees that are needed to drive the change that the data has identified. MS programmes – done well – are a vehicle of that change. Not only can effective MS programmes positively engage employees, recognise and reward excellence and embed the overriding customer-centricity that organisations strive for, these programmes also offer a visible and intensely human way for the organisation to design around the customer, through the principal tool in its armoury – the employee.