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With a global business climate that is constantly increasing in its competitiveness, many enterprises today are turning to mystery shoppers to strengthen their customer service. While this growing trend was originally the purview of mainly retail businesses, today it is employed in a host of industries. Here’s a look at this unique way of assessing your employees’ performance. If you haven’t tried it yet at your workplace, it may be another tool in your box for improving customer satisfaction and boosting the bottom line.

Rating Customer Service: Are Mystery Shoppers Right For Your Industry?

What Mystery Shoppers Do

Mystery shoppers pretend to be customers to observe employees in a way that allows them to be seen doing their jobs in the most routine way. Without knowing anyone is actually watching them, employees behave in their usual manner, for better or for worse, so management can assess their performance.

Some mystery shoppers conduct buying sessions live and in-person at retail establishments to see how well cashiers and salespeople are adhering to their job metrics. Others shop online or by phone such as by asking questions via chat windows or calling for service estimates. Some lucky mystery shoppers even check into luxury hotels or fly on airplanes to assess standards in the hospitality and travel industries.

At the end of a shopping session, the mystery shopper writes up a report to present to management outlining the positive and negative aspects of the interaction. They almost always have a prescribed set of parameters to measure.

The Benefits of Using Mystery Shoppers

In addition to observing employees more surreptitiously, many managers and business owners like mystery shoppers because of how quickly they can gather information. There’s no need to wait for customers, who may be reluctant to be forthright, to complete surveys. Mystery shoppers are also less confrontational and more effective than having a manager eyeballing a self-conscious employee.

Because employers can quickly obtain information about employee performance, managers can correct less-desirable behavior quickly as well. Management can implement new customer service policies immediately or even remove an employee from an area where they may be doing more harm than good. If the mystery shopping report is positive, business owners can continue with their current plan, knowing the company is meeting customer expectations.

Why More Businesses Are Turning to Mystery Shoppers

Retail businesses most commonly use mystery shoppers, but now other types of industries have caught on to mystery shopping as a way to get the edge on their peers. The downturn in the economy, the increasing availability of goods and services online, and the pressure to turn in high returns to stock holders or venture capital investors have contributed to the uptick in mystery shopping to stay on top.

Additionally, mystery shoppers are no longer stay-at-home-moms who want to make a little extra cash by visiting their favorite department stores. Major market research companies, like J.D. Power, have entered the game, bringing with them the infrastructure to conduct large-scale mystery shopping campaigns and the ability to integrate them into a company’s overall marketing plan. When used properly, mystery shopping can improve customer loyalty, and, ultimately, a business’s cash flow.

One Example of Where Mystery Shopping Can Have a Major Impact

Some mystery shopping companies now specialize in certain areas. One such example is in health care. Mystery shoppers in the health fields do everything from calling for parking instructions at a busy hospital to seeing physicians for actual appointments. In extreme cases, they pose as inpatients to evaluate the continuum of patient care, reporting from the time of admission through an ER, during nursing care in the ICU, and through to discharge.

Health care mystery shopping hasn’t been without its share of controversy, as physicians balk at being subjected to what they see as being spied on by health care management. They also contend that false patients can take up valuable time and resources better used elsewhere.

However, when health care management makes the effort to use mystery shoppers judiciously in ways that don’t detract from real patient attention, the potential for impact is huge. In an industry where customer service can literally mean the difference between life and death, mystery shopping is gaining in popularity and effectiveness.

If you think mystery shopping may be right for your business, you can start small and increase its use when you see success. While there are freelance mystery shoppers available, you can also hire individuals through agencies, and of course, there are always market research firms ready to assist you. To get the most from your mystery shopping experience, give it some thought in advance to figure out how it applies to your businesses marketing and HR strategies. Then, try a test run in one branch or small part of the business. You may like the results so much it becomes part of your company-wide business protocol.