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Complete Mystery Shopper Guide

With Lumiform's free and powerful Mystery Shopper Guide, you can gain valuable information about your business to grow its success and prosperity.

What is a Mystery Shopper?

A mystery shopper, or a “secret shopper”, usually works for a third-party company in order to assess a business’ overall service, employee friendliness, the quality of their products, regulatory compliance, and so much more. They can sometimes be used to get information on products in comparison to other competitive products. They can be used by-product or for service-based companies and gastronomic establishments. Many marketing researchers use mystery shoppers to measure the quality of sales and service, employee and product performance, and other specific information.

Mystery shoppers are not employed to give their input into the business or company. They are only employed to assess some areas of a business, document it, and tender their assessment for analysis. This is so the business owner can experience their own company from a customer’s point of view. Secret shoppers are employed to go to an establishment, act as a customer, and purchase a good or service to get an accurate reading of how the company treats an every-day customer. This is to ensure employees are acting appropriately and providing goods and services of great quality.

The purpose of mystery shopping is to ensure that customers have good experiences with the company, and are therefore satisfied with the business as a whole. Mystery shopping helps identify where the business is lacking and tackle it. Either the company isn’t great at customer service, isn’t organized with their orders, or makes avoidable mistakes with their order; these situations all help to note what errors the company is making and how to take the corrective measures to satisfy customers. Sometimes, third-party companies can also employ mystery shoppers to go check out what their competitors are doing and how they treat their customers. This helps the third party know their competitors’ customer service level, if they are matching up, and if there’s anything they could be doing better.

When employing secret shoppers, most companies look out for great communicators who pay precise attention to details and have excellent writing skills. This will enable the mystery shoppers to communicate with the employee, engage with the business, and also be able to document the encounter succinctly. Mystery shopping started in the 1940s to gauge employees’ integrity. Today, mystery shopping is seen as a method of market research to measure the quality of a company’s customer service. The aim is to improve the all-round performance of the company.

In this article, we will discuss the following:

1. What is a mystery shopper’s role?

2. What are the pros and cons of mystery shopping?

3. What qualities does a successful mystery shopper possess?

4. What industries need mystery shoppers?

5. How could I become a professional mystery shopper in 2022?

female employee smiling while taking a payment at a cafe

What Exactly Does A Mystery Shopper Do?

Mystery shopping is an incredible way of researching the consumer market and experiencing either your goods or your competitor’s goods from the lens of a customer. That means a mystery shopper is employed and picked by the company to test the quality of their product or their competitor’s product. What makes them secret shoppers is that they aren’t known to anyone in the establishment. They come into the company as a regular customer, so they can get an appraisal of their customer service quality.

A mystery shopper checks a company’s quality standards and examines its employee’s level of professionalism. This process is part of a market research strategy so they can understand the shortcomings of their businesses and fix them. There are different types of mystery shopping, which can all be done in different ways such as in-person, over the phone, or online. Regardless of how it is approached, the goal remains the same: to gather information on the product and experience the company’s customer service style. Let’s break down these unique styles:

Types of Mystery Shopping

  • In-Person: This style of mystery shopping is mostly used by companies and restaurants. It is preferred when the mystery shopper needs to communicate with the staff to gauge how friendly, courteous, helpful, and professional they are. This is also used to rate the product as a first-hand user.
  • Telephone: The telephone method is mostly to evaluate customer experience companies. This is used to learn how the agents respond to calls, how helpful they are and if they follow the proper etiquette. It’s mostly used by companies in which calls are an integral part of.
  • Hybrid: This type is mostly used by mystery shoppers who want the full customer experience. It’s great for a hotel scenario; you call to make a reservation and evaluate how professional they are over the phone, then go in-person to assess their services for the duration of your stay.

The Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping

With the advancements in technology, most customers have shifted to online shopping. For companies and businesses who still have walk-ins, it’s only right to invest in your business’ physical space to understand what’s missing and what could increase your growth, which is where mystery shopping comes in. Let’s explore the pros of mystery shopping:

  • It can help you assess your company’s standards. Mystery shopping will help you understand how your staff handle your customers when you’re not there. It also exposes how your business looks from the customer’s perspective, and depicts if you’re living up to their expectations. Leveling up your company’s customer service ensures brand loyalty and smooth-running.
  • A mystery shopper gives a detailed and honest review of their encounter with your company. This cannot be compared to the review that a regular customer would give you; it fixates on the whole experience and makes observations of noteworthy things that an average customer may miss or not pay attention to.
  • Mystery shoppers can be used for other stores as well. If you are wondering what the process of your competitor is and how their customer service is, a mystery shopper takes away the curiosity and gives you their experience with the company. This gives you an insight into how they work so you can improve your business practices. There are so many things to discover about your competitors through mystery shopping, like their products/services, charges, the average wait time for customer service and checkout, their business hours, and plenty more.

Now, for the cons of mystery shopping:

  • The data recorded by the mystery shopper is what their employer has listed out for them. That checklist given to them may sometimes not include some important customer data that the business may want to gather. If it’s missing any important data, the business may not have a good grasp of what its service is like.
  • Once employees are made aware that there may be a mystery shopper coming, they may worry that someone is paying keen interest to them, which could alter the way they normally provide service, giving a different impression to the mystery shopper.
  • Although it should never happen, there’s always the possibility of a bias from the mystery shopper; this could be toward the company itself, the person providing service, or the product. Either way, this bias could change the outcome of the data provided by the mystery shopper, making it obsolete.

What Qualities Should a Successful Mystery Shopper Possess?

Mystery shoppers are evaluators for businesses and need to have some specific qualities in order to do it right. Evaluating companies involves skillfully and intelligently rating a business and its operations. At its most simple description, it could be misinterpreted that anybody could be a secret shopper, but there are some qualities that not everybody possesses that are required in order to be a successful mystery shopper. Some of these qualities include:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • A positive attitude
  • An energetic, confident and friendly manner
  • An active person who can stand and walk for a long time
  • A smart, neat appearance
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Curiosity
  • An eye for detail
  • Reliability
  • Discreteness
  • Articulate
  • Resourceful
  • Unbiased
  • Follows direction
  • Independent

As expected, a mystery shopper should have an eye for detail and be curious about the product. They must read the product description, the ingredients list, the manuals, etc. of whatever product the company is hoping to gain feedback on. There are several checklists for secret shoppers to follow, but shoppers that ask questions tend to get more in-depth, useful information. You would need to review these checklists for its specifics and tailor it more to the company or product you’re studying, and then comprehensively jot down your findings. You need to notice things like if the attendant or employee was friendly and helpful or if the counter was dirty or disorganized.

You must know how to communicate your findings and also have a great memory, since you’re going in as a “regular customer”, you can’t be walking around with a pen and pad. You need to mentally note the important things and then communicate to your superiors when done. If a secret shopper is biased, the whole essence of the process is forfeited. Being unbiased makes your experience as accurate and reliable as possible. Anyone possessing these qualities will do well in the mystery shopping industry.

a happy customer making a purchase at a shop

What Industries Need Mystery Shoppers?

Some companies have never considered mystery shopping as a way to research the consumer market, as they may presume mystery shoppers are not fit for their industry and are perhaps only suit retail. Mystery shoppers can be used for a wide range of industries such as:

  • The Hospitality Industry: So many people in the hospitality industry do not know they can also use a mystery shopper for their benefit. Suppose you own a restaurant, small diner, cafe, or coffee shop. You can employ the services of a mystery shopper to evaluate your business or your competitors’ business. They can help you ensure you provide stellar service at all times, and that your product (being the food/beverages in this case) is up-to-par and stands out compared to other establishments.
  • The Entertainment Industry: The entertainment industry needs outstanding customer experience to keep relevant. This is why secret shoppers are necessary in this field; from bowling alleys to museums to theaters, a mystery shopper providing constructive feedback is key to improving overall service.
  • The Healthcare Industry: Although less popular, private hospitals could employ experienced mystery shopping companies to experience their hospital as a patient to evaluate how empathetic their nurses are and to dictate how professional and fast their service is. This is to improve future patient satisfaction.
  • The Transport Industry: So many companies in the transport industry are looking for ways to deliver phenomenal services to their customers. Companies like airports or car manufacturers also need the customer’s opinion of their products, so the feedback of a mystery shopper is highly useful.

How to Become a Professional Mystery Shopper in 2022

If you’re an avid shopper, what could be better than to be paid for it? This is a great side gig as you can choose hours that work for you outside of any other employment you may possess. There are over six-thousand mystery shoppers currently employed in the United States, which means there’s a space for you in this thriving industry. This is a flexible job without a lot of crazy requirements. Although the pay varies dramatically per job, most times you are allowed to keep the items bought under the budget you were given.

According to Save Student, some full-time secret shoppers earn between £30,000 – £40,000 (which is equivalent to around $29,000-$39,000 USD) per year. Shoppers that earn that much have worked their way up and have a reputation for doing a fine job.

If you believe you would be a great fit for this role, you can start to scout companies you would like to work for. You can visit Save the Student to learn about some of the best mystery shopping companies to apply to.

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