What mystery shopping is in general has already been explained in a separate article, who was more concerned with the theories behind mystery shopping. In the following, we will now look at how Mystery Shopping is used in practice: How does it work? Both the “why” is clarified and specific methods of mystery shopping are examined in more detail.

Measure shopping experiences

In the fiercely competitive marketplace, the quality of service often determines whether a customer buys or doesn’t buy, and whether he or she will visit again. A practical and promising method for the sustained testing and assurance of above-average service quality is the test customer procedure, also known as mystery shopping or mystery research.

“I have a shopping experience when my expectations are exceeded, This is the partial conclusion of a study conducted by the Deggendorf University of Applied Sciences under the leadership of Prof. Christian Zich. What can mystery shopping do for the individual company and for whom is this method suitable? Many large companies already use the method effectively. Mystery shopping is also an effective way for small and medium-sized companies that have a branch network, for example, to keep their own service quality continuously high.

Can mystery shopping increase sales?

The answer was “Yes”. Provided that the results of the mystery tests are used as a proactive means of motivating employees and implementing high service standards. First and foremost, the method of mystery shopping is suitable for measuring service quality: for example, how employees act in the sales situation and in the sales talk, or whether objective standards such as cleanliness and the way goods are presented are implemented correctly in all stores.

What works well is promoted, gaps are identified and counteracted. The great advantage of the method is that it tests objectively in the real sales situation, unlike customer surveys that “only” collect personal opinions.

What does mystery shopping test?

Well-trained mystery testers put their feelers out wide and objectively test different dimensions of a sales or consulting situation. Dimensions that make sense in almost all tests include friendliness, orientation and perception of the customer, and expertise. This ranges from questions such as “Does the employee know about the product?”, “Does the sales staff act on the information they receive from the customer?”, “Does the employee build a relationship with the customer?” – to questions about additional sales and customer loyalty measures.

Market-Scout, based in Vienna, has been conducting mystery projects for many years. Using a combination of customer satisfaction surveys and objective test purchases, multiple perspectives are examined. From MarketScout’s point of view, it is also important not to leave the findings in a vacuum, but to put them in relation to a company’s overarching marketing strategy.

How does a mystery shopping project work in practice?

The starting point of any research is always the identification of a discrepancy or a problem linked to curiosity. Perhaps the number of customers is declining or more and more complaints are occurring. Or the company is faced with sudden unexplained shrinkage of goods. A briefing discussion is therefore usually useful to clarify the individual concerns and also what a mystery study can do here.

In addition to the survey instrument, individual test scenarios, so-called scripts for covert purchasing, are designed. Following the training of the testers, they go into the field and handle the tests, usually within a predefined period of time. The results are compiled in a report that also contains concrete suggestions for individual marketing and sales measures.

Service quality as a central variable of customer satisfaction

What methods can be used to measure customer satisfaction? And why is it important to do this regularly?

Importance of customer satisfaction in the company

Customer satisfaction is an important factor when it comes to influencing the business success of a company in the long term.

But how satisfied is the customer? How satisfied is the customer? A survey culture has developed to measure customer satisfaction values, which has reached a new dimension in particular through the electronic media. Surveys collect the subjective opinion of the respondent. This can provide important clues. Another method for measuring service quality is the so-called mystery shopping. In this process, an undercover test customer checks various parameters in a real sales situation on the basis of previously defined dimensions, such as friendliness, cleanliness or the quality of the conversation.

The reasons when and why the purchaser of a service is satisfied can be manifold. Especially in the consulting-intensive retail sector, service quality is one of the key factors influencing customer satisfaction.A mystery shopper with a checklist in a workshop

Methods for measuring customer satisfaction

Quantitative procedures and standardized survey methods easily reach their limits when trying to shed light on the phenomenon of “service”. This fact is often referred to by the termintangibility of services and refers to the volatility of service interactions.

Most of the test criteria, which are suitable for assessing the quality of service, can only be perceived and evaluated during the process of service provision. Therefore, the method of mystery shopping is particularly suitable in this case.

Customer satisfaction surveys VS Mystery Shopping

Classic customer satisfaction surveys collect information about customer expectations and their fulfillment in the past.

Mystery shopping enables the collection of customer perceptions in terms of time in direct contact with the object.

The trained mystery shoppers can, mathematically speaking, explain a significantly higher part of the variance of the advisory satisfaction judgment through their experience than is possible for the real customers.

Importance of the training of mystery shoppers

Through the training and experience of the mystery shoppers, it is (better) possible to evaluate even individual components of the service. Thus, the great strength of mystery shopping lies precisely in capturing the snapshot, as the authentic situation of the company is captured in a timely manner. Classic customer satisfaction surveys start with the difference between expected and perceived service – mystery shopping, on the other hand, starts with the creation of the service. As a result, mystery shopping provides the service provider with more diverse and concrete opportunities for improvement.

The gap model of Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry

The gap model illustrates the area of customer satisfaction investigation that classic customer surveys cannot perceive, but which can be uncovered with the help of mystery shopping.

Gap model by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry (own representation)

The gap model is based on the assumption that the quality perceived by the customer, is the result of the comparison of expected and receivedservice (Gap 5). Gap 1-4 denotes discrepancies on the provider side of the service. Gap 1 refers to management misconceptions about customer expectations. Gap 2 results from the difference created by Gap 1. Practically speaking, the decision-makers’ misconceptions about customer expectations result in mismatched specifications for the service. Gap 3 refers to guidelines that are misunderstood by employees, and Gap 4 refers to services that are miscommunicated.

Gaining knowledge through video mystery shopping

Recording a mystery shopping session on video is a novelty in the German-speaking world – the method is not yet as widespread in this country as it is in the Anglo-American world, for example. The big question is: what are the benefits of video mystery shopping and how can the data be meaningfully evaluated?

Video mystery shopping offers several advantages over conventional mystery shopping. Depending on the industry and the subject of the investigation, the video provides more detailed and comprehensible data. It also contributes to more objectivity, as the statements of the individual mystery shopper are mirrored by third parties. A major advantage of video recording is the better traceability of the test situation. In addition to the tester, an independent third party also checks the data. This leads to a stronger objectification of the results. In this way, the respective store setup and the shopper’s contact points as well as the point of sale are also analyzed.

Better traceability and more objectivity

For the clients of the mystery shopping study, the great advantage of video mystery shopping is also the better traceability – they can experience the mystery shopping live themselves. Thus, a test may give rise to further questions that were not at all clear at the beginning of the investigation. In principle, video mystery shopping runs similarly to classic mystery shopping according to a predefined script – the so-called test scenario. The survey form is also to be completed by the mystery shoppers after the visit. The video recording is used to verify the test by one or more independent persons. In addition, the video provides further data, for example, on setting up the store or designing the point of sale. All in all, the written results in the evaluation sheet become much more comprehensible.

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