The Case for Automotive Dealership Mystery Shopping Programs

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the CX Cafe Blog.

Being a good son-in-law, I have taken on the responsibility of finding my mother-in-law a new car.  Her lease expires soon and I have been dedicated to getting her the best deal possible—but on a car that is safe for her and for my kids (which she is frequently carting around to go shopping, go see horses, or go get ice cream).  My search has included all dealership’s channels and touchpoints:  online research, phone conversations, and in-person visits.  These interactions with multiple dealerships have all had one main thing in common:  Absolutely no two were the same (which, based on the experiences, is both good and bad).

Because of these varied interactions, I began wondering if those brands were conducting mystery shops at their locations…because if they weren’t, they should really start!  In previous blogs, I have discussed the basics of mystery shopping and how this methodology has evolved over the years.  But the one thing that has never changed is how excellent of a tool mystery shopping is for monitoring and improving brands’ service levels to customers.  Through my car-searching venture for my mother-in-law, I clearly experienced why auto manufacturers need to have a dealership-level mystery shopping program.  Consider the following reasons for implementing a mystery shopping program at your dealership:

Why do Mystery Shops?

  1. Confirm if business standards are being met—You implement business standards to address both operational requirements and the needs of those you serve.  Mystery shops then measure whether or not your dealerships are delivering on those standards.  For instance, is the customer being greeted upon entering the dealership?  Is the customer being asked about his or her need, specific models of interest, or how he or she will use the vehicle?  More importantly, are your representatives asking for the sale!
  2. Learn what customers are actually experiencing—Truly understand why the quantitative numbers from your CX measurements or VOC surveys are the way they are and how can you improve them.
  3. Identify gaps within the customer experience—Improve customer experience by identifying gaps in dealerships’ performance, as it relates to the pre-established goals and objectives set forth by the brand. This a critical component of being able to improve the overall customer experience.
  4. Determine if training initiatives are being carried out—Evaluate the changes in behavior based on corporate interventions or specific training. Is there a change in performance after additional training is received?  Mystery shopping can also help identify, initially, exactly which behaviors or processes are incorrect or under-performing to help build a more relevant and substantive training initiative.
  5. Confirm whether marketing efforts are being deployed—Determine if there are gaps between promises made though advertising and sales promotions and what is delivered. Are all locations fully stocked with sales brochures, promotional materials, and other in-store signage elements that can attract the attention of customers or provide them with more information?
  6. Assess competitor performance to establish a benchmark—Conducting mystery shops—based on your current standards—at competitors’ locations allows you to identify areas of strength and areas of opportunity compared to other brands vying for your customers’ business. It also helps identify best practices occurring at other brands’ locations that could be enacted within your own network to improve customer engagement, satisfaction, and hopefully, sales.  At a higher level, manufacturers can also learn about recommended best practices and disseminate those findings throughout their dealership networks.

Conducting a mystery shop program throughout your dealership network is a major undertaking, but the ROI you experience from it makes it a solid investment of your time and money.  When designing, implementing, and managing your mystery shopping program, you need to consider the following items to help ensure success:

Things to Keep in Mind When Considering Mystery Shops

  1. Set clear objectives—What do you want shops to accomplish and/or what insights are you hoping to learn from the results? How will these be used throughout your organization?
  2. Keep them focused—Make sure you stay focused on your objectives and that the mystery shops are driven by a single, specific scenario. In other words, don’t combine a sales shop and service shop scenario on the same visit or allow your program to become a marketing or operation audit.
  3. Do multiple shops at the same dealership—Design your program that each dealership receives multiple shops throughout each shopping period – it is not wise to base decisions on one point of time. Also, make sure you are addressing each customer touchpoint.
  4. Use results in concert with quantitative findings—Make sure you integrate your CX and VOC results into the basis for the mystery shop criteria to be evaluated. After all, this is what your customers are telling you is important to them, and it will help direct you to the most important areas on which to focus improvement efforts.
  5. Do them on a regular basis—Make sure your mystery shop program is ongoing so you are constantly monitoring performance and identifying gaps on which to improve.

Know What Your Customers Care About Most

Mystery shopping is a strong complement to any CX initiative. It reveals specific, objective issues that affect a customer’s perception of your brand and their experiences while at your dealerships and service locations.  It also helps you objectively monitor frontline performance on items you know your customers care about, based on the consumer data you are already collecting. Mystery shopping gives you actionable data for making specific adjustments such as ensuring sales floors are clean and reducing wait times so customer expectations are met. This in turn brings customers back, builds loyalty, and protects your bottom line.

By addressing the items listed above you can rest assured that your organization will have a mystery shop program that fulfills the needs of both your organization and your customers.  Now I guess I’d better get back to finding my mother-in-law a new car!

About Author

The InMoment Team

Change Region

Selecting a different region will change the language and content of

North America
United States/Canada (English)
DACH (Deutsch) United Kingdom (English)
Asia Pacific
Australia (English) New Zealand (English) Asia (English)