Overcoming Challenges in Retail with Mystery Shopping

As a retail brand, there are certain elements your company deems important in order to uphold your brand image to your customers.  It’s imperative that each frontline employee represents the brand according to the standards set for service delivery.  But with so many disparate locations, how can you ensure this is happening?  Especially in light of the problems facing the retail industry today. It’s harder than ever for a site manager to maintain these standards, and for the larger corporation to know how best to monitor, motivate, and train personnel to meet these expectations.  Retail site operators face numerous challenges today such as:

  • Shrinking margins/credit card fees
  • High employee turnover
  • More savvy customers
  • E-commerce (competition and/or complementary)
  • Multiple layers from corporate to the frontline (game of telephone)

Mystery Shopping Helps Your Business in Spite of the Challenges

Mystery shopping is designed to break through all of these challenges to objectively monitor, evaluate, and report the consistency of the customer experience delivery at the frontline.  In mystery shopping, expert, unbiased mystery shoppers offer you a complete, unvarnished, and unemotional view of the quality and consistency of your customer experiences at the ground level across all of the channels where you do business. This gives you the information and insights you need to protect your brand, continually improve your customer interactions, and correct problems before they impact your business.

Mystery shopping can help you understand if your business is struggling with things like items being out of stock, wait times that are too long, dirty bathrooms and rude cashiers, so you can take action and improve the experience.

There are many types of mystery shopping, but a few that are useful to retail are:

  • Customer Experience Shops – reveal the behavioral, attitudinal and subjective elements of the customer experience
  • Customer Lifecycle Shops – objectively understand your customers’ experience throughout their entire interaction with your brand – from the decision-making process through final purchase and product service
  • Competitive Shops – discern best practices and other CX dimensions from competitive brands
  • Regulatory Compliance Shops – ensure frontline compliance to federal or state-regulated mandates

Mystery shops can also be conducted in a variety of channels, so if your business operates a call center, brick and mortar locations, and conducts business via the internet, mystery shoppers can assess each of those channels to ensure consistent service delivery across them all.

Mystery Shop Performance Affects Your Business Outcomes

When first implementing a mystery shopping program, it’s of utmost importance to get buy-in from all levels of your organization.  It’s especially important that your site managers first understand the need to adhere to corporate-defined customer experiences and the consistent, operational expectations the company has for all its sites.

Why is it important?  In short, focusing on the customer experience increases sales.

Research shows that your company’s CX maturity is directly related to business outcomes.  The most mature companies in CX practices see a three-fold improvement in financial performance and customer retention than those who only dabble in CX.[1]

In addition, we’ve seen example after example of how sites that score higher in mystery shops also record higher sales than lower-performing sites.

A graph of Mystery shopping vs revenue

These are just a couple of examples you can share throughout your organization to make the case for a focus on CX and the benefits of implementing a mystery shopping program.  Coupled with training on your brand’s specific standards, your frontline will have what they need to fully participate in a program that allows your brand to get an objective view of how your frontline performs on the items that are important to your customers and your brand.

Understanding the Business Impact Motivates Operators to Perform

Once site managers understand that focusing on the customer experience can impact their bottom line, they are more likely to participate in a program that makes sure they adhere to the brand’s standards for the customer experience.  Even if the product you are selling is great, it’s the engagement with the employees that makes a difference to customers. An engaged workforce best maintains positive customer experiences.

At that point, a mystery shop program can help a site manager:

  1. Understand what’s expected of his/her operation and staff
  2. Objectively view the consistency of the customer experience delivery at the frontline

In turn, this helps the c-suite and other stakeholders determine strengths and areas of improvement at sites and across networks. Identifying areas for improvements drives initiatives to update training, create new programs based on incentives/penalties, develop rewards/recognition programs, update existing processes and expectations, etc.

This benefits each level of the organization.

  • Corporate – Assess strategy and operating procedures
  • Field Support – Target support to units needing the most help
  • Site Operator – Obtain real-time feedback and solutions for improvement
  • Frontline Employee – Clear expectations on delivery
  • Consumer – Knows what to expect from your brand, more likely to return, contributing to increase in sales

Communication of the Results Must Be Clear and Useful

The tool your business uses to report the results out to your stakeholders must be clear and useful.  Your stakeholders should be comfortable accessing reports in order to easily identify strengths, pinpoint opportunities, and understand how to address those opportunities.  This will help them view the program as an overall benefit to their business.  They get to celebrate victories and successes with their teams, and can also easily address where improvements are needed in order to continue to focus on the customer experience, thereby increasing sales.  When site operators can easily take action on improving their performance, they begin to see their bottom line improve, which in turn gets them even more excited and engaged in the program.

Unify Your Brand

A mystery shop program can help break through the problems facing the retail industry today. Site managers can keep up with corporate standards, and corporate can be informed on how best to monitor, motivate and train toward their expectations. Mystery shopping will ensure that each frontline employee represents the brand as it should be presented. It will unify your brand and streamline your success.

[1] Source:  MaritzCX Program Market Sizing Study (Population Benchmarking Study) conducted Oct 21-22, 2015 (n=1000); MaritzCX CXEvolution Study conducted August 2015-February 2016 (n>5,000)

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!

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