Politics and Business

Should You Hire a Secret Shopper for Your Business?

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A secret shopper or mystery shopper could be an important way to get an unbiased, objective view of your business and, more specifically, your customer service. Mystery shoppers will visit stores where they then shop as a regular customer would. From there, the secret shopper reports back to you on what they experienced. 

Mystery shoppers might report to you on the quality of customer service they receive, how the store looks, and how easy it was to find what they were looking for. 

Companies often employ these shoppers when they want to know the quality of work their employees are doing, or they want to know more about a store before they make a deal to buy it.  

The following are some specific things to know about hiring secret shoppers. 

An Overview of Secret Shoppers

Secret or mystery shoppers are also sometimes called a mystery consumer. These are professionals who conduct market research. In this capacity, they will gather particular information about a retailer based on the parameters they’re given. 

Sometimes they’re also hired to check compliance with government regulatory guidelines. 

They may make sure company policies are properly being followed, and for franchise businesses, they compare different locations, ranking them on predetermined criteria. 

A secret shopper doesn’t identify themselves when they’re doing their research and gathering information. If employees know someone is coming, they’re going to change their behavior, and the goal is to avoid that as much as possible and get a real, accurate view of what’s actually happening. 

Secret shoppers often work with market research companies, so they have very detailed instructions about what to look for and the type of interactions they need to have. They can take photos using their phones as part of gathering research. 

Once the shopper does their visit, they’ll fill out a survey or questionnaire and provide any other relevant information. An analyst can use this to make a report, and the report may have action items that can be implemented to improve the experience for actual shoppers. 

What Types of Businesses Use Secret Shoppers?

A business in essentially any industry and of any size can use secret shoppers. If you need an unbiased view of what’s going on in a business that deals with the public in any capacity, secret shoppers can be of value to you. 

We most commonly associate the use of mystery shoppers with retail stores, but restaurants, gas stations, hotels, and even banks can find the service useful. Sometimes health care companies and even apartment communities will use these professionals to collect information. 

You can use shoppers to collect information not only on your own business but also to do so for your competitors. You can learn what your competitors are doing, their quality of service, their prices, and generally how they compare to what you’re doing. You can find out information that otherwise your competitors might not be willing to freely share with you. 

Conducting Market Research

This type of research is helpful in particular to measure satisfaction and customer experience. It’s a good way, when done properly, to get candid audits of your locations and employees. You can then take whatever you learn and apply it to improving the customer experience. 

You have to be careful about how you’re framing the questionnaire or the information you’re asking someone to gather, however. If you want to make sure it’s going to be data that’s useful to you, you need to be as clear as possible when you hire a shopper, and you need to think about the analytics that are going to help you make the most valuable changes. 

Put effort into researching the questions included in the surveys you provide to shoppers. 

You should also vet the company you hire shoppers through carefully. Some companies use on-demand contractors rather than following stringent hiring policies, so you may not get high-quality information. 

There are a lot of scams in the industry, too, so the reputation of the company you partner with to hire a secret shopper is of the utmost importance. 

Some of the ways you can benefit from and put a secret shopper program to best use include:

  • You can use shoppers to evaluate your staff. You’ve likely trained your staff on the processes they need to follow, so shoppers are a good way to assess whether or not they’re applying that training. You can begin to identify whether problems your business is experiencing actually do lie with the staff or perhaps with management. It could be that your training and processes aren’t as effective as you thought they were. The sooner you can identify a lack of skills or issues with training, the faster you’re going to be able to work on fixing the issue. 
  • Along with identifying possibly subpar employees, secret shoppers can help you identify high performers. These are people that you might focus on training and developing to eventually take on larger roles in the company. 
  • We talked above about using secret shoppers to conduct competitor research. You can see not only their strengths but also their weaknesses and then potentially take advantage of those by filling in the gaps they’re creating. 
  • Utilize the opportunity to review your internal procedures. You can take on a new perspective and see your business through the eyes of people who are your customers. It’s difficult otherwise to gain this type of perspective when it’s something so close to you. 
  • If you have something that’s failing in your business, like a new product or service, using mystery shoppers can help you get more insight into why it’s not performing the way you thought it would. 
  • You can determine compliance with things like your communication policies or your dress code. You want to make sure there is consistency reflected across your business, particularly in how you uphold your stated values. 

Take your time choosing a mystery shopping agency. You want to partner with a company that has a strong reputation and extensive experience sending shoppers to businesses. Otherwise, you’re just wasting both your time and money. 

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