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How mystery shoppers can facilitate positive customer relationships

The reasons businesses choose to use mystery shoppers are varied, and depending on the industry, research can take on different forms.

But as a recent report from the Coyle Hospitality Group detailed, a hired secret shopper can serve as an integral element of a successful customer relationship management program. When customer service and congeniality are among the core tenets of a business, it behooves that organization's decision-makers to do as much fact-finding as possible.

Among the most immediate reasons many businesses looking to enhance customer relationships opt to use mystery shoppers are:

  • Simplicity. Rather than conducting a lengthy internal evaluation - of which staff and employees may be acutely aware - mystery shoppers go about their research in a more covert manner and through seemingly organic means. The research being gathered is also as current as possible, delivered in real time and, in theory, from an unbiased third-party source. It's not going to be sugar-coated or skewed by any perspective other than that of the consumer.
  • Affordability. Mystery shopping is considered an extremely cost-effective customer-relations tool because of the flexibility it offers and the quickness with which shoppers can be deployed. The most successful management programs are willing to make adjustments and modifications to their research strategies on the fly. Granting clients access to up-to-date market research without any additional costs or resourcing is as efficient a solution as there is.
  • Attention to detail. Conducting surveys and accumulating industry data can be powerful methods for reaching broad conclusions. But as the Coyle report notes, "mystery shopping is more like an X-Ray." Especially when assignments delve into a specific aspect of the operations, such as return policies at a particular retailer, businesses are painted a clear, unadulterated picture of their services. Furthermore, because they offer a first-person perspective, secret-shopping reports are more relevant to consumers themselves. A survey may help identify a shortcoming in terms of internal production, but a secret shopper gets right to the core of an issue facing the customer.
  • Benchmarking. Measuring unit performance is considered a key component of any reputable customer relationship management program, and benchmarking helps companies set goals, measure performance and identify weaknesses. Mystery shopping can help facilitate these sort of measurements in a variety of ways. For instance, a business can begin tracking the number of times a specific service is mentioned - or omitted - in shopper reports. Those figures can then help establish quantitative goals for the next month or quarter, which may again be tallied through first-person research strategies.
  • Public knowledge. Information gathered from a mystery shopping assignment is typically not disclosed solely to ranking corporate officials. Rather, it is intentionally publicized, circulated throughout online communities in which other customers can view the criteria for themselves. This promotes a sense of accountability, which in itself can be a sort of underhanded public-relations boon because customers see that an organization is willing to look at itself in the mirror and apply constructive criticism for the sake of bettering its products and services. That's not to be undervalued, especially if it's easily apparent the shortcomings identified by a mystery shopping report are quickly and adequately addressed.

Of course, secret-shopping research is more conducive to certain markets and operations. Some entities simply don't possess the same ability to adjust their services in short order, and therefore can't benefit as immediately from these sort of evaluations. But as far as cost-efficient measures of maintaining sound customer relationships go, the transparency promoted by secret shopping assignments is second to none.