How businesses can put their mystery shopping data to practical use

Mystery shopping alone doesn't guarantee long-term growth. There is much to do before and after the use of a mystery shopping program in order for the results to be effective and drive measurable improvements in customer service.

Developing a mystery shopping program is a smart way for businesses to get an unbiased view of how their customer service teams operate. Companies in industries ranging from restaurants to health care employ mystery shoppers to gather valuable insights into how effectively their services are meeting the needs of the consumer.

But mystery shopping alone doesn't guarantee long-term growth. Sure, it opens up access to a trove of valuable data, but companies have to think critically about how to apply that information into concrete business solutions. There is much to do before and after the use of a mystery shopping program in order for the results to be effective and drive measurable improvements in customer service.

How can businesses put all of this mystery shopping data to use? 

First of all, measure the right data
In 2011, Harvard Business Review wrote about how Office Depot was experiencing declining sales even though its mystery shopping program at the time was producing highly positive reports. But upon closer examination, executives at Office Depot determined that their assignments were having mystery shoppers measure what amounted to be inconsequential data. For example, many of the reports highlighted the cleanliness of the bathrooms - something that, while certainly nice, essentially had nothing to do with the retail chain's overall ability to drive sales and increase revenue.

Companies must design their mystery shopping programs to measure the kind of data that directly relates to sales in order to meet specific goals. 

Think outside the box
If a mystery shopping report brings up poor ratings, there are plenty of obvious solutions. Perhaps sales representatives need to be trained better, or maybe certain areas of the store need to be organized differently. But other solutions are not necessarily as obvious. Businesses should be open-minded about the opportunities presented in their mystery shopping data. 

Office Depot's president went back to the drawing board and conducted his own mystery shopping reports at various stores. Eventually, he came away with the enlightening, though not necessarily obvious, insight that his company needed to reduce the size of its stores and expand beyond offering only office supply products. 

Tweak management strategies
Customer service teams have an exhausting job, but certain management strategies can help keep employees inspired and on top of their game. For example, a structured incentive program is often a useful tool in inspiring customer services representatives to improve their performance. Regular pep talks and reinforcement are also essential in ensuring everybody remains positive about the company's mission. 

Mystery shopping has the potential to radically improve customer service, but it's up to the business to actually apply that data to systematic change.