Customer Experience Research is Common Sense

In college, I grew up on watching Steven Wright’s comedy acts. In fact, one-time on a business trip I ran into him at my hotel in Atlanta – what a moment. His comedy angle is basically using common sense thinking and then wrapping a question or comment around that subject. Such as… If you are in a spaceship that is traveling at the speed of light, and you turn on the headlights, does anything happen?”

He is a genius at coming up with questions that have people thinking, “Wow I never thought about that.” It would be interesting to see how he would approach the world of mystery shopping. If you think about it, are we really shopping for a mystery???

Choosing the Right Research Method

Humor aside, one question that I never considered during my college days and have heard throughout my research career relates to customer satisfaction (CX) and mystery shopping research:

Should we do CX, or Mystery Shopping research?

While you can debate the pros and cons of both, they are both proven tools that increase consumer loyalty while acquiring new customers which in the end-run makes more money. The ideal situation is that you should do both methodologies simultaneously, integrating CX results to drive shop scenarios. You would be surprised; most companies do not integrate their CX and shop programs. Integrating your CX and mystery shop programs is a “win-win” situation.

Benefits of adding Mystery Shopping to Your CX Program

If you believe you do not have the budget to do both you are missing an opportunity to improve on your bottom line, CX data tells you what your customers’ perceptions are of the services you are marketing and providing, whereas Mystery Shopping data is a reality check of what is actually being delivered toward your brand promises.

For the remainder of this blog I will be going into more detail on why you should conduct a mystery shopping program in tandem with your CX program.

Mystery Shopping

From Objective to Actionable… Bringing Value to an Organization

Objective Results

Compliance to brand standards (i.e., It’s there or it isn’t; It happened, or it didn’t, etc.) is critical for understanding both company performance and the CX. Obtaining this objective feedback—for objective measurement—is key to ensuring the company’s brand image and value is communicated/conveyed to its customers—everywhere, every time. Ask…

  1. Are all your locations and/or stores equally living up to the guidelines and standards that the company has deemed critical to the Customer Experience and Company Performance? What stores seem to need a bit more TLC to get up to snuff?
  2. Then, if a store is compliant with brand standards and performing admirably when I walk into that store today…when I return three days later, will I have that same experience?

Objective Respondents

Just like your goal of having all locations perform consistently over time, mystery shop results almost always have greater precision—and a smaller margin of error—if gathered the exact same way each time. Every company has standards it expects its locations to follow; proven mystery shopping providers also holds their Shoppers to specific standards—both according to those they dictate, and those that you provide based on what has been deemed most critical to your organization and its performance, brand image, etc. The standards you provide help ensure Shoppers remain objective in terms of what (and how) to measure. By evaluating based solely on the specific definitions of your brand standards, the potential for bias during the assessment significantly decreases. Knowing the Ins and Outs of your defined standards means that Shoppers can look/experience and know ‘right from wrong’, essentially. The foundation of Shoppers’ results tells an objective, dichotomous story:X is Compliant—performing as it should and delivering the expected quality of brand standards/image to its customers…or

X is Not Compliant—it is not living up to the performance/image standards deemed critical to the Customer Experience

X is Compliant—performing as it should and delivering the expected quality of brand standards/image to its customers…or

Objective Designs

Mystery shopping programs must be designed with the end in mind. A client may say: “At the end of the day, I want to better understand A, B, and C. I want to see what my customers experience—the reality of what is actually happening across all locations.” Whatever goals these happen to be become the core of the mystery shopping program. From there, you work backwards to determine (for example):

  1. What makes up these end goals we want to learn about? What is the information that must be captured to provide better understanding?
  2. Once that is determined, we now know what to measure, but now—what does it mean (or look like)—for these things to be “compliant”? To better identify and determine compliance, one may ask questions such as: Was X available at the checkout counter? Did an employee mention Y during the phone transaction? Did the order/process of navigation for Z occur correctly during an online transaction? Then, after the organization’s brand standards are defined, they are communicated to the mystery shoppers. Doing so provides them with an objective lens by which to conduct the mystery shop and a consistent understanding of the criteria that determines compliance.
  3. Finally, we know what to measure and how to measure it, but how does that objective feedback become actionable? In addition to knowing the overall “truth” about a shopper’s experience and/or store’s/employee’s performance (the ‘truth’ being that single point in time at which the mystery shop occurred), Shopper Evaluations are also designed to provide much more detailed feedback for non-compliant items. For example, one might learn that: X was broken/out-of-order in one-third of all location; Only half of all locations had Y displayed for Customers to see; Only 1 in 10 employees expressed Z (again, at that moment in time).


Now why are these detailed infraction results so important? This deep level of insight allows you to focus on those specific items causing non-compliance across all of your locations. In fact, after examining the infractions in aggregate (Analysis), you may learn that this could be a more universal issue than originally believed. As such, this data drives action across the organization through increased (or modifications to) employee training—or even perhaps targeted, remedial programs (Action) —to ensure all locations are now compliant on X or have Y properly available.

The other inherent benefit of mystery shopping is that when the location is assessed (Assessment) again, you will learn whether sites that received that additional training, or participated in those targeted, remedial programs, maintained remedial programs, maintained that compliance over time. Or whether those extra efforts were short lived and the site, once again, was failing to deliver on your brand promise to customers.

CX is a great tool to assist in identifying what are the opinions of your customers while mystery shopping is measuring objective criteria towards drivers and causes for those opinions while capturing compliance to business and marketing standards.

My last question for you is, “Are you using your CX results to assist in measurements/observations carried out through your Mystery Shop Program?

If not, what’s stopping you?