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User Sense

Mystery shopping and guests: how to get started

In this article we elaborate on mystery shopping, its benefits and various methods to conduct mystery shopping research. In addition to this, we provide you with a detailed step-by-step-guide.

What is mystery shopping? 

Mystery shopping is a method in which companies use undercover customers, also known as mystery guests or mystery shoppers, to assess the customer experience and quality of a service. Characteristic of mystery guests and shoppers is that they behave like a normal customer but pay extra attention to a predetermined aspect during their visit, so that they can report on it afterwards. In short, by using mystery shopping, companies gain insight into the customer experience of a specific branch or department. 

What is a mystery shopper or mystery guest? 

Mystery shoppers and mystery guests are used to assess the customer experience of a branch or department. Where mystery shoppers are used to visit and review a store, mystery guests are used to visit and rate restaurants and hotels. Although the difference between mystery shoppers and mystery guests lies in the industry, it is good to be aware that the terms are often used interchangeably. 

Why companies use mystery shopping

There are several reasons why companies use mystery shopping. The three biggest advantages of hiring mystery shoppers and guests are listed below: 

  • Improve customer satisfaction and service quality. Mystery shopping enables companies to objectively assess the customer experience and service quality. By using mystery guests and shoppers, it becomes clear how customers experience the contact with the company's staff, products, and services. This makes it clear where the biggest improvements can be made, with the aim of improving customer satisfaction. 

  • Staff training and performance improvement. Mystery shopping not only reveals how well a company meets customer expectations, but also provides insight into staff performance. This allows for the identification of improvement areas, and gives companies the opportunity to offer targeted training, which can improve the skills and knowledge of their employees. 

  • Competitor analysis. Mystery shopping can be used market-wide, so that the experience of direct competition is also made transparent. This provides valuable benchmark data that allows a company to understand its position in the market. Once this understanding is in place, you can then work on a strategy to differentiate yourself as a company from the competition, with the aim of achieving a better competitive position and increasing market share. 

What mystery shoppers and guests pay attention to

While every market study involving mystery shopping is different, there are several different themes that often recur. Mystery guests and shoppers are often asked to rate aspects on one of the themes below. The examples below relate to a store visit but can be customized for each industry. 

Experience in and around the store 

  • Décor and atmosphere. Mystery shoppers pay attention to the overall look of the store, its cleanliness, its layout, and its atmosphere. An attractive environment contributes to a positive customer experience. 

  • Accessibility. Is the store easy to find? Are the parking facilities sufficient? To what extent is the store wheelchair accessible? 

Personal contact in the store 

  • Greeting and welcome. How are customers greeted upon entry? How is the personal attention? Mystery shoppers rate the first moment of contact. 
  • Availability and willingness. Are employees quickly available for questions? Are they willing to help customers? The level of customer focus is evaluated here. 

Enthusiasm and expertise of the employee 

  • Product knowledge. Mystery shoppers assess whether employees have sufficient knowledge of the products and services they offer. 

  • Enthusiasm. How enthusiastic and engaged are employees in helping customers? 

Commercial strength employee 

  • Upselling. Are customers appropriately advised on additional products or services? Mystery shoppers assess the commercial skills of employees. 

  • Offers and Promotions. Are ongoing offers and promotions effectively communicated to customers? 

De Net Promoter Score (NPS) 

  • Willingness to recommend. Mystery shoppers assess the extent to which they are inclined to recommend the store to others. The NPS measures customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

  • Feedback processing. How is customer feedback handled? Mystery shoppers can assess whether there is an effective process for receiving and processing customer feedback. 

Types and methods of mystery shopping 

Apart from the different parts that mystery guests can look out for, there are also different methods that mystery shoppers can use to assess the customer experience. The most commonly used methods are listed below: 

  • Visit to a branch. Mystery shoppers visit a company's physical locations and evaluate various aspects, such as customer service, product knowledge, store layout, cleanliness, and overall atmosphere. Shoppers can also actually make purchases to assess the entire customer journey, including the sales process and checkout experience. 

  • Online store experience. Mystery shoppers can contact online customer service to assess the responsiveness and knowledge of the employees. Apart from that, different aspects of the web shop can be tested in a user test

  • Mystery leads. Mystery leads assess how quickly and effectively the company responds to a generated lead, and how well the sales staff tries to convert the lead into an actual sale. 

  • Mystery mailing. Mystery mailers evaluate how the company responds to the email received, including the speed and quality of the follow-up. 

  • Mystery chatting. Mystery chatters rate the online experience by looking at responsiveness, helpfulness, and the quality of the information provided. 

In many cases, companies use a combination of different methods. This makes it possible to assess the customer experience on different components, creating a more complete picture. 

Step-by-step plan for mystery shopping research 

Setting up and conducting a mystery shopping investigation is not done in an instant. Want to get started? Then go through the steps below. 

Step 1: Set goals 

Every study starts with setting clear objectives. Do you want to improve customer service, evaluate employees' product knowledge, or test specific sales skills? Make sure you define this well in advance to avoid unclarity later in the process. 

Step 2: Select mystery shoppers 

Get started recruiting and selecting mystery shoppers. Mystery shoppers can be selected based on various criteria such as age, gender, income, or previous experience with mystery shopping. 

Step 3: Drawing up scenarios and assessment criteria 

Provide realistic scenarios that are given to the mystery shoppers and guests, and make sure that the assessment criteria are clear and unambiguous. When drawing up the assessment criteria, do not lose sight of the objectives of the study. 

Stap 4: Training mystery shoppers  

Make sure mystery shoppers know what's expected of them. Dedicate sufficient time to the assessment criteria and explain how they are taken into account in the reporting process, with the aim of obtaining consistent evaluations. 

Step 5: Execution of fieldwork 

Send the mystery shoppers and guests on their way. Prior to the visit, provide them with a list of the most important tips and advice. 

Step 6: Data collection and review 

Make sure that the mystery shoppers can pass on their feedback efficiently. Then, get started with the analysis to identify all the strengths and areas for improvement. 

Step 7: Feedback and improvements 

Discuss the results with stakeholders and give advice on how to implement the identified areas for improvement. 

Step 8: Repeat the process 

In order to determine whether the customer experience is continuously improved, it is important that mystery shopping is an ongoing process. Repeat reviews regularly to monitor progress, and adjust the program as needed to continue to meet changing objectives. 

Examples of mystery shopping by industry 

Each industry has specific areas of focus when using mystery shopping and guests. Below are a few examples per industry: 

  • Hotels. Mystery shopping in hotels focuses on the assessment of hospitality, customer service, check-in and check-out procedures, room quality, and overall guest satisfaction. This indicates how the guest experience can be improved. 

  • Hospitality. In the hospitality industry, mystery shopping is used to assess the quality of service, speed of service, cleanliness of the restaurant, quality of the food, and the overall atmosphere. In this way, the culinary experience of guests can be improved and guaranteed. 

  • Retail. In retail, mystery shopping focuses on customer interactions, product presentation, inventory levels, the checkout experience, and overall look and feel of the store. By evaluating and optimizing on these aspects, the customer experience of store visitors can be improved. 

  • Automotive. In the automotive sector, mystery shopping is used to evaluate the sales process of vehicles, the quality of customer service in showrooms, test drives and any aftercare. In this way, it becomes clear how dealers meet the expectations of potential buyers.