Gauging Customer Experience-Has Mystery Shopping Reached It's Sell-By?
A comment during a recent pitch we were involved in, set me thinking.
The discussion was on how and why organizations relied on “Mystery Shoppers and Mystery Shopping” as a valid method of gauging Customer Experience and thence Customer Satisfaction.
As organizations continually grapple with getting an accurate fix on what really drives their customer’s behavior, it is becoming increasingly apparent that methods like the traditional C-sat survey or the Mystery Shopper need to give way to a more authentic insight into what Customers, think, perceive and act upon.
Things that are addressed by a Customer Experience Audit.
While I do believe that there are indeed areas where Mystery Shoppers play a role, I believe the one size fits all approach to gauging Customer Experience is perhaps not the right approach.
Why, do I hear you ask?
Customer by Proxy?
Firstly Mystery Shoppers by very definition tend to be people who have the time and the inclination to go shop (Narvaez 2006).
In that sense, they are not “real” customers.
Real customers have specific objectives when they interact with an organization. They have a specific “need” that drives them to perform certain actions. This need of theirs has to be catered to and has to be satisfied well by the organization.
Real Customers have real “stress points”.
A mother of bawling twins, who is battling time, juggling her children and her hunger would have vastly different experience expectations from lunch at a restaurant as opposed to a Mystery Shopper who perhaps would have neither the pressure of time nor any decision driver other than fulfilling the assignment on hand.
Real Customers like to be heard. Hearing them by proxy is just not the same thing. It may seem like the real thing but is not the real thing.
Let’s get Operational
Secondly, Mystery Shopping is “operational” in focus.
“Have I been greeted well? How much time did I have to wait before I was served ?” and so on.
Rarely if ever, is a Mystery Shopping program designed to measure if the customer is indeed satisfied with the “experience” in its entirety.
Am I listening to All of my Customers?
Thirdly, if “real” customers are not the ones you are listening to, how do you ensure that your actual customer base is represented?
To quote from a few interesting studies ;
In a department store setting, men tend to get service priority over women, and style of dress and gender interact to influence service priority (Stead & Zinkhan, 1986; Zinkhan & Stoiadin, 1984).
In another study, Waiters and Waitresses preferred serving men and saw women customers as less friendly and harder to serve, but customers saw waitresses as more friendly than waiters ( Hall, 1993).
A study determined that staff of the same gender and style of dress as the rater received the highest ratings and casually dressed raters tended to give higher ratings than better-dressed raters! (Galin and Benoliel (1990)
Given, therefore the variety of bias that affects the raters and the people being rated, the probability that the Mystery Shopping program represents the entire customer base seems low.
Manage the Perception
“In any service encounter- from a simple pizza pickup to a complex, long-term consulting engagement-
Perception is reality. That is, what really matters is how the customer interprets the encounter” HBR article- “Want to perfect your company’s service?”
This brings me to the last point I wish to make.
If indeed Perception is the key, and how the customer interpreted the encounter at each TouchPoint that she came in contact with is the key, how else will the organization capture this, if not by capturing the Emotions, Thoughts, and Actions of a Customer Journey.
Shouldn’t this be what smart marketers and their organizations need to capture, work upon, improve and redesign if required?