Mystery shopping – making it work for you


Mike Dalloz explains how an effectively run mystery shopping programme will not simply provide an extensive analysis relating to the various components of your call centres performance, but could actually change your staff’s behaviours.

Many organisations that have call monitoring facilities become lost in the sheer volume of recorded calls. But just how do you establish the most appropriate calls to review? How do you assess standard performance measures across a wide variety of customer engagements without knowing to what level the customer’s enquiry was fulfilled?

A mystery shopping programme allows an organisation to focus on key measures and be very consistent in the way they are assessed. It allows you to plan your enquiry line, your ultimate customer objectives and the ways that you wish this to be measured. But if a mystery shopping programme is to be truly effective, it must start, persist and conclude with communication.

What does that mean? Well, initially an organisation has to clearly determine the service standards that are expected to be implemented by customer-facing call operatives. Those standards – which can be blurred, even for large institutions – need clarity and to meet the following six fundamental requirements:

  • To meet (or ideally exceed) your customers’ expectations.
  • To meet your business (and sales) objectives.
  • To be readily deliverable on a day-to-day basis by operatives.
  • To fit with your branding.
  • To be clear, simple to follow and easy to remember.
  • To encourage staff buy-in. Your people should really believe in them.

In our experience, effective communication with an organisation’s operatives, middle managers, senior executives and customers can ensure that appropriate service standards are formulated, believed in and therefore deliverable.

Starting mystery shopping off on a sound footing

Once some standards have been developed, it is critical that they are communicated to everybody within the organisation and, crucially, that front line operatives are given appropriate training to allow them to deliver those now clearly defined standards to customers effectively.

The same ethos applies to the mystery shopping programme. This should only start once the purposes of the programme have been clearly communicated to all staff that are likely to be featured as part of the programme. Remember that it is commonplace for staff to be apprehensive about an impending mystery shopping programme. Questions they will ask typically include: “Why are they doing this?”; “Are they trying to catch us out?”; “How will I be scored?”; “Will I be sacked if I forget to give my name?”; and “Who will listen to my calls?”

Explaining the reasons for the programme and the processes involved will quell many fears, although some level of apprehension and, critically, an understanding of what is expected will improve service delivery even before the first mystery shopping call is conducted.

The next stage is about ensuring that the service standards are translated in to objective reporting questions. These are often collated in to sub-sections with scoring allocation that reflects the importance of each question within the service standards. So, even if an operative fails to score on the majority of questions, by scoring on the important ones, they will end up with a reasonable overall score. In addition, each question must have a clear definition: one that explains what needs to occur for a positive score.

Top Tip: When you have formulated your report, get six people together in a room to listen to a single call and then individually mark the report – without peeking at each other’s. If all the reports are marked in exactly the same way, the report is likely to be objective enough to provide consistent and accurate reporting. If they’re not, you’ll need to re-formulate the report.

Once the programme has started, there are two important outputs:

1) Each individual call recording with its accompanying report

Where mystery shopping has seen significant strides in recent years is in the understanding that it can not only  provide a powerful and accurate means of measuring performance, but it can also be used as a crucial tool for driving performance improvement. Many organisations have come to realise that measuring alone will not create a change in staff behaviours. This is particularly evident when using recorded telephone mystery shopping.

The key for creating change is about getting staff to recognise service issues and understand the need

An employee identifying their own performance weaknesses – possible root causes:

  • Complacency
  • Disagreement with service standards
  • Lack of confidence in applying standards
  • Lack of redress for non-performance
  • Disenchantment
  • Negative attitude
  • Process restraints

An employee not identifying their own performance weaknesses – possible initial root causes:

  • Training requirement
  • Lack of core skills

for change. Many forward-thinking call centre organisations are now conducting regular recorded telephone mystery shopping calls and then having a structured mystery shopping call review mechanism that involves individual call centre operatives self-evaluating their call recordings. Importantly, they are doing this without giving the individual the opportunity to view the accompanying report at the outset.

This process allows you to understand some of the reasons behind disappointing performance by assessing whether an operative identifies their own performance weaknesses.

The use of a structured review mechanism that focuses on the positives and utilises specific language patterns, leads to individual operatives creating their own action plan and buying in to a programme for change.

2) Summary review statistics

It has long been recognised that mystery shopping across a call centre can identify through league tables an organisation’s shining stars as well as their pits of despair. Well today, the level of reporting and depth of analysis is being taken to new levels. Many mystery shopping companies can now provide a wide range of accessibility and online reporting. This allows you to track the precise progress of your programme, listen to all call recordings AND conduct in-depth analysis for your entire team or pre-selected operatives in areas such as: which day of the week or which profile of staff (male/female) are delivering the best service; which department or product category your staff perform best with; and of course which areas of performance are improving or declining.

A useful recent addition is the ability for call centres now to benchmark their performance in key areas against averages for similar call-centre environments.

In conclusion

Certainly one of the downsides of embarking on a mystery shopping programme is that, once you start, it’s very hard to stop. Some describe it like going on a diet; if you are disciplined and you eat properly and take the right exercise, you will lose weight. But once you stop those good practices, the pounds start piling back on. And let’s face it, there is nothing worse than an overweight call centre…


image of mike dalloz

Mike Dalloz is managing director at Performance In People

Published On: 27th Sep 2006 - Last modified: 23rd May 2017
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy


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