What you can learn from mystery shopping


Do you really know what impression your agents are making when they speak to your customers? Tim Ogle believes there’s a lot to be learnt from the words and tone call centre staff take.

Here, he discusses how mystery shopping can help gauge the problem areas, and in so doing increase customer service levels throughout your call centre.

For many of us the humble phone is used for the only contact we have with organisations, yet we spend hundreds, thousands or even – in the case of a bank or building society – hundreds of thousands of pounds throughout our customer lifecycle.

Why is it then, for many businesses, call centre customer service is never what we expect? Too often we end up communicating with automated lines, offshore contractors and outsourced companies that seem to have little understanding of the needs of valued customers.Studies have shown that customer perception of the service provided on the phone is weighted 55% on the outcome, just 7% on what is said, and 38% on how it is said. Easily understandable, efficient, knowledgeable, polite and thoughtful: these are all characteristics that call centre managers should look for in staff as they are characteristics that customers look for in good call centre employees.

But what happens after the interview?

Almost anyone can act the part in an interview, but after a few weeks or months many will fail to maintain

Ten top things to look for in a mystery shopping programme

  1. Genuine customers providing genuine feedback
  2. Recorded calls and questionnaires that can be accessed online simultaneously
  3. Reporting available online within 48 hours to all levels of the business
  4. A programme customised for the needs of your particular call centre/clients
  5. A system that will allow you to compare data from mystery shopping to other customer data gathered throughout the business
  6. A programme that can be aligned with existing incentive programmes
  7. Questionnaires that are fair and achievable for team members
  8. Questionnaires that have detailed narrative comments to support the answers provided by the team members
  9. A variety of shoppers within your target market rather than one or two
  10. The mystery shopping company should be able to provide detailed insight to help you find ways to improve your customer service rather than simply giving you mystery shopping scores

high levels of customer service. Additionally, many of these failing staff go unnoticed for long periods of time, as it can be very difficult to monitor and measure every call centre employee’s performance.

Though all call centres have robust induction and training processes, these cannot always assess and develop the interpersonal skills that are so vitally important in this industry. More worrying still is that these ‘inducted processes’ often become so second nature and routine that the gloss soon wears off; there is never the opportunity for the individual concerned to sit down and reflect honestly on how he or she comes across on the telephone.

This is where regular, consistent measurement and thereafter review and development of the service provided can be crucial in ensuring that forward thinking call centres stay one step ahead of the competition.

So, how can call centre managers maintain an accurate view of their employees’ customer service performance? What is needed is a solution that can monitor employees’ performances in a wholly unbiased, anonymous and real-world scenario. The best way to accomplish this is through mystery shopping.

How mystery shopping works

The process behind most mystery shopping programmes is that mystery callers are briefed with a certain scenario to ring about. Then, using a special number and entering a personal code, the call is automatically recorded by the mystery shopping company.

The caller completes the scenario, which may include asking certain questions or enquiring about certain products. He or she then completes a questionnaire online about the information provided and what their experience was like. This questionnaire is linked to the call recording and made available via a dedicated online website to view and analyse – all of which can be done within 48 hours of the call taking place.

In the past, mystery shopping has often been restricted to inbound contact only. However, this need no longer be the case. Utilising predictive dialler technology, mystery shopping calls can be discreetly streamed in to outbound programmes. The shopper is made aware of what the call will be about, when it will be and is typically provided with a scenario to follow, again completing the questionnaire in the same manner as if it were an inbound mystery shopping call.

The benefits of evaluating customer service this way

Many call centre managers wonder about the added benefit mystery shopping has over their own internal auditing procedures. The truth is that a well-designed and implemented mystery shopping programme will provide staff and team members with confidence that it is an unbiased view from the customer and can provide a wealth of data that internal audits never can.

First of all, the analytics provided by the more advanced mystery shopping systems can actually compare customer service levels, as rated by mystery shoppers, with almost any other piece of data. For example, a company can compare customer service levels to total sales value, average sale value, and instances of repeat customers.

Additionally, comparing this data to other areas such as employee attrition rates or average amounts of incentives awarded to employees per day can provide extraordinarily useful information for human resources and company senior management.

Rather than just viewing how customer service levels impact the company, though, managers can also

Five top suggestions for carrying out internal call centre audits

  1. Use realistic scenarios
  2. Callers should not know the call centre employee
  3. Calls should be recorded and reviewed with agents
  4. There should be variety in the types of calls – for instance, nice, angry, new customer, old customer and so on
  5. Detailed questionnaires should be used for focused feedback sessions

see how their own practices affect customer service levels. Comparing average wait times to costs and to average customer service scores are one very important way of doing this, as it can help identify ideal wait times for optimising costs and customer satisfaction.

Many companies compare customer service levels to employee attrition and discover that when customer service improves, staff attrition reduces. In one circumstance, a company employing over 40,000 members of staff saw attrition reduce by 7% as a result of its mystery shopping programme.

Added benefits for staff

Also, as many call centres use incentive schemes for their employees, mystery shopping can be a fantastic addition to those schemes. Employees who score above a certain amount on a mystery shopping report may win an award, for example, or be recognised in an internal company communication.

Call centre mystery shopping can be extremely cost effective, too. For instance, if the call centre deals with sales, the customer can be instructed not to purchase anything. In contrast, some call centre operators prefer to give their mystery shopping partners the option to make a purchase. This can actually lead to a direct return on investment as sales values could theoretically surpass the cost of mystery shopping.

Of course, some call centres will still find it more effective to simply conduct their own internal audits. The positive thing about doing this is that more ‘outrageous’ scenarios can be used, such as the caller being angry and upset, or just plain rude.

The downside is that the amount of data in these circumstances will be more limited and, as always, risk some degree of bias as the auditor may be looking for different things or expect a different kind of response than an everyday person will.

If a manager is going to carry out internal audits, it is important first of all that the person who makes the call is someone who does not know the call centre employee. Additionally, there should be facilities to record the calls, a specific list of questions to ask and a scenario to follow.

Looking at the overall picture

Call centres are just one of the contact channels a business to customer (B2C) organisation is likely to have with its customers. Mystery calling programmes can be compared to ensure that good customer service is being delivered in the various other contact channels an organisation has with its customers. Internal coaching programmes can also be streamed in to the same online reporting area as the mystery calls and other customer service/satisfaction measurements to provide an overall picture of how well service is delivered and experienced.

All the data from mystery shopping, whether conducted externally or internally, can truly help a business succeed. This information can tell you who among your employees is doing well and who needs some additional help. Programmes can identify specific areas in which employees are lacking, and training programmes can be implemented to help them improve.

Additionally, as part of a carrot and stick approach, incentivising employees for good performance can be the most effective way of ensuring they do give every customer their best.

The public’s opinion about call centres is constantly declining, and waiting times are far from the only factor that is frustrating them. Customer service is essential in call centres if companies do not want to lose their customers. This is especially true nowadays; in a recent survey conducted by Retail Eyes three times more respondents stated they felt they received better customer service over the Internet than over the phone. Companies need to do everything they can to monitor and increase their levels of service or risk future problems.

Searching out genuine customer feedback and making improvements to the service delivery will make happier customers, and dealing with happier customers will ultimately mean happier, more motivated staff.


By Tim Ogle, marketing director at mystery shopping firm Retail Eyes (UK)
Tel: +44 1908 328 000
Website: www.retaileyes.co.uk

Published On: 23rd Feb 2007 - Last modified: 19th Dec 2018
Read more about - Call Centre Management,


1 Comment
  1. You make a great point that mystery shopping can help gauge the problem areas and then a business could improve their business. I was shopping the person in front of me was asking a ton of questions and it seemed like they were asking just to ask. If I had a business I would be sure to hire mystery shoppers that were natural and are real with their experience, so I could get a real review of my employees.

    Sandra Hexner 29 Jun at 7:49 pm
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