Mystery Shoppers. Need a rebuild?

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    We were taught that history develops in a spiral. At first, the main method of improving the quality of service was a survey of real customers. Special people stood at the box office and asked customers various questions. The received information was processed, systematized, on its basis shortcomings were identified, service standards were developed, etc. Then the era of Mystery Shoppers began, when, under the guise of ordinary customers (buyers), specially trained people come to the company to receive the information requested by the customer. In this case, the needs of customers can be divided into three categories: competitive intelligence; checking that employees comply with accepted procedures and service standards; staff motivation. However, recently the pendulum again went the other way, and EFM systems (Enterprise Feedback Management) are designed to survey real customers (as before the era of Mystery Shoppers), but at a fundamentally different technological level. True, it seems that this trend has not yet reached Russia, so "the men don’t know."


    Will EFM systems push the Mystery Shopper market? Do Mystery Shoppers Need Rebuild? To answer this question, you need to understand not only the advantages and unique advantages of Mystery Shoppers, but also the inherent disadvantages of this method. Today in Russia, the Mystery Shopper method is positioned almost like a silver bullet. This is a universal Motivator so that the staff does not especially relax. It is also a means of assessing the quality of customer service. This is the main audit tool, in a word, and the reader and reaper and dude player. Much has been written about the merits and advantages of the Mystery Shoppers method. But try to find at least one article in Russian, which would not systematically expose the disadvantages, at least the limitations of this method. I did not succeed.

    Relatively high cost, low representativeness of the sample, uncertain reliability of the results



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    I combined these three shortcomings into one, because they are all interconnected. The relatively high cost is a consequence of a large share of manual labor. The low representativeness of the sample is a consequence, firstly, of a relatively high cost, and secondly, of a large labor input. Statistics say representative samples begin with 50 measurements. Today, Mystery Shoppers are invited, at best, once a quarter, most often - once a year, the coolest - once a month (this is an exception). The low representativeness of the sample makes it difficult to use statistical methods, which negatively affects the reliability of the results. Suppose that some seller, whom the girl abandoned after coming to work after a sleepless night, did not contact the mystery shopper who entered the store, as he always does. If the sample were large, this seller error would be compensated by other measurements. If the sample is small, for example, 4 Secret Buyers participated in the “secret purchase”, then it will be concluded that 25% of the staff do not comply with the accepted standards of customer service. Based on this, incorrect management decisions may be made. For simplicity, I simplified the case a little, but the essence of this does not change.
    The uncertain reliability of the results is also a consequence of the inability for the customer to evaluate the quality of work of Mystery Shoppers. How honest they are, professional, impartial (not influenced by the brand, personal preferences, etc.) The customer must accept their professionalism, honesty, impartiality, etc. on faith? I have no doubt that in many cases this is all true, but is it true in MOST cases? "I am tormented by vague doubts . " I will explain why.

    The Mystery Shoppers Method assumes three modus operandi. In the first case, Mystery Shoppers are professionals for whom this is the main job. In the second case, these are real customers who purchase products or services for themselves and regularly report their observations to the management of the customer company. In the third case, these are “professionals” for whom this work is a side job and at the same time a hobby. If Mystery Shoppers were always only the first two categories of workers, there would be less doubt. But today in Russia the vast majority are Secret Buyers of the third category. Of course, they will tell you that these are “specially trained people” and they work under control, etc. etc. But read what these “specially trained people” write about their work on the Internet. Of particular interest are reviews of offended Mystery Shoppers who are being delayed in paying. And what’s interesting, They paid for many years, but now for some reason they have stopped. See which companies do not pay and what they write about preparing their Mystery Shoppers. You will have vague doubts. Conclusion: the results of the work of Mystery Shoppers cannot be taken for granted. They need to be checked and this should be done by an INDEPENDENT expert.

    One of the verification methods is the Expert Monitoring technology used in the solutions Point of sale Tachometer and Loyalty Button. The essence of the idea is as follows. Almost all companies have video surveillance systems installed. Motivate staff by pressing a wireless key fob (or wireless button) to record every fact of communication with a client, every attempt to sell is a must. Organize automatic recording of information about all clicks to the database. Having received a representative sample, organize a selective qualification of the quality of staff work. To do this, it is enough to compare the information of the video surveillance system with the information about the button clicks stored in the database. Qualification should be done by an expert, who may be an employee of ANOTHER Mystery Shopper service provider. Compare the results of Expert Monitoring with the results obtained by Mystery Shoppers. If the expert’s conclusions and the results of Mystery Shoppers coincide, then they can be trusted.

    1. Having constant control of the work of personnel built into business processes will significantly reduce your costs. There are tasks that cannot be solved without Mystery Shoppers. But it is possible to control the simplest procedures, for example, whether the seller says "hello" how quickly he approaches the client, how friendly he is, etc., by means of Expert Monitoring. The quality of modern CCTV systems allows this.
    2. You will significantly increase the reliability of the results. It is one thing when information providers are students for whom it is a part-time job. It is quite another matter when the work of the staff is evaluated by a professional expert.
    3. Constant monitoring will allow you to receive information characterizing the activity of sellers, which cannot be obtained using the Mystery Shoppers method. This information can be used to calculate Net Conversion, as well as to create a much more effective staff motivation system. Read more in the article “Retail. KPI management. Conversion . "
    4. You can increase staff productivity without risk of reducing their loyalty. This topic deserves a separate section.


    Personnel loyalty versus Productivity



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    Since this is a large and important topic, in this article I will only outline the most important points.

    In accordance with the rules of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, company personnel must always be aware of the ongoing “mystery shopping” promotion. In practice, this rule is often not respected. In addition, the results are often used not only to identify “bottlenecks” and whom to send for training, but also for “punitive” purposes. How does this affect the psychological climate in the team and staff loyalty, I think, it is unnecessary to speak. But even if the staff is aware of the ongoing campaign, for most workers this is still causing concern or even stress. The sellers say that they are not so displeased not so much with the fact of the check as with the form of its conduct (á la traffic cop in the bushes). Many perceive this as disrespect for themselves or a desire to find an excuse to deprive them of a bonus, which is often true. And such workers, as practice shows, the majority. By the way, according to the rules, sellers should know by what criteria they will be evaluated, but this also does not always happen. All this reduces the loyalty of the staff.

    So is there any benefit? Does the arrival of Mystery Shoppers increase staff productivity? Yes, it does, but not significantly. I want to present the results of the study The Impact of Mystery Customers on Employees , which was conducted by Lund University (UK) in one of the major stores, which they call High Street Retailer. As a result of the study, it was found that 84% of the staff of the "secret purchase" caused concern or stress. It is interesting how this action affected labor productivity in two cases when sellers knew who the Mystery Shopper was and when they did not know it. The results are shown in the table.

    Impact on labor productivityThe staff did NOT know who the Mystery ShopperThe staff knew who the Mystery Shopper
    Productivity Increased Substantially20%74%
    Productivity increased not significantly77%26%
    Did not affect performance3%0%
    Performance worsened0%0%


    % - percentage of the total number of employees.

    As can be seen from the table, the arrival of Mystery Shoppers increases staff productivity. Thus, on one side of the scale - a decrease in staff loyalty due to regular stress. On the other, a 20% increase in labor productivity. What is more important? The answer is not obvious. Probably in different cases in different ways.

    But is it possible to make sure that the sheep are safe (loyalty is not reduced) and the wolves are full (increased productivity)? My opinion: yes, you can. Please note that when sellers knew who and how checked them, labor productivity increased significantly not in 20%, but in 74% of staff. This is because other drivers work when explicitly checking. If during a hidden audit it is a subconscious fear of a possible punishment, then during an explicit audit it is a desire to show oneself in the best possible way. In one case, a negative control (or perceived as negative). In another case, a positive control (or perceived as positive). See “Control is a delicate matter”. Positive control was called the Hawthorne Effect (the influence of observers on increasing labor productivity), which was noted in the report on the results of the study.

    Thus, the way to save sheep and feed the wolves is to make the control not hidden, but explicit, i.e. staff should know that their work is being checked. Then, by the way, there will be no stress. But for control to be also technologically advanced, it must be integrated into the business process. It is this idea that lies at the heart of the Tachometer Sales Point solution .

    Inability to find out the main thing (secondary information received)



    Mystery Shoppers look at the work of the company through the eyes of ordinary customers, but at the same time they can see what the ordinary buyer does not pay attention to. This is their advantage. But Mystery Shoppers cannot see how real shoppers feel, what they like, what annoys, what they pay attention to, and what doesn't matter to them. They do not know and cannot know the motives of real buyers, for example, why they came here. And most importantly, they cannot say whether they are happy to leave, whether they will come and recommend this retailer or service provider to their friends. This information is absolutely necessary for making the right managerial decisions.

    Mystery Shoppers work according to the scheme they received from the customer. How did this circuit appear? Who came up with corporate service standards? Who said that a desperate seller cannot, for example, cry, but must smile? Mystery Shoppers check the process. But in addition to checking the process, it is necessary to control the result. Monitoring the process allows you to diagnose the problem. But if you do not control the result, then you may simply not know about the problem (do not know what to check). Therefore, to assess the satisfaction of real customers, Mystery Shoppers are almost useless. Conclusion: for effective management of the effectiveness of retail and the service sector, Mystery Shoppers alone are not enough. Absolutely NECESSARY means to control the result. One such tool isLoyalty Button .

    But there is an important point that can not be said. The fact is that controlling the result is also a process. It is not enough to put button remotes at the exit or at the cash desk and invite customers to answer questions you are interested in. They simply will not answer them. Why do they need it? Perhaps when they are very dissatisfied, they will press the “red button”. In order for buyers to answer questions (thereby providing the information necessary for the Business), sellers must behave accordingly. At a minimum, ask buyers to participate in the survey. In other words, you need to control the process. Thus, process control and result control are inextricably linked. Therefore, both are necessary.

    See the whole elephant



    Today, for the effective management of any company operating in the retail and service sectors, an integrated approach is needed - personnel and business processes must be controlled simultaneously from several different sides, using DIFFERENT methods and systems for this. Using only one method, be it Mystery Shoppers or something else, in my opinion, is not enough. Remember the parable about the blind who were asked to say what an elephant looks like? The one who touched his legs said the elephant looked like a tree. Who touched the trunk, said that the elephant is like a snake, etc. So with the evaluation of the company, you must simultaneously use different methods. One method will show one. Another is different. If the conclusions coincide, then you "see" everything correctly.

    My opinion is that in order to see the elephant as a whole, it is necessary to look at the personnel and business processes at the same time from at least three points.

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    The first point is really the Secret Buyers, without them anywhere. The second point is an automated system for monitoring business processes. An example of such a system is the Point of Sale Tachometer . The third point is an EFM system, for example, the Loyalty Button . You can read about the methodology for using the Point of Sale Tachometer in the article “Retail. KPI management. Conversion . " About the Loyalty Button - in the article “Customer Service Quality. KPI self-regulation .

    Do you think that the classic Mystery Shopper service needs modernization and rebuilding?



    So far, in Russia, an integrated approach is the exception rather than the rule.

    “Mystery Shoppers are a universal and very effective tool, the main thing is to use it correctly. We have extensive experience, specially trained people, know how, our techniques really work. ”

    Contact a company that offers the services of Mystery Shoppers, and with a high probability you will hear something similar. They can be understood, they are so used to it. If you talk about this with Business (customers), then with a high probability you will hear that the services of Mystery Shoppers are clearly not enough, that they do not really trust this data, and in general they would like something more efficient and technological. When I say this to companies providing services of Mystery Buyers, they usually answer that they (the Business) just need to change the contractor (partner).

    Perhaps both of them are right. But it seems to me that in the near future the importance of Mystery Shoppers, as an independent service and a universal tool, will significantly decrease. This service will be included in the package of services with the code name Business Performance Monitor (OIE), within which, in addition to the Mystery Shoppers themselves, the Business will also be offered at least automated monitoring of customer satisfaction, loyalty and quality of service. And as a maximum, also management of the main drivers of loyalty (queue length, IT infrastructure health and business application performance), as well as automated marketing research. At the same time, the OIE will not be offered as a one-time service, but as a subscription service (most likely - IT Service). The main tool of the OIE will be EFM-systems, integrated,

    The services of Mystery Shoppers will certainly remain, but they will develop not in breadth, but "in depth". The use of video surveillance ( Expert Monitoring technology ) will significantly increase , which will increase the efficiency of the use of expert time. Experts will remotely (without wasting time traveling) connect to video archives and customer event databases and, thus, evaluate business processes and staff work. Work on the spot, too, naturally, will remain, but it will become smaller, so students and housewives will gradually be replaced by professionals and real buyers (the first and second modus operandi , see above).

    I think that all this will happen faster than many people think, but not before serious IT companies are interested in it. Today, the main constraint is not the lack of demand, but the lack of supply caused by the reluctance (or impossibility) of traditional Mystery Buyer service providers to think out of the box and change something. They are used to it, and they are comfortable working the old way. They can be compared with home doctors who are willing to spend hours asking clients about their sores, giving advice, trying treatment regimens, etc. But if they are offered a cardiograph or tomograph, then most will say that they do not need it. "We know everything without him." Really know? Or just think they know? Colleagues, I am FOR home doctors. But I am opposed to ALL doctors being only home!

    The traditional services of Mystery Shoppers can be understood. They fear that the use of automated systems will deprive them of certain competitive advantages, which are the result of accumulated over the years techniques (training schemes, control, etc.). In my opinion, if these are really working methods, then there is nothing special to fear. As for the subconscious fear of change, here the arguments are powerless. By the way, note that the leaders of companies offering the services of Mystery Shoppers, as a rule, are women, most of whom live on the principle of "the best enemy to the good." And in their own way they are right.

    It would be very interesting to know what YOU think about this. Do you think that the classic Mystery Shopper service needs modernization and rebuilding?

    If you want to leave a comment, but not registered, send it to us at market@prolan.ru . We will publish it on your behalf and with your contacts and details.

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