Mystery shopping may be just what your business needs

By July 1, 2015 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the daily nation of March 17th 2015

Who has ever mystery shopped their business whether in person, on phone, on email or via a mystery customer? An article that appeared in the November 2011 Harvard Business Review outlined how office depot’s former president for North America Kevin Peters used mystery shopping to spark a turnaround in the company. In a faded pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap Peters visited 70 branches to experience Office Depot in the same way customers did. As an undercover customer, Peters is said to have had unbelievable observations. The article says that at one store he watched an employee argue with a customer. At another store he watched a manager smoke a cigar less bothered that customers walked out empty handed, at that point he could not remain undercover. The company which serves consumers and businesses in 57 countries across the globe has more than 2,000 retail store providing a wide variety of office essentials.

Kevin Peters not only sparked a turnaround at Office Depot but he also attracted attention in the world of customer experience. In 2012, Peters was guest speaker at Forrester Research’s Customer Experience Forum in New York. He addressed a ballroom packed with Customer Experience professionals. In addition a book titled Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” which Harley Manning a Vice President at Forrester co-authored starts off with the story of Peters. Today, mystery shopping is a tool used by customer service professionals and marketers in many industries. For instance, I often use mystery shopping to gauge the level of customer experience. I find mystery shopping important because it gives an organization a feel of what its regular customers experience every day.

Mystery shopping started more than 7 decades ago. It is said to have began mainly in banks and retail stores where private investigators assessed the integrity of the employees. Mystery shopping has evolved over time and it is today a fast growing industry employing thousands of full time mystery shoppers. In the UK for example, it is estimated that more than half a million people have registered as mystery shoppers. It is through mystery shopping that thousands of leading brands such as Marks and Spencer, Best Western, Subway, PC World, Virgin, ASDA, McDonald’s, H&M, Pizza Hut, Burger King and others have been able to maintain consistent service. During the shopping experience, the mystery shopper asks specific questions, makes observations and even sometimes records voice conversations with employees without suspicion. Thereafter the mystery shopper spends time writing reports on the experience. It is unlikely that one would suspect that the customer next to you at a supermarket queue or at a restaurant table is a mystery shopper.

In Kenya mystery shopping can be said to be still at infancy stage, only a few smart companies utilize it. However, the future of mystery shopping looks very bright. More and more organizations are taking a keen interest in their customers and seeking to use the customer experience as a differentiator. Such organizations would not only benefit from a new staff going undercover and experiencing service but also by utilizing mystery customers. Do not wait any longer, like Peters mystery shopping may be just what your business needs.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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