Best in class mystery shop programs clearly communicate behavioral expectations to frontline employees. There should be no surprises in mystery shopping.
Brands have personality. Brand personality is a set of characteristics associated with the positioning, products, price and service mix offered by a company. Launch the program by communicating your desired brand personality. While branding is a complicated mix of product, price, positioning and place, it often falls on the frontline employees to make the brand real in the perception of the customers – to animate the brand. It is, therefore, critical that employees’ service behaviors be aligned with the brand personality. Start the mystery shop program launch with a clear description of your desired brand personality.
After communication of the brand personality, the next step is to define what specific sales and service behaviors you expect from employees as ambassadors of the brand. Create a list of behavioral expectations by asking yourself the following questions:
- What specific service behaviors do we expect?
- When greeting a customer, what specific behaviors do we expect from staff?
- When meeting with customers after the greeting, what specific behaviors do we expect?
- If a phone interaction, what specific hold/transfer procedures do we expect (for example asking to be placed on hold, informing customer of the destination of the transfer)?
- Are there specific profiling questions we expect to be asked? – If so, what are they?
- What closing behaviors do we expect? How do we want employees to ask for the business?
- At the conclusion of the interaction, how do we want the employee to conclude the conversation or say goodbye?
- Are there specific follow-up behaviors that we expect, such as getting contact information, suggesting another appointment, or offering to call the customer?
- What other specific behaviors do we expect?
Remember the goal is to ensure employees animate the brand. Each behavior expected should support this end.
Ultimately it is a best practice to give employees a copy of the actual questionnaire and shopper guidelines. Best in class mystery shop questionnaires are composed of a mixture of objective behavioral observations and subjective impressions and comments.
The objective observations of behaviors form the backbone of the program. They measure and motivate the specific sales and service behaviors expected from employees. These observations must be both objective and empirical, answering the question, was a specific behavior observed or not?
Rating scales are the most common means of collecting subjective impressions. Measures of how the shopper felt about the experience. They add both a qualitative and quantitative perspective to the objective behaviors, as well as provide a basis for interpreting their importance.
While empirical behaviors are the backbone of the shop, many of Kinēsis’ clients consider open-ended comments the heart of the shop. Subjective open-ended questions should reveal valuable insight into understanding exactly how the shopper felt about the experience.
There should be no surprises in mystery shopping. Customer-facing employees should understand exactly what behaviors are being measured, and how shoppers are to interpret these behaviors in terms of completing the questionnaire.
There should be no surprises in mystery shopping. When investments in mystery shopping fail to achieve their potential, it is often because those who are accountable for the results, the front-line employees and their direct managers, were not properly introduced to the program.
Improper positioning and introduction of the program risks creating internal resistance. Front-line personnel may interpret mystery shopping as something akin to Orwell’s Big Brother – interpreting it as a distrustful management checking up on their employees. They may see the mystery shop program solely as a means of realizing financial rewards, rather than more intrinsic rewards such as being better at their profession, and as a result game the system by frivolously disputing shops. This internal resistance often manifests itself in the form of excessive disputes, questioning everything, wasting hours of time reviewing security films, and playing a game of indentifying the shopper – almost always phantom shoppers (actual customers who are not mystery shopping them). All this internal resistance creates an unnecessary distraction from realizing the brand’s customer experience goals.
Key to launching a successful mystery shopping program is communication, positive communication of: behavioral expectations of employees, guidance regarding internal program administration, and instruction on how to use the results to improve performance. There should be no surprises in mystery shopping, surprises create resistance and kills buy-in.
Position mystery shopping as a win-win. Position it that mystery shopping is designed to help the employee by making them better at their jobs. Employees want to succeed. They want to be good at their jobs. Leverage this desire to succeed in obtaining buy-in from the frontline.
It is, therefore, critical to ensure employees throughout the organization are fully informed and have bought into the program before it is launched. Pre-launch communication should include:
- definition of the brand
- description of the employees’ role as ambassadors of the brand
- list specific behaviors expected of employees (including a copy of the mystery shop questionnaire)
- answering procedural questions of how to communicate program related issues
- training employees how to read mystery shopping reports
- Finally, how to use the information effectively, including and how to set goals for improvement.
Proper launching of a mystery shop program is critical to its success. Starting on the right foot positions mystery shopping in the minds of customer-facing personnel as a positive tool to help them become better at their jobs – and offers real benefits to them both in terms of rewards as a result of the shop, but also intrinsically as it reinforces sales and service behaviors that will benefit them throughout their career.
Communication is key – again, there should be no surprises in a mystery shop program.
What do potential members want as a result of a visit to your branch? Or, perhaps more importantly, what drives potential members to want to open an account as a result of a visit to your branch?
To answer these questions, Kinesis conducted research into the efficacy of the branch sales process and identified several service and sales attributes that drive member purchase intent. In our observational research of 100 credit union new account presentations, mystery shoppers were asked to describe what impressed them positively as a result of the visit to the credit union. Excluding the branch atmosphere, the five most common themes contained in these open-ended comments were:
- Interest in Helping/ Personalized Service/ Attention to Needs,
- Professional/ Courteous/ Not Pushy,
- Friendly Employees, and
- Product Knowledge of/ Confidence in the Representative
To understand the relative importance of these behaviors with respect to purchase intent, shoppers were asked to rate their purchase intent as a result of the presentation. Kinesis used this rating to group these shops into two groups (those with positive and negative purchase intent) and compared the results of these two groups to each other. Of these positive impressions, three have strong relationships to purchase intent. They are present with greater frequency in shops with positive purchase intent compared to those with negative purchase intent.
Reason for Positive Purchase Intent
|Relative Frequency Positive to Negative Purchase Intent|
|Product Knowledge of/ Confidence in the Representative||2.7|
|Interest in Helping/ Personalized Service/ Attention to Needs||2.5|
The representative’s product knowledge was cited 2.7 times more frequently in shops with positive purchase intent compared to shops with negative purchase intent. Similarly, attention to needs and personalized service was present 2.5 times more frequently in shops with positive purchase intent compared to those with negative purchase intent. Finally, shoppers were 2.3 times more likely to cite the friendliness of branch personnel in shops with positive purchase intent relative to negative.
Member experiences which focus on personal attention, interest in helping, personalized service, professional, courteous and friendly encounters drive purchase intent as a result of a visit to a credit union.
Most mystery shopping programs score shops according to some scoring methodology to distill the mystery shop results down into a single number. Scoring methodologies vary, but the most common methodology is to assign points earned for each behavior measured and divide the total points earned by the total points possible, yielding a percentage of points earned relative to points possible.
Drive Desired Behaviors
Some behaviors are more important than others. As a result, best in class mystery shop programs weight behaviors by assigning more points possible to those deemed more important. Best practices in mystery shop weighting begin by assigning weights according to management standards (behaviors deemed more important, such as certain sales or customer education behaviors), or according to their importance to their relationship to a desired outcome such as purchase intent or loyalty. Service behaviors with stronger relationships to the desired outcome receive stronger weight.
One tool to identify behavioral relationships to desired outcomes is Key Driver Analysis. See the attached post for a discussion of Key Driver Analysis.
Don’t Average Averages
It is a best practice in mystery shopping to calculate the score for each business unit independently (employee, store, region, division, corporate), rather than averaging business unit scores together (such as calculating a region’s score by averaging the individual stores or even shop scores for the region). Averaging averages will only yield a mathematically correct score if all shops have exactly the same points possible, and if all business units have exactly the same number of shops. However, if the shop has any skip logic, where some questions are only answered if specific conditions exist, different shops will have different points possible, and it is a mistake to average them together. Averaging them together gives shops with skipped questions disproportionate weight. Rather, points earned should be divided by points possible for each business unit independently. Just remember – don’t average averages!
Work Toward a Distribution of Shops
When all is said and done, the product of a best in class mystery shop scoring methodology will produce a distribution of shop scores, particularly on the low end of the distribution.
Mystery shop programs with tight distributions around the average shop score offer little opportunity to identify areas for improvement. All the shops end up being very similar to each other, making it difficult to identify problem areas and improve employee behaviors. Distributions with scores skewed to the low end, make it much easier to identify poor shops and offer opportunities for improvement via employee coaching. If questionnaire design and scoring create scores with tight distributions, consider a redesign.
Most mystery shopping programs score shops according to some scoring methodology. In designing a mystery shop score methodology best in class programs focus on driving desired behaviors, do not average averages and work toward a distribution of shops.
Best in class mystery shop programs provide managers a means of applying coaching, training, incentives, and other motivational tools directly on the sales and service behaviors that matter most in terms of driving the desired customer experience outcome. One tool to identify which sales and service behaviors are most important is Key Driver Analysis.
Key Driver Analysis determines the relationship between specific behaviors and a desired outcome. For most brands and industries, the desired outcomes are purchase intent or return intent (customer loyalty). This analytical tool helps mangers identify and reinforce sales and service behaviors which drive sales or loyalty – behaviors that matter.
As with all research, it is a best practice to anticipate the analysis when designing a mystery shop program. In anticipating the analytical needs of Key Driver Analysis identify what specific desired outcome you want from the customer as a result of the experience.
- Do you want the customer to purchase something?
- Do you want them return for another purchase?
The answer to these questions will anticipate the analysis and build in mechanisms for Key Driver Analysis to identify which behaviors are more important in driving this desired outcome – which behaviors matter most.
Next, ask shoppers if they had been an actual customer, how the experience influenced their return intent. Group shops by positive and negative return intent to identify how mystery shops with positive return intent differ from those with negative. This yields a ranking of the importance of each behavior by the strength of its relationship to return intent.
Additionally, pair the return intent rating with a follow-up question asking, why the shopper rated their return intent as they did. The responses to this question should be grouped and classified into similar themes, and grouped by the return intent rating described above. The result of this analysis produces a qualitative determination of what sales and service practices drive return intent.
Finally, Key Driver Analysis produces a means to identify which behaviors have the highest potential for return on investment in terms of driving return intent. This is achieved by comparing the importance of each behavior (as defined above) and its performance (the frequency in which it is observed). Mapping this comparison in a quadrant chart, provides a means for identifying behaviors with relatively high importance and low performance – behaviors which will yield the highest potential for return on investment in terms of driving return intent.
Behaviors with the highest potential for return on investment can then be inserted into a feedback loop into the mystery shop scoring methodology by informing decisions with respect to weighting specific mystery shop questions, assigning more weight to behaviors with the highest potential for return on investment.
Employing Key Driver Analysis gives managers a means of focusing training, coaching, incentives, and other motivational tools directly on the sales and service behaviors that will produce the largest return on investment. See the attached post for further discussion of mystery shop scoring.
The business attribute with the highest correlation to profitability is loyalty. Loyalty lowers sales and acquisition costs per guest by amortizing these costs across a longer lifetime – leading to some extraordinary financial results. However, the question remains, what service attributes drive guest loyalty?
To answer this question from a behavioral standpoint Kinesis conducted 400 restaurant mystery shops with the purpose of determining which service attributes/behaviors drive guest return intent. Forty-six service attributes were observed across five dimensions of the guest experience: environment, food & beverage quality, greeting, personal attention and timing of food and beverage delivery.
The attributes measured grouped into these five dimensions as follows:
- Table maintained appropriately throughout the meal
- Dining room clean, organized and well maintained
- Exterior building, parking lot, walkways and planters clean
- Silverware, china, glassware and your table clean
- Men’s restroom clean and stocked with supplies
- Lighting fixtures clean and working
- Lobby area clean and organized
- Menus clean and in good condition
- Women’s restroom clean and stocked with supplies
- Bar clean, organized and well maintained
- Room temperature level comfortable
Food & Beverage Quality
- Entrees presented attractively, and tasted good
- Appetizer presented attractively, and tasted good
- Drinks attractively presented, and tasted good
- Dessert presented attractively, and tasted good
- Greeting made feel welcome
- Prompt greeting
- Staff members greet with a friendly smile as being seated
- Thanked and encouraged to visit again
- Ask specific questions about your experience upon leaving
Service: Personal Attention
- Server attentive and prompt throughout the meal
- Server discuss the beverage menu, suggest an item or ask about your preferences
- Server discuss the appetizer menu, suggest an item or ask about your preferences
- Server promote daily specials
- Host carry on a conversation as being seated
- Server discuss the beverage menu or ask about preferences
- Receive appetizer in a timely manner
- Manager engage guests in conversation
- Server smiling and enjoying time with all the guests
- Acknowledged by a server in a timely manner
- Attentive to needs while in the bar area
- Server discuss the dessert menu, suggest an item or ask about preferences
- Server knowledgeable and confident when responding to questions
- Manager present
- Server try and entice you to order their favorite appetizer(s)
- Resolve any service, food or beverage issues
- Food and beverage service timed well
- Receive entrees in a timely manner
- Receive starter soup/ salad in a timely manner
- Receive appetizer in a timely manner
- Manager engage guests in conversation
- Receive drink orders in timely manner
- Receive dessert in a timely manner
- Cashed out in a timely manner
- Acknowledge and get order in a timely manner
- Drinks arrive in a timely manner
In order to determine the relationship of these attributes to return intent, Kinesis asked mystery shoppers if, based on the guest experience, they intended to return to the restaurant. This independent variable was then used as a basis for cross-tabulation to determine the frequency with which the behaviors were observed in shops with positive return intent and negative return intent.
The results of this cross tabulation is as follows:
|Environment||Shops with …|
|Positive Return Intent||Negative Return Intent|
|Table maintained appropriately throughout the meal||96%||73%|
|Dining room clean, organized and well maintained||100%||90%|
|Exterior building, parking lot, walkways and planters clean||100%||94%|
|Silverware, china, glassware and your table clean||98%||94%|
|Men’s restroom clean and stocked with supplies||96%||91%|
|Lighting fixtures clean and working||98%||95%|
|Lobby area clean and organized||100%||98%|
|Menus clean and in good condition||99%||97%|
|Women’s restroom clean and stocked with supplies||93%||92%|
|Bar clean, organized and well maintained||99%||98%|
|Room temperature level comfortable||95%||94%|
|Food & Beverage Quality||Shops with …|
|Positive Return Intent||Negative Return Intent|
|Entrees presented attractively, and tasted good||98%||58%|
|Appetizer presented attractively, and tasted good||97%||88%|
|Drinks attractively presented, and tasted good||97%||88%|
|Dessert presented attractively, and tasted good||97%||97%|
|Greeting||Positive Return Intent||Negative Return Intent|
|Thanked and encouraged to visit again||95%||63%|
|Ask specific questions about your experience upon leaving||35%||8%|
|Greeting made feel welcome||93%||70%|
|Staff members greet with a friendly smile as being seated||60%||44%|
|Service: Personal Attention||Positive Return Intent||Negative Return Intent|
|Server attentive and prompt throughout the meal||93%||45%|
|Server discuss the beverage menu, suggest an item or ask about your preferences||80%||43%|
|Server discuss the appetizer menu, suggest an item or ask about your preferences||68%||33%|
|Server promote daily specials||64%||33%|
|Host carry on a conversation as being seated||70%||41%|
|Server discuss the beverage menu or ask about preferences||63%||35%|
|Manager engage guests in conversation||73%||47%|
|Server smiling and enjoying time with all the guests||97%||73%|
|Acknowledged by a server in a timely manner||96%||73%|
|Attentive to needs while in the bar area||92%||72%|
|Server discuss the dessert menu, suggest an item or ask about preferences||81%||65%|
|Acknowledge and get order in a timely manner||94%||80%|
|Server knowledgeable and confident when responding to questions||98%||86%|
|Server try and entice you to order their favorite appetizer(s)||64%||57%|
|Resolve any service, food or beverage issues||53%||67%|
|Service: Timing||Positive Return Intent||Negative Return Intent|
|Food and beverage service timed well||92%||51%|
|Receive entrees in a timely manner||92%||59%|
|Server promote daily specials||64%||33%|
|Receive starter soup/ salad in a timely manner||91%||60%|
|Receive appetizer in a timely manner||93%||65%|
|Receive drink orders in timely manner||96%||73%|
|Receive dessert in a timely manner||95%||77%|
|Cashed out in a timely manner||97%||81%|
|Acknowledge and get order in a timely manner||94%||80%|
|Drinks arrive in a timely manner||98%||85%|
Putting all this together, the ten attributes with the largest difference between shops with positive and negative return intent are:
|Top 10 Attributes|
|Service: Personal Attention||Server attentive and prompt throughout the meal||48%|
|Service: Timing||Food and beverage service timed well||41%|
|Food||Entrees presented attractively, and tasted good||40%|
|Service: Personal Attention||Server discuss the beverage menu, suggest an item or ask about your preferences||37%|
|Service: Personal Attention||Server discuss the appetizer menu, suggest an item or ask about your preferences||35%|
|Service: Timing||Receive entrees in a timely manner||33%|
|Service: Personal Attention||Server promote daily specials||31%|
|Greeting||Thanked and encouraged to visit again||31%|
|Service: Timing||Receive starter soup/ salad in a timely manner||30%|
|Service: Personal Attention||Host carry on a conversation as being seated||29%|
Of the ten attributed with the strongest relationship to return intent, five belong to the personal attention dimension, three belong to the timing dimension, the food & beverage quality and greeting dimensions round out the top ten with one attribute each.
Directing our attention from specific attributes to broader dimensions, the following chart shows the average difference in shops with positive return intent to shops with negative return intent:
Outside of the timing of food and beverage delivery, the dimensions of the customer experience with the strongest correlation to return intent are the greeting and personal attention, followed by food and beverage quality and the physical environment.
As bank contact centers transition from service hubs to sales centers. It is instructive to investigate which service attributes and behaviors will yield the most ROI in terms of driving sales through the contact center channel.
Beyond the attributes measured in the previous post, Kinesis also performed mystery shop observations of specific behaviors across six institutions with national scope to determine their relationship to purchase intent.
While the importance of a good first impression is true, across the four greeting behaviors measured, there does not appear to any significant differences between shops with positive purchase intent and shops with negative purchase intent.
|Greeting||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Greet by identifying the name of the institution||99%||97%|
|Greet by identifying themselves||100%||97%|
|Ask how they could assist||100%||98%|
This is mostly due to the high rate of performance across these greeting behaviors. Greetings are strong across all shops regardless of purchase intent.
With respect to broader service behaviors, the behaviors with the largest gaps between shops with positive purchase intent and those with negative purchase intent are: suggesting additional products and asking for the business (each with about 2 times as many shoppers who experience positive purchase intent observing these behaviors compared to shoppers who experience negative purchase intent). Use name, use of understandable descriptions and clarity of speech round out the next three.
Hold & Transfer Behaviors
When the shopper was placed on hold, five behaviors were measured. Of these, giving an estimate of how long the customer will be on hold, and returning if the hold time exceed the original estimate to advice of the status of the call were the behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent. Again, both with about 2 times as many shoppers who experienced positive purchase intent observing these behaviors compared to shoppers who experienced negative purchase intent.
Additionally, five transfer behaviors were measured. Of these, the behavior with the strongest relationship to purchase intent by far is returning to explain any delay after 60 seconds. With five times as many shoppers who reported positive purchase intent observing this behavior relative to those who reported negative purchase intent.
Finally, at the conclusion of the call, asking how else the agent could be of assistance and thanking the shopper for choosing the institution were the two behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent.
Of the behaviors measured, a couple of common themes tend to be present in the behaviors with strong relationships to purchase intent. The behaviors with strong relationships to purchase intent tend to deal with the themes of personalized service and valuing the customer.
These behaviors with strong relationships to purchase intent group into these two themes as follows:
- If transfer hold time exceeds 60 seconds, explain delay and ask if customer wants to continue (this behavior 5 times more likely in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative)
- Give estimate of hold time (2.1 times more frequent in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative)
- If hold exceeds estimate, return with status update (1.8 times more frequent)
- If transfer, stay on line until completed (1.6 times)
- Use of name (1.5 times)
- Ask how else could assist (1.5 times)
- Suggest additional products or services (2.1 times more frequent in shops with positive purchase intent)
- Ask for business (1.9 times)
- Thanks for choosing the institution (1.5 times)
To maximize purchase intent, focus agents on behaviors which personalize the service in an empathetic manner (care for the customer and their needs) and value their business.