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Mystery shopping: A must do

Memory Nguwi

Poor customer service in Zimbabwean companies remains a cause for concern. There are some companies that pride themselves on good customer service and really put effort into ensuring that their customers are served well. There are however, other companies which do not seem to make an effort, or to be bothered at all, by customer service, or the lack thereof. It is interesting to see how some companies ignorantly believe that their employees' customer service skills are ‘fine' or ‘great' but when you interact with their front-line employees you are appalled at the poor customer service.

This information gap is usually caused by ineffective methods of observing levels of customer service and collecting customer feedback. Many front-line employees behave very well in the presence of superiors; but once their superiors are gone, they return to their usual behaviour. Employers can learn a lot by carrying out a mystery shopping exercise and using this to get feedback on the real customer service practices pertaining in their organisations.

Mystery shopping is a tool used to measure the quality of service and compliance with customer service procedures. The mystery shopper's identity and purpose is not known by the employees being evaluated and employees themselves are not aware they are being assessed. Mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions or registering complaints whilst observing the employees response. Detailed notes on the observations and experiences are then developed and submitted to management.

Mystery shopping can be done physically — as a walk-in customer or over the phone. If done over the phone, the person doing the mystery shopping calls your offices, asking for a particular service. As with the physical mystery shopping, the consultant deliberately asks a series of questions with the objective of testing your employees' customer service skills.

The major benefit of using mystery shopping is that you will get to know the state of your organisation's customer service first hand. It is best to receive the unedited notes and voice recordings from the mystery shopping exercise so that you can really see what is happening in your company.

Mystery shopping helps you to understand and satisfy your customers with greater precision. Most of the time, organisations assume that they know what customers want and do not bother to research. They then develop solutions based on these assumptions and are very surprised when the solutions don not work! Customer service interventions should be evidence based. If they are not evidence based, you are wasting your time. When you have the feedback from the mystery shopping exercise, you will be better placed to know exactly what to fix in your company.

I usually recommend that companies perform a mystery shopping exercise before and after any customer service training intervention. In this way you ensure that your training is evidence based and targeted to where the customer services problems and opportunities really are.

Mystery shopping can be done internally or externally by engaging customer service experts. Research has however shown, that if you engage external people, your chances of getting an impartial opinion on the overall performance of your organisation increases.

The shoppers should be well trained and should be able to objectively interact with your employees to get you reliable information. In all cases, the exercise should be done discretely. The fact that there is no prior knowledge of the mystery shopping exercise also ensures that your employees behave naturally.

Lastly, managers need to know that mystery shopping is not a witch-hunting exercise. The results of the mystery shopping should not be used to dismiss employees – this is inadmissible before the Law. Instead, mystery shopping should help target training, develop better policies and produces well-rounded customer service with the objective of increasing customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

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Memory Nguwi is the Managing Consultant of Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number 077 2356 361 or e-mail: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com
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