Mystery Shopping: The Key to Understanding Your Customers

 Lonnie Sciambi  1 Comment

An old Bob Dylan song, entitled “Positively Fourth Street,” had a great line in it – “…I wish that for just one time, you could stand inside my shoes, and for just one moment I could be you.” Have you ever thought about standing in your customer’s shoes and trying to really get a handle on how differently you might view your company, employees, and products through their eyes? How big a disconnect do you think there would be?

Mystery Shopping: The Key to Understanding Your Customers

Gaining a customer’s perspective is critically important to creating and maintaining good customer relationships. Do you really know what it’s like to do business with your company from their vantage point? There are a number of ways to go about learning this, but one stands out above most. Have you ever “shopped” your own business? You know, had someone pose as a potential customer?

Big companies do it all the time. It’s called “mystery shopping,” and it’s a marketing tool used to measure the quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. Basically, a company hires a market research firm to “shop” its business. They go through the buying process, buy a product or products, and then report back on the entire customer experience from response time to interaction with employees to dealing with customer support issues (return the product or register a complaint).

Now, most small business owners operating on a tight budget don’t have the discretionary funds to employ such firms. But that shouldn’t stop you from gaining that critical customer perspective…to stand in their shoes. You just have to be creative. Here’s one way to address it:

Go to a local school.
Find a local university or community college that has a marketing department and propose to the department head that they undertake a “shopping” project for your company. It’s a “multiple win” for the students, your business, and the school. The students get a real-life field experience and you get an objective perspective from your customers (in this case, the students). The school gets to play a part in the business community and you establish a relationship with the school that could provide you interns or even professional hires, later.

In addition, it doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) a one-time thing. You could have them do it, multiple times a year. And, oh yes, you’ll get a nice report and you can’t beat the price (hey, maybe a couple of pizzas, but not a lot more).

Determine what you most want to know about your customer.
Based on the kind of data you want to learn about customer interaction, you can craft various scenarios with them. For example, how quickly are calls returned or emails answered? How easy is it to get product information, either from your website or from a sales person? How responsive and creative are customer support people to “off the wall” problems or customers? You get the picture.

Keep your employees “in the loop.”
Let employees know that it’s coming. This is not a “witch hunt!” No “Undercover Boss” stuff here. While you don’t necessarily want them to be on their best behavior to skew results (but hey, nothing wrong with giving their best behavior with customers, for whatever reason), not telling them creates a problem where you may not have one. One of trust. Keep it open and above board and keep them “in the loop” on results. Regardless of whether they are part of the problem; they will be part of the solution.

Standing in your customer’s shoes is a critically important perspective for you to have. It provides an unfiltered view of your company and your products and services as well as how well the customer is supported. And that understanding is the foundation for a solid, long-term customer relationship.

“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things. He’s been there. May success be with you!

Have you ever had your business “shopped?” Include your experience in your comments. It will help other entrepreneurs!

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