Mystery Shopping: The Best Assessment For Qualitative Training Needs

Mystery Shopping: The Best Assessment For Qualitative Training Needs

Learning & Development

GlobalLinker Staff

GlobalLinker Staff

14 Oct 2015, 12:16 — 7 min read

In Problem At Work? Call For A Training Needs Analysiswe had discussed Training Needs Assessment. One way to do the assessment is through Mystery Shopping. Mystery Shopping is a method used by large companies all over the world to do both Pre-Training Assessment (TNA) and Post-Training Assessment. Mystery Shopping simulates a live customer interaction without the assesse being aware of the fact that the interaction is being evaluated.


However, the person who acts as the Mystery Shopper must not just look authentic but also have the relevant experience to be able to make an analysis.


What Is Mystery Shopping?


Mystery Shopping is a research method in which the researcher or data collector poses as a customer or prospect and evaluates the interaction with the sales person or customer service associate. Mystery shopping is not restricted to face to face interactions – it can also be done over the phone.


This is one of a few methods to measure the quality of an interaction. Sometimes, even though a problem is resolved and closed, the customer is left dissatisfied. This could be for many reasons,but the primary reason is the way the customer was handled.

Research shows that customers’ perception of the service of a company is mostly determined by the way the problem is handled rather than the speed of the resolution itself.


Where Mystery Shopping Is Used

  • Product recommendations - Consumer goods companies use Mystery Shopping to assess if the retailer is actually recommending their product or not. It can also help find out which product the retailer is recommending

  • Product display – Mystery Shoppers are often used to check out whether products are being displayed prominently and correctly, devoid of noise (noise refers to the clutter of competing and non-competing products that view for attention)

  • Cross selling/upselling – Mystery shoppers ask for a particular product and see if the shopkeeper makes an attempt to upsell or cross sell other products, and at what stage and how this is done.

  • Soft skills – The service industry uses Mystery Shopping extensively to gauge the quality of voice and in-person interactions. Emphasis is on the quality of interactions rather than the resolution itself. Executives have often been seen to resolve issues (almost to the point of force-closing), without really having satisfied the customer. A recent example is that of a popular shopping portal (marketplace) where a product was returned by a customerand the amount was refunded by way of a credit note, but the interaction left the customer feeling as if he was cheap to ask for a refund. This is a classic case of complaint being resolved but the customer being left unhappy,though system closes the case as “resolved satisfactorily”.

  • Complaints handling – Again, the quality of the interaction with regard to how the complaint was handled is gauged best through Mystery Shopping. Service recovery is an art and mystery shopping is often used to gauge the way the recovery was executed.

    Consider the following four situations
    • Problem resolved – Customer satisfied – This is the most obvious of the four
    • Problem not resolved – Customer not satisfied
    • Problem resolved – Customer not satisfied
    • Problem not resolved – Customer satisfied
    • Retention techniques – Often a Mystery Shopper may pose as a customer who is irate and would like to attrite. The techniques used by the retention executive to retain this customer is assessed by the Mystery Shopper
    • Speed of resolution – Mystery shopping can also be used not just to gauge the quality of the resolution but also the speed of the resolution. A complaint resolved in time is the best way of satisfying the customer. Late resolution can lead to a feeling of ill-will.


Mystery Shopping thus forms an important part of a good Training Needs Analysis. The benefits of using Mystery Shopping in TNA include:

Objective – The TNA is not driven by the hidden agendas of various departments or stakeholders but rather by uncovering the real underlying problems/issues.

Qualitative feel – Mystery shopping is not a mere collection of data but is based on observation, conversation and simulation of a real life situation. Finer nuances can be gauged through this process that give cues to a seasoned trainer/facilitator.

Detached/external perspective – Mystery Shopping gives you a detached/external perspective of a situation and quality of customer handling.


Steps To Conducting A Mystery Shopping Campaign

Define The Objective – Any Mystery Shopping campaign must have a clear objective. You may have felt the need to carry out a training program in your organisation. This need is usually triggered by some event or series of events that highlight a gap between what is expected and what actually happens. By defining the objective, you bring in focus and also create a frame of reference for the training intervention. State your hypothesis clearly.

Define The Scope Of The Study  The Mystery Shopping exercise could be a mere dipstick or may need to be much more intense. It may need a nation-wide reach or may need to be a localised effort. Scoping will help maintain focus and help contain budgets too. Scoping also has a direct impact on timelines.

Agree On Metrics – What is acceptable and what is not are really action standards that you need to agree on before the exercise. These metrics could include things like average waiting time, or even standards related to grooming and etiquette etc.

Brief The Mystery Shopper – Having defined the action standards and scoped the study, it is time to brief the Mystery Shoppers. This is a very crucial phase as an element of subjectivity could easily creep in to such a study. For instance, different Mystery Shoppers going to different branches of a bank may not score in the same way or even observe in the same way. Standardisation and calibration are in order. All this happens at the briefing stage.

Roll Out & Monitoring – You are now ready to roll out your Mystery Shopping campaign. However, it is important to monitor progress from the word go to the end. You never know the surprises that such campaigns could come up with.

To sum up, a good TNA can be reinforced with a Mystery Shopping Campaign that gives you a qualitative feel and also gives you insights into the softer aspects of sales, customer or complaint handling etc. Mystery Shopping should be a planned and integral part of your TNA.


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