Knowledge Is Power: How and Why You Should Mystery Shop Your Team


Feb 17, 2016 | Marketing & Branding

Let’s get straight to the point: if you have customers, you could benefit from mystery shopping. That covers just about anyone who might read this!

Long a retail store method of research, mystery shopping is the act of sending individuals to interact with your team as though they were actual customers, when in reality, they’re assessing and evaluating your team’s work. It has branched out into many more industries, senior living included. That makes a lot of sense, especially as the market for senior living just continues to expand, and more competitors enter the marketplace.

At first blush, it may sound a bit, well … icky, right? Or sneaky, perhaps. But, done right, mystery shopping can be an immensely useful way of seeing whether or not your team is meeting your organization’s goals with regards to customer satisfaction.

To quote famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.”

As contemporary marketing gurus say, “Your brand walks on two legs.” That is, the staff members that  interact with your customers each day play a huge role in shaping and defining your brand image in the public domain.

Do you know how others experience your brand?

“Implementing a mystery shopping program may sound complicated, and it’s not the simplest of things, but it’s definitely a worthwhile effort to embark on,” says Senior Consultant & Director of Market Research Malissa Illiano. “The work setting it up and preparing can pay off in dividends when you discover ways to better serve your customer base, and also identify your top-performing team members.”

First, let’s review why you might want to consider doing some mystery shopping for your own team sometime soon.

Reasons to Mystery Shop Your Team

  • Every customer matters. In today’s economic environment – despite some recent improvements in the national economy – senior living providers have more competition than ever before. This industry was long seen as “behind the times” when compared with “sexier” industries, but today’s leading senior living providers are upping their game. That means your organization can’t stand to lose one single customer. We say this not to be doom and gloom, but rather to simply emphasize the importance of customer retention. Price is not the only deciding factor, especially in the senior living industry, where there is a lot of emotion involved. Plus, it’s a lot easier to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one. Mystery shopping can lend you insight into both scenarios.

  • You’ll gain invaluable insight about your customers. Unlike internal assessments that could be tainted by preconceived notions, biases or prior knowledge of the company, a good mystery shopping program removes all these barriers and leaves as clean a slate as you can hope to get. It’s objective feedback that you know isn’t marred by any of the aforementioned things. That means it offers the closest thing to a real customer experience as you can hope to get. And every successful business owner knows that the key to a successful business is understanding your customer through and through.

  • You’ll gain invaluable insight about your team. Good companies know the value of performance reviews and regular assessments of employees as they work to meet agreed-upon goals. Yet internal assessments, like internal customer surveys, can be tainted by bias, personality, opinions and just generally are at the risk of subjectivity. A mystery shopping program can give you objective insight into the top performers at your organization, and they may very well be those you didn’t expect. It can also highlight shortcomings or even failures that you may not have noticed but could be the reason for a lot of strife or customer loss. Either way, you get information you can use.

How to Mystery Shop Your Team

  • Evaluate potential mystery shoppers. The biggest benefit of a mystery shopping program is the objectivity it provides, like we talked about earlier. A good mystery shopping service will provide that objectivity. It may be tempting to think you can set up such a program on your own, using individuals you know personally or even yourself, but if you do, you run the risk of tainting the results. Think of it like a double-blind survey. You need distance to ensure your results are pure. So, do some homework and interview at least a few mystery shopping service providers. Ask about how many shoppers they can deploy, what their methodology is, if they have done mystery shopping for your industry before, and so on. Make sure the shoppers they will use fit your customer demographic.

  • Define your goals for the program. There’s no use wasting time and money on a program without taking the time to define your goals and objectives for it. What do you hope to uncover in this exercise? Maybe you have a very specific issue you have heard customers complain about and you want to know how your team is handling it. Maybe you have a sneaking suspicion that your team’s follow-up with potential customers is lagging. Whatever you want to know, identify it clearly and identify the specific touch points that will offer your insight about that particular issue.

  • Clarify how you’ll use the information. After you’ve hired mystery shoppers, clearly defined your goals for the program and deployed it, you’ll have a wealth of information at your fingertips. What you DON’T want to do is act rashly or out of impulse, unless there was an extremely worrisome or potentially dangerous finding from the survey. What you DO want to do is make a thoughtful, well-considered plan for executing positive change. Does your team need more training, and can you invest in that? Do you need more team members, period? Does your idea of your “perfect” customer not fit with reality? Whatever you find – and you’re sure to find a lot – make sure you have actionable steps to take to mindfully make changes.

Mystery Shopping, Market Research and Customer Service Training at Its Best

Operating exclusively in the senior living space, SageAge Strategies has substantial expertise and experience in conducting mystery shopping programs that deliver deep insight into your customers and your team. We also identify opportunities for improvement to help you optimize your growth potential. We’d love to help you set up a smart, results-oriented mystery shopping program, so get in touch today if you’re ready to put that knowledge to work!

SageAge Strategies is a multiple award-winning, strategic growth and marketing organization that provides multiple strategic growth solutions.. For more information, please call or e-mail Malissa Illiano at 717-695-6740 /

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