The Real Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping

The Real Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping

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The Real Pros and Cons of Mystery Shopping

Mystery shop programs were once the best way to learn about the everyday customer experience your brand delivers. They proved successful for driving operational effectiveness and identifying occasional areas for opportunity. But as the marketplace evolved, so too have customers and the technologies they use to interact with brands.

While mystery shopping could still provide some valuable information, the question is whether that information is comprehensive or actionable enough to actually improve your business.

To help you make an informed decision on whether a mystery shop program is the right fit for your brand, we’ve laid out some pros and cons for this method. We’ve also provided a side-by-side comparison of how mystery shopping stacks up against customer experience measurement programs. Use this as a guide while you consider your options.

Mystery shop programs: The pros

Perhaps the biggest perk of a mystery shop program is its ease. This one-off approach provides brands with a simple way to measure a single customer experience—keeping an eye on how operational standards are being executed by field teams.

Proponents of this method also appreciate its element of surprise, as it keeps employees on their toes in anticipation. With the looming possibility of being secretly shopped at any time, mystery shopping can serve as a valuable employee incentive tool. You pass the mystery shop, you are rewarded. If not, there are consequences—so you better stay on your A-game.

Mystery shop programs: The cons

While this one-point-in-time method can provide a snapshot of a singular customer experience, mystery shopping fails to shine light on the representative experience of your whole customer base. And that means you could be focused on the wrong thing and missing the big picture.

Mystery shopping provides brands with scores, but real change happens when organizations can turn CX data into actionable insights. For mystery shopping to provide the level of collective analysis brands need to drive real change, the frequency would need to be very high. But high frequency mystery shopping isn’t cheap—so if you want to increase your secret shop visits, be prepared to pay a high price.

Mystery shop programs vs. customer experience measurement programs

Mystery shopping can be beneficial, but to measure and improve the consumer-brand relationship in a more meaningful way, brands should consider a more agile approach to collecting and acting on feedback. Enter customer experience (CX) measurement programs. In addition to providing the operational insights of mystery shopping programs, CX programs also deliver a deeper, more holistic view of the entire customer experience by enabling brands to trigger surveys to actual customers. Going beyond the sporadic, point-in-time interactions of mystery shoppers, innovative brands use this approach to get unparalleled insight on how to improve the business.


Here are 3 ways CX programs deepen your customer insights:

1. Real customers—in their own words

Authentic customer feedback paints a clearer picture of everyday performance on things like operational metrics, marketing initiatives, and service standard execution. But just as powerful, it can help you answer questions you never thought to ask.

By soliciting open-ended feedback, CX programs allow every customer to comment on any aspect of the business. Text analytics then turns those comments into insights by identifying emerging themes and breaking down customer sentiment.

2. Robust feedback=deeper insights

In business, the only thing worse than inaction is taking the wrong action. So what happens when you’re acting on mystery shop results that aren’t indicative of wider trends? CX programs solve for that by turning up the volume of your data. Not just by a little—we’re talking hundreds, thousands, millions of surveys as time goes on.

Because the data is representative of the broader customer experience across your brand, you can use it to make important decisions with confidence. And with industry benchmarks, you can see exactly where you stand compared to competitors—and where you need to improve to gain more loyal customers.

3. Up-to-the-minute reporting

All of the data in the world doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t reach the right people at the right time in an actionable format. CX programs provide 24/7 access to real-time data via reporting dashboards tailored to different roles—which means users across every level of your organization get exactly what they need to drive change.

Along with the reporting dashboard, users have a myriad of tools at their disposal, including:

  • Mobile reporting apps to keep them up to speed while on the go
  • Real-time alerts to track emerging issues from occurrence to resolution
  • Powerful report builders to answer complex research questions
mystery shop vs customer experience program

How to evolve from a mystery shop program to a successful customer experience program

If you’ve decided a customer experience measurement program may be a better fit than mystery shopping for your brand, we have a few tips to consider:

Ingrain your CX program into company culture

Getting your customer experience program off the ground and on-track for success requires a team effort. And getting everyone on board means making the program fit seamlessly into the rest of your overall company brand and strategy.

Taking the time to develop an effective customer experience program launch helps establish its place in your organization’s strategies and priorities—and makes it easier for your team to put it into action.

That means positioning it to your employees and your customers in a way that’s consistent with your company’s strategy, values, and brand image. A well-planned program launch can help you:

  • Position the program as a turning point in your CX strategy
  • Affirm the program’s importance as a company-wide initiative
  • Demonstrate to customers their feedback is important—and you’re committed to improving their experience

Establish a plan for measurement and scoring

It’s easy to turn on a customer experience program and let it run, but planning for a successful program that drives business performance requires considering the evolution of goals over time and a commitment from the entire organization. Brands with successful CX programs focus on meeting progress-specific objectives before moving to the next focused set of goals. This method establishes a strong foundation for growth and a program that produces ROI through impactful enterprise-wide outcomes.

Additionally, your brand should establish what “good looks like.” Benchmarks shed light on the competition, providing benefits that will help you:

  • Know where you stand vs. competitors + pinpoint where you can improve
  • Uncover actionable insights to help find opportunities for meaningful change
  • Identify gaps between top- + bottom-performing locations
  • Drive sales + growth through operational, product, + service improvements

The customer experience you create across all of your locations makes an impression—and an impact. Some locations perform better than others, but all influence the bottom line.

There are three levels of linkage between your CX performance and your financial results your CX program should be able to demonstrate. These links show how your CX program is improving the business, chipping away at your competitors’ visit share, and growing revenues:

  1. Location-level linkage – Proving your program leads to location-level growth
  2. Transaction-level linkage – Proving the impact of great service on each purchase
  3. Company-level linkage – Proving the ROI by showing the company-wide impact

Just about everybody believes CX programs are worthwhile investments these days—but you still need tangible evidence that your program actually pays off. Showing these three levels of linkage between program performance and financial results clearly demonstrates the value of not just measuring the customer experience but finding innovate ways to improve it.

Create an omnichannel approach

A well-balanced CX program is a multi-faceted one that addresses the many touchpoints of customer interaction, including the digital experience, online ratings + reviews, contact center information, and brand research to have the most complete view of what customers are feeling. The result must be an experience designed to intake, process, and analyze a potentially endless stream of data.

A multi-source reporting platform, when paired with dedicated professional services, can give brands the tools they need to implement custom, comprehensive feedback collection methods that gather information on the customer experience across every channel.

To dig deeper into purchaser and non-purchaser behaviors in real time, brands need an integrated CX platform. By incorporating multiple survey options for a quick turnaround on feedback, it’s much easier to add depth to consumer data and improve how your brand attracts and retains customers in a competitive landscape.

Do your research on top customer experience measurement providers

There are a lot of options out there. Make sure you have a good grasp on the basics so your CX program is set up to maximize your investment and drive business outcomes. Do you want to take a DIY approach? Or would you prefer a more consultative partnership?

Teaming up with a software with a service (SwaS) provider (instead of the traditional SaaS vendors out there) can help your brand evolve from data-driven to insights-driven with the analytical, strategic support of a dedicated services team.

These professional services include support with:

  • Change management
  • Program launch + training
  • Ongoing program guidance
  • Field engagement
  • Client success roadmap
  • Technical support

The SMG difference

SMG goes beyond the offerings of mystery shop programs by putting a dual focus on technology and professional services to help brands turn mountains of data into true CX insights that change business outcomes.

To learn more on the benefits of distinguishing between insights and data points, check out our best practice guide.