mystery shopping is still critical in the age of big data
April 22, 2014 | by Alicia Kelso
There are a variety of ways restaurant operators can get
a pulse on unit-level performance, but few provide the
same unique, objective perspective of mystery shoppers.
Even in an era of Big Data, when businesses can glean
real-time information about customer activity from their
POS platforms, mystery shopping remains a significant
opportunity for operators as it can uncover a "micro
view" that tech platforms miss.
"Brands spend dollars training employees on things
they know lead to positive experiences for the customer.
While customers can give near real-time feedback these
days, brands still don't have a way of knowing whether
the operations processes that they've trained their teams
for are working," said Kimberly Nasief, president
and founder of Measure Consumer Perspectives, which
provides market research for a variety of industries and
restaurant brands including A&W, Qdoba, Papa John's
and Taco Bell.
So, while big data has earned its buzz for helping
operators gauge overall brand health, the micro data also
needs to be considered.
"It gives the individual location insights that are
both engaging and actionable," Nasief said. "It
also allows for the brand to ascertain what is and isn't
working as it relates to training, operations and
Mystery shopping not only complements POS data, but also
customer feedback from surveys, social media, reviews,
etc. As Nasief explains, customers can give sentiment,
but they don't have the trained eye to provide that micro
view that shoppers look for.
The micro view
For the restaurant industry, shoppers are looking at a
variety of components, from customer service to speed of
service. Across segments, shoppers also look for
upselling opportunities, staff engagement, teamwork,
cleanliness, order accuracy, food quality, food
temperature and food presentation.
Nasief said a drive-thru shopper will focus more heavily
on wait and delivery times, versus a casual dining
segment, where the focus is on wait time, teamwork and
In order for shoppers to be most effective, restaurants
should schedule a visit multiple times per period, during
the busiest and most profitable dayparts. They should
also be scoping out weekday versus weekend operations,
the bar service and the dining area.
A mystery shopping program can also help with marketing
initiatives. For example, shoppers can ensure a campaign
is rolled out on time, without delay, and consistently
across the entire brand. They can also make sure the new
menu offering is being promoted on site by staff.
Once the experience has been recorded, restaurants should
follow up as soon as possible.
"With shops delivered back to the client within
hours or a day or two of the experience, clients are able
to closely monitor the operations in conjunction with
customer satisfaction indexes to quickly step in and
adjust or reward behaviors at the location level,"
Many mystery shopper companies will then help the brand
further facilitate training or additional follow up if
need be. Measure Consumer Perspective, for example,
partners with a third party training firm, Fresh
Revenues, for this purpose.
Having a third party training firm, Nasief said,
eliminates any conflict of interest that may arise from
both the shops and the training.
Trips and tips
The top three mystery shopping misfires from restaurant
1) Brands opting out of shops for customer satisfaction
(surveys). "One does not replace the other, but they
fill complementary needs," Nasief said.
2) Asking too many questions. "Focus only on the
things you know directly affect loyalty, quality and
satisfaction," she said.
3) Siloing the data. "Marketing, operations and
training all have different agendas and metrics. These
metrics all need to come together in an omnichannel
manner. The presentation of all of them together tells a
greater story about the health of a brand, from the
bottom up," she said.
Finally, Nasief offered three suggestions for operators
considering a mystery shopping program, including:
1. Remember that shoppers provide a different level of
feedback than customers; don't discount either channel.
2. The use of hidden camera technology in mystery
shopping is a powerful, actionable, non-arguable training
3. Use the program as a way to reward your employees, not