High-tech mystery shopping: Using audio and video shopping effectively
Written by Stephanie Smith
Mystery shopping has evolved from an innovative "Big Brother is Watching" integrity control method to a standard corporate practice with results that can be used in training and employee reward programs. In fact, most mystery shopping companies strongly recommend that the results be used for training and positive reinforcement rather than as a disciplinary tool or a method of intimidating employees. This positive aspect of mystery shopping has eliminated most of the fear and anxiety that employees may feel towards mystery shopping programs.
Most employees don’t fear the repercussions of poor mystery shop reports, but some still engage in the "he said, she said" battle. This is a common and natural reaction. Individuals view and remember experiences through their own eyes and ears, not through those of the customer or the company. Therefore, when shown the mystery shopping report, even if it is largely positive, employees will offer their own version of the experience. Oftentimes they will attempt to discredit the shopper or qualify the answers. Even if employees concede to management that they accept the results and have learned from them, chances are that it is only lip service. In their minds they still believe that they executed a near-perfect performance.
Audio and video shopping
Mystery shopping programs that use results in a positive manner can be further enhanced by audio and video. Although most companies have just begun to learn about A&V shopping, many progressive companies insist on it. Audiotaping or videotaping the shop renders employee arguments useless since results are captured on tape. The shopper acts only as a medium. The tape can be reviewed to ensure that the accompanying written report is objective and accurate.
Once an employee has recovered from initial uneasiness about being recorded, the shop becomes an invaluable training tool. The employee is afforded the opportunity to step outside himself or herself and hear and/or see what the customer experiences. They are no longer giving lip service to the value of the program; they are using the program to improve their sales and service skills. This ultimately serves to improve the company’s overall performance and increase revenue.
While benefits can be obtained from all mystery shopping programs, A&V shopping increases effectiveness due to the objective nature of the results.
People learn more effectively from a combination of media. The written report, coupled with the audio and visual components, provides a comprehensive learning experience for employees.
Companies can see if the training provided is being incorporated into their employees’ sales presentations.
Companies can judge the overall effectiveness and value of their training programs while uncovering areas for improvement and concentration.
Management is provided with a starting point for employee consultation and follow-up training.
Companies can use the tapes in sales meetings and sales training.
Companies are provided with tools that can be integrated into their employee rewards and incentives program.
Employees can listen to and/or see their presentation from the customer’s point of view.
Employees may evaluate and improve their own performance more effectively.
Shopper-completed reports can be compared to the videotape or audiotape to verify objectivity and accuracy.
Tapes capture the performance of actual sales skills and techniques used by employees. This alleviates shoppers’ tendencies to award good scores based on subjective qualities such as friendliness.
A&V shopping is probably most feasible and useful for companies that are interested in evaluating their sales and marketing staff. Companies spend a great deal of money and time on sales training programs; therefore it is essential to evaluate sales performance. Home building, senior housing, automotive, retirement and assisted living are some of the industries currently using audio shopping on a regular basis. Although video shopping is becoming more popular, it is not yet a standard practice.
How audio shopping works
Mystery shopping companies that offer tape-recorded in-person mystery shops train shoppers to conceal and use micro-recorders during their mystery shop. The shopper practices with the device at home to ensure that they have placed it somewhere invisible but where it can still clearly pick up the sales presentation. Although there are some favorite areas to conceal the device, there is no standard. Some companies use a small microphone that runs from the concealed recorder to a hidden area on the shopper or on some type of common accessory such as a pen, purse, belt or pager. This method improves the sound quality of the tape.
How video shopping works
Video shops may or may not include sound, depending on the company offering the service and the desires of the customer. Video shopping is conducted in much the same way as audio shopping. Just as audio shopping uses micro-recorders, video shopping requires micro-cameras, transmitting equipment and concealed video recorders. Video shoppers are normally professional shoppers employed full time by the mystery shopping company who travel around the country conducting video shops. The technology involved in video shopping is far more advanced and expensive than audio shopping. Therefore, it is necessary to use highly trained professional shoppers who can operate the equipment properly. This also eliminates issues of liability.
How much does it cost?
It is difficult to provide a specific price on this type of service as several factors influence the cost. However, it is estimated that adding the audio component to an in-person mystery shop increases the price of the shop by $50-$100, and adding video increases the price by $250-$350 per shop. In addition, companies that provide video shopping services will often charge for expenses incurred. It is important to note that these prices are for in-person mystery shops. Tape recorded telephone mystery shops are available at significantly lower cost and provide a valuable training opportunity as well. Tape recorded telephone mystery shops typically cost anywhere from $25-$50 per call and may cost as much as $75 per call if follow-up reports are desired. Follow-up reports track the mail and phone follow-up efforts of the employee shopped.
Using mystery shopping effectively
For mystery shopping to have value as a training tool, managers must be taught how to coach and train the employees based on the mystery shopping tapes and reports. This means the written survey tool must be based on and reinforced by company training. The managers must understand the value and meaning of the program so that they can bring the mystery shopping results to life. Sales managers and trainers who learn to review the tapes with the employees in a constructive and non-confrontational manner will get more value from the program. Most often, mystery shopping programs fail to reach their potential because the results are not used adequately. It is recommended that you hire a consultant from the mystery shopping company to train the trainers and managers on how to use mystery shopping effectively.
Getting more for your mystery shopping dollar
Incentives and awards: Management has watched sales increase significantly while holding sales contests in which the winners were largely determined by mystery shopping scores. It is helpful to have the contests take place over a few months so that the employees perform as if they could be evaluated at any time. Prizes are often cruises or trips to desirable vacation destinations.
Program consistency: It is important to the success of the program to maintain the mystery shopping effort. The shops must take place on an ongoing basis so that employees must perform as if each customer is a mystery shopper. Otherwise, performance efforts may relax once the employee has received their mystery shopping report.
Results benchmarks: Value can be added to your mystery shopping program by working with a company that can track employee and company scores over time, and offer trend analysis and comparison to industry standards. This enables companies to effectively track improvements and setbacks over time. Comparing company scores to industry averages allows companies to more accurately gauge their performance, and determine opportunities for improvement.