Post Training Strategies:  Use Mystery Shopping to Know What’s Sticking.

By Greg Dale, Senior Director, Client Development

Well trained employees are clearly a major priority for American companies. In 2016, U.S. employers spent more than $70 billion on employee training programs, and more than 40% of that training involved an instructor working with employees individually or in a group setting.

For companies with many locations, tackling this priority is more complex. It’s one thing to train employees on how you want them to interact with customers. It’s another to make sure the training is actually being implemented.

Are you sure your training is taking effect throughout your company’s locations? How do you know that your investment is turning into action?

Mystery shopping can provide those answers. A recent study of the banking industry shows how.

We discovered that bank employees aren’t executing their training

Banks big and small have similar goals in every customer interaction, and most trainers will be giving their staff similar lessons at financial institutions of all sizes.

But our studies revealed that this teaching isn’t always reaching the customer. We dispatched 120 mystery shoppers to banks and credit unions across the country, asking them to evaluate account representatives on more than two dozen individual performance attributes. Here’s what we found. 

Most sales trainers teach their staff to ask for the sale at every opportunity, and that’s certainly what bank trainers teach. Generally, bigger banks are getting close to the mark, too. 84% of staff at big banks asked for a sale, but that still leaves almost one in five conversations where there was no sale question. Smaller banks and credit unions fared much worse: staff asked a closing question less than 60% of the time.

Beyond primary sales goals, increasing cross-sales is a significant interest, but our mystery shoppers found that staff at banks of all types are doing a poor job of cross-selling products. Only about half of the staff at big banks asked if our shoppers were interested in an additional product. That figure was even lower for smaller banks and credit unions, where just 20% and 17% of staff actively cross-sold products.

At the very least, trainers will teach their staff to ask customers for personal contact information for follow-up purposes, typically in the form of an email conversation. But only 36% of our shoppers were asked for any contact information at all, and only 8% were asked to provide an email address.

How post-training mystery shopping adds value to your training

In each of these situations, the staff’s failure to follow the training causes two significant problems for the banks and credit unions we studied.

First, the staff missed out on sales opportunities by failing to close and cross-sell. They also missed out on future opportunities for sales by failing to gather contact information for later follow-up conversations. The staff almost literally left money on the table through these errors.

Second, each of these failures also represents a missed opportunity to increase customer satisfaction with the bank. While cross-selling obviously increases a bank’s bottom line, it also can meet another customer need through an additional product, and follow-up conversations can lead to more opportunities to serve each customer in a more precise way.

These failures aren’t limited to banks. Companies of all kinds could easily fall into similar patterns, and without diligently studying the interactions between your staff and your customers, you may not have an adequate understanding of what results your training is producing.

Using mystery shopping shows in precise detail how well your staff is following your sales training, information that could mean the difference between a good investment of time and money and a wasted opportunity.

Best Practices for Measuring Your Retail Customer Experience

How Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Mystery Shopping Program Can Work Together.

By Chris Denove, Senior VP, Research & Analytics

As a general rule, customer satisfaction surveys are a great way to understand how your customers subjectively “feel” about their experience with your retail store, while mystery shopping is the best way to determine how effectively your associates are performing specific processes. The important thing to remember is that customer surveys should never be used to audit the specific processes that comprise your customer experience. The rationale behind this basic proposition is easy to understand if you put yourself in the place of the customer you survey.

Imagine you are a customer who just visited one of your locations. Either printed on your receipt, or via email within a few days of your visit, you receive a survey asking about your experience. You won’t have any difficulty rating whether the overall experience was good or bad. It’s also likely that you’ll be able to evaluate certain broad elements of the experience such as the product selection, friendliness of staff, etc.

What you won’t be able to do, however, is answer questions about whether associates performed specific processes that exceed the bounds of normal human recall. Customer surveys should never ask questions such as; “Were you greeted with a smile when you entered?” or “Did the staff suggest a specific solution?” Unfortunately, we see companies make this basic mistake so often that it is almost the norm as opposed to the exception to the rule.

One of the dangers of asking detailed questions such as these on customer satisfaction surveys is that you will get answers – just not answers you can rely upon. One client was adamant that he keep a question in the survey asking whether the cashier “thanked the customer for shopping” at the end of the transaction. He correctly pointed out that when the question was answered “NO,” the overall satisfaction score tended to be low. He therefore made the connection that the failure to thank the customer was causing low satisfaction.

Of course the real reason behind the relationship between “thank you” and “satisfaction” was that customers couldn’t actually remember if a cashier thanked them, so customers  who had a good overall experience answered the question “yes,” while customers who had a bad experience answered “no.” This is why getting an answer to an ill-advised question is more dangerous than not getting any answer at all.

Finding the Gaps in Your Customer Processes

If you want to look into how well your retail associates are following specific processes, or whether those processes are being followed at all, then a mystery shopping program should be considered. Mystery shoppers are able to accurately record the smallest process details because they go into an encounter knowing the specific details they need to watch for (assuming you have a good mystery shopping service provider!). But, it is important to remember that mystery shoppers are not “real” customers. They are professional process auditors. This means that mystery shoppers are not the preferred choice of measuring overall customer satisfaction. The following example from an automotive client illustrates this point.

A mystery shopper completed a report for an automobile dealership that described what a great job the salesperson did of not only demonstrating every key feature on a car, but more importantly doing so in a way that brought those features to life. The dealer was therefore surprised when the mystery shopper rated the salesperson as only 7 out of 10 for their overall performance.

Because of this seeming disconnect to the detail provided, as part of our quality assurance process we contacted the shopper to find out why. She confirmed that the sales associate did an exceptional job from start to finish, but that she took off a few points in her “subjective” rating because the salesperson never actually asked for the sale. While failing to ask for the sale was a significant problem for the client, it isn’t something that lowers the satisfaction of a real customer.

These two examples illustrate why surveys should be used to get a subjective feel for what your customers think in a broad sense, while mystery shopping is used to dive into specific processes. Together the two types of programs provide a powerful one-two punch for providing operational feedback.

The Difference Between Customer Research and Actionable Customer Research

By Ron Welty, Owner & Chief Client Officer

What do our customers think of us?

It’s a key question for every company with a product to sell or a service to offer, and many companies go to great lengths conducting customer satisfaction research in an attempt to gather worthwhile data on their customers’ experiences. Too often, though, those initiatives lead to data that is interesting, but not particularly actionable.  What specifically needs to be done to improve a less-than-desirable “helpfulness of staff” score?  To be truly actionable, the data needs to tell a more complete story.

Take, for example, an IntelliShop study on customer experiences at Lowe’s and Home Depot. Nationally, these brands rank neck-and-neck in overall customer satisfaction and experience. But on a local level, key actionable differences emerged from store to store.

IntelliShop mystery shoppers visited Lowe’s and Home Depot stores in multiple cities, searching for the same product at both locations on the same day. Their experiences showed that product selection, checkout and even the facility itself were far less likely to bring customers back to the store than the personality of the salesperson who helped them and their knowledge of the product.

“At Home Depot the salesperson was lively, enthusiastic, and even funny. He smiled and gave eye contact and was very polite,” said one IntelliShop mystery shopper. “At Lowe’s, the salesperson was neither cordial nor enthusiastic. He gave non-verbal responses and was just going through the motions.”

In a different city, we saw an opposite description. “[The Lowe’s employee] was very nice and courteous. I appreciated how she responded in a polite manner and showed me where the drills were located, and how she spoke with the other employee in the department,” said the shopper. “At Home Depot, the employees were talking among themselves, and did not act like they enjoyed dealing with people.”

This nuance goes beyond what a typical customer service survey would reveal. Using a typical survey both Lowe’s and Home Depot would have learned something they probably could have guessed on their own: some of their stores provide good customer service, while others do not. There would have been no deeper picture of what employees did to produce a particular result.

But with mystery shopping, these two retail giants get a more complex picture of their employee performance. Our results give nuance to their understanding of the retail landscape, showing exactly what employees did well and what they did poorly. Just as importantly, it demonstrates that the factors that played into these results are all at the local level, where it should be the easiest to make changes that produce results. 

Armed with information produced by mystery shopping, both Lowe’s and Home Depot should be able to take immediate, well-defined steps to improve their customer experiences at individual stores. There’s no reason mystery shopping can’t produce the same outcome for your company.

Customer Engagement During Return

By Brian Caldwell, Client Services Manager

Brick and mortar retailers have become more focused on a “buy online and return in store” customer experience, a way to provide additional convenience for customers wanting instant gratification. Consumers sometimes cannot find the time to mail a product back to exchange it for something new. Stores are realizing this is a great opportunity to reengage with the online customer.
IntelliShop provides customer feedback through mystery shops to help retail clients understand the current state of this experience. These mystery shops will provide information to clients who wish to implement new training and/or refocus employees on affective tactics.
A process that was once designed to provide convenience by the best retailers is now evolving into a way to reengage with the online customers. 
Consider this example: I recently purchased an item online from a famous Big-Box electronics store. When I received the item, it did not work as I expected and I decided to return it. Not wanting to wait several days for shipping, I decided to bring it into the store for instant gratification. When I approached Customer Service, the associate asked me if I wanted to return or exchange it. He also asked if there were any problems with the purchase and I told him it didn’t work and wished to exchange it. His response to me was, “If we have any, they will be over in that section. You can go get one.” 
Imagine the value in taking an additional 30 seconds to inquire if I was an active rewards member (I’m not) and explain the benefits of becoming one. Or, what if he looked up the product to confirm it was in stock, and if not, offered to order it for me? Statistically, a portion of all consumers, when suggested a complementary item, will buy that item. Imagine if he noticed this item didn’t come with a protective case and mentioned a possible sale on cases. 
IntelliShop specializes in designing programs that will benchmark the experience currently provided to your omni-channel customers and provide insights on where that experience must evolve to remain competitive. We also provide ongoing feedback and trending data beneficial to your success.

How An Entirely Fake Restaurant Became London’s Hottest Reservation

By Davis Z. Morris, December 10, 2017

A London-based writer has illustrated how easy it is to manipulate review sites like TripAdvisor, by pushing an entirely nonexistent restaurant to the top spot in all of London.

Vice writer Oobah Butler – who also recently impersonated a designer for Paris Fashion Week – already had a bit of experience with gaming review sites, having previously been paid to write fake reviews by a shady PR service.

That inspired him to create The Shed at Dulwich, which was, literally, the backyard cottage he calls home. Butler set up an account for his “restaurant” using a cheap disposable phone, and simply didn’t provide an address, saying it was appointment only. That simultaneously deflected inquisitive debunkers, and created an air of exclusivity that was key to the eventual triumph of his fakery.

He also faked photos of The Shed’s food, somehow making shaving cream, bleach tablets, and his own feet into very convincing mockups of gourmet dishes. Then he recruited friends and allies to write glowing fake reviews, each of them unique and posted from different computers to help defeat TripAdvisor’s fraud detection systems.

Things quickly got, in Butler’s words, “a little out of hand.” From the very bottom of TripAdvisor’s charts, his fake restaurant steadily climbed the London rankings. He started getting emails and phone calls requesting nonexistent reservation spots, with interest only amping up when he told callers The Shed was “fully booked for the next six weeks.”

Even stranger, food suppliers started guessing the Shed’s address and sending him free samples, and job applications started rolling in. PR companies even contacted him to offer their services — all without Butler serving a single meal.

Somehow, the momentum carried The Shed at Dulwich to the top of TripAdvisor’s charts, making Butler’s fake eatery the top-rated restaurant in London. According to Butler, The Shed held on to that ranking for two weeks.

Butler finally decided to take his stunt to its obvious conclusion by cleaning up his yard, inviting a handful of guests over, and serving them frozen dinners straight from the grocery store. Some of The Shed’s guests apparently saw through the ruse, but most, according to Butler, enthusiastically bought in to what seems to have been a genuinely unique experience, with some even immediately requesting to rebook.

TripAdvisor, responding to Butler’s stunt, argued that it didn’t prove much, since there’s little real-world incentive for anyone to create a fake restaurant. But that misses the larger point: even as we rely more and more on the internet for information, a lot of that information can’t be trusted.

There has been plenty of evidence over the years of concerted efforts to manipulate review sites, including not just TripAdvisor but also Yelp, and even the car dealership guide on There’s no evidence that these sites are complicit in the fakery; it hurts them as much as anyone, but just as with fake news on Facebook and Russian bots on Twitter, it’s obviously hard to stop.

We’ve reached out to TripAdvisor for further comment on the renowned shed, and will update with any response.