Take the mystery out of customer feedback

Jeremy Michael | May 26, 2017 Jeremy Michael 05/26/17

My world of market research started in 1998, when I joined a small mystery shopping company in London. It was a fantastic experience and the company was highly successful—mainly due to the fact that mystery shopping provided a service which was, at the time, groundbreaking.

“Find out what is happening at your stores when you’re not there,” said the brochure. “We can help you understand how well your operational standards are being upheld.”

And it’s true. Mystery shopping was—and still is—an excellent tool that provides the eyes and ears on whether company procedures are being executed. It can certainly be used as a valuable employee incentive tool, as well. “If your service maintains our standards and checks all the boxes, we’ll reward you accordingly.”

I loved being the account manager on these mystery shop programmes. The data was new, scores were communicated at conferences, and managers could see their career progress over a good year’s worth of results. The difficulties usually appeared in year three, when the same two questions would arise:

  1. Is one customer’s opinion per store per month actually representative of our entire market?
  2. We’re being challenged on budgets. Does this programme genuinely help drive sales?

And as a conscientious account manager, I would have to be honest and answer both questions:
“Well, to a certain extent…”

From good to great
After 12 years in mystery shopping, I moved to SMG. I immediately found two elements joyous:

  • The difference in data volume
  • The authenticity of responses

First, the huge leap in volume of data—over 150 million surveys were completed last year—meant that all reporting and insights were absolutely representative of the client’s market. Second, since the respondents were all genuine customers, we could ask their opinions, why they chose to shop somewhere, and understand how and why they rated their experience.


At the same time, we could learn which other brands they visited and why, what would make them stay loyal, and what mattered most—be it speed, service or sales.

This made my CX life a lot more exciting. Suddenly, my clients could use this robust and comprehensive data to make strategic decisions based on the insights, and see sales increase as a result of actions taken. Real-time, app-based reporting put customer comments in the pockets of entire organisations—which meant the level of engagement from store manager to CEO increased dramatically.

1998 vs. 2017
As one client once mentioned to me, there is nothing wrong with mystery shopping. In fact, it can be an excellent tool for understanding how well your brand is serving your customers. But why settle for just scores when you can just as easily get scores, insights, action and sales data for a similar investment? CX programmes give you the same information you’ll get from a mystery shop programme—plus critical information you won’t.  The same client ended our conversation with this thought: “There was also nothing wrong with my Nokia 6210, until I got an iPhone.”

CX programmes change standards-focused organisations into customer-focused organisations. Want to learn more about how adopting a CX programme can deepen your insights and drive sales? Read our report here.

Jeremy Michael
Managing Director | UK
Customer Experience Update