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.

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