Selected Article
Title Misuse of Mystery Shopping Scores
Date Published 02/22/2008
Author Christopher Warzynski
Publication MSPA Blog

Ocassionally, an article about mystery shopping will appear in a newspaper and make me cringe. Usually, I like to see media coverage of mystery shopping because the more businesses know of mystery shopping, the more they are likely to use it to their benefit.

But, ocassionally, I see coverage that does harm to the image of mystery shopping. What is particularly annoying about these articles is that they seem to imply that it is appropriate to use mystery shopping as a "club" to force staff to live by the rules. Usually, these stories talk about someone being fired because they got poor scores on a mystery shop...fortunately, these stories are few and far between. Firing people for low scores is not what mystery shopping is about.

If mystery shopping uncovers poor performance by staff, the appropriate use for the results is for management to use the information to coach staff. In some cases, poor performance indicates a need to correct the training regimen that failed to effectively convey management's expectations to staff. But it is NOT appropriate for a company to terminate the employment of a staff member solely on the basis of a low score on a mystery shopping report.

The underlying premise of mystery shopping is measurement: measurement to ensure consistency in achieving a specific level of performance, consistency in delivering a specific experience to the customer, consistency in compliance with company policies and procedural expectations. Consistency. The reason mystery shops are not one-off endeavors is that measurement must be undertaken regularly to ensure consistency.

A single aberration by an employee is rarely sufficient reason to terminate his or her employment. Even if mystery shopping does uncover consistent performance failures, it is possible that the employee may not be at fault; store managers may be failing to train employees, corporate policies may be unclear or ineffectively conveyed...there are many reasons. Using a mystery shopping experience as the basis upon which to make a decision to terminate is akin to basing a license revocation decision on a single instance of rolling through a stop sign.

Aside from being an unfair and illegitimate practice, using mystery shopping experiences to penalize staff is at odds with the intent of mystery shopping, which is to improve performance. If staff members get the message that mystery shopping results will be used as clubs, they will not support the concept of mystery shopping and they will be much more likely to try to sabotage the efforts. If, instead, mystery shopping is used as a coaching tool and is used as a means of recognizing achievement, staff will be far more likely to support it.