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Behind the numbers you cannot see the situation: how to understand that the service has become a competitive advantage for business

Technological progress makes its high standards in high-quality service, what becomes important more than ever. Brands build their communication with the client through a variety of digital channels. The fewer customers communicate live with organizations, the greater is the importance of the quality of each contact.

High technologies: is it always about a high relationship?

John Tschohl, guru of American service in his book "Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service" he asserts that "most of technological innovations and advertising loses to the struggle of any company where the customers are served by living people who have a high culture of service". Recall that the competence of staff and expertise in their field are considered to be one of the important attributes of the service. Automation of processes often leads to the loss of loyalty and indifference, as there is no soulfulness and flexibility in taking measures to satisfy the client. Regular customers continue to be "regulars" when they are addressed by name, their preferences are remembered, when they are pampered with discounts and compliments.

The majority of successful companies go from simply point-of-service to the client and pass to the control of all client experience, starting with acquaintance with the company, ending with long-term maintenance, conducting pre-sales and using a retention mechanic. Recently, the concept of multi-channeling has become popular, when the consumer expects uniformity of service and the equivalence of offers across all the sales channels (Internet, shopping hall, phone, mobile device) in all outlets of the chain. For example, if you make a purchase in one store, you should be able to make an exchange, if this does not suit you, at any other outlet of this brand and so on.

Service quality rules the world

Business in Europe clearly understands the importance of service in the struggle for the customer. New marketing projects and strategic initiatives are being developed and implemented, such as building a customer service system and increasing customer loyalty.

76% of buyers believe that the service is an indicator of how much the company values them. But only a systematic approach, rather than a one-time luck to impress the client, brings in revenue.

The choice has grown tens of times, and the purchasing power in times of crisis has decreased several times. These two factors do not give the right to live without standards and control of the quality of their compliance.

Everything that is controlled can be improved

Service is a complete system with its own rules, standards and complementary mechanisms. It is important not only to provide the basic principles of a good service, but its further evaluation. Control will allow to further develop and adjust the service plan.

In  the evaluation and control of the service, the companies can use a broad pool of  research, which can be divided into at least 3 groups: quantitative (external: exit/actual transaction polls, NPS, Mystery Shopping, Customer Satisfaction Research, call center, Internet surveys; internal: staff  inspectors, personnel assessment and certification, etc.), quality  (external focus group, in-depth interviews, client club, internal staff  meetings, brainstorming, etc.) and feedback analysis of clients  (complaints, reclamations, open sources, Internet portals) and other feedback (spontaneous and structured).

Quantitative research is the priority and focus of the large companies with an extensive chain. Often these are telecommunication and retail chains.

Mystery shopping with a quality mark

To date, worldwide technology Mystery Shopping is considered to be one of the most effective tools to improve the level of service. Most often abroad, this service is provided by dozens of specialized agencies that have united into International Association of Companies-Providers of the program "Mystery Shoppers" (MSPA). Today MSPA has 150 members and professional market participants of "mystery shopper" services, including agencies as 4Service Group. Such membership is the guarantor of the conformity of projects to the quality standards and ethical principles of MSPA Europe.

Today, more and more retailers in Eastern Europe use the services of mystery shoppers. Every business at its development stage comes to an understanding of the importance of the program.

Market of "mystery shopper" service providers

Over the past 15 years, the demand for research on the quality of service using the technology of "mystery shopper is constantly increasing. Management builds service strategies based on the results obtained, builds up service standards, keeps staff in good shape, taking into account the estimates of mystery shoppers in their motivations.

The last couple of years there were players of a new format - online services, so to speak, children of technological progress (Topmission, Millionagents, BINO). The technology consists of a set of mobile applications, Web sites, cloud databases and special servers. Their solutions for the market are mobile applications that allow you to attract people to perform simple tasks using a smartphone and get paid for it. This way of data collecting is called crowdsourcing. Basically, such a tool is suitable for simple information gathering scenarios without stringent geography requirements.

Mobile application for data collection and management of mobile employees designed to automate merchandising, field marketing, mobile commerce and trade audit. Such agencies also offer the services of the mystery shoppers. Their manufacturability is mainly the direct interaction of the customer with the mystery shoppers, which allows to minimize costs.

A set of mystery shoppers, training, job coordination, payment for work of secret buyers and quality control are all entrusted to virtual auto set-up and processes.

Order as many as you need in one click, you will get the analytics in a couple of days. Everything is easy and simple, it sounds like a fairy tale. But a fairy tale is only about the evaluation of the service quality, on the basis of which the client experience improves - this is the question. Quantitative assessment tools become reliable only with a sufficient number of estimates (sampling by location, geographically, by brand, etc.).

Simply: is it always high quality

Processes automation minimizes the human factor, but is it always a benefit to the business. Let's analyze all the steps in order. What is wrong or saving with the automated service of the mystery shopper, whom does it suit to and what should we expect at the output.

Mystery Shopping is quite difficult and aggressive tool, namely the tough standards and regulations for its implementation are a condition for its effectiveness. Based on substandard assessments, companies cannot draw conclusions to improve the situation for the better. This leads to rejection and the distrust of the results of the program.

"Mystery Shopping" technology has two main models on which the study is conducted: expert and consumer. With the expert model, the study is conducted by regular "mystery shoppers" of the company, which usually have between 100 and 500 people of staff. The problem of this model is the excessive professionalism of these employees. They evaluate the situation no longer as ordinary customers, but as experts, respectively, the study becomes ineffective.

Consumer model as an additional value for the client in crisis

The consumer model is built on hundreds or even thousands of different opinions of people, corresponding to the target audience of the client on various parameters, which makes it quite flexible. For example, projects to assess the service quality of the international research company 4Service Group are conducted in three stages: objective evaluation - standard parameters; subjective evaluation - emotions that arose during a visit; measurement of the net promote index NPS - the willingness of the auditor to recommend the services of the company.

The consumer model allows with one study to cover a variety of additional ones that the client would probably do separately and spending a larger budget. In addition, in this model, the maximum number of checks for one "mystery shopper" is limited in order to obtain a unique number of opinions. If the customer orders a thousand of evaluations, the average rotation index is 2.5, that is, in general, a person makes a maximum of two and a half visits per project. And then follows a big and long period of rotation. Such a system of projects allows you to collect the maximum pool of opinions.

For a simple understanding, for example, if you cook separately the beets, carrots and potatoes, then they will be just separate vegetables, and if you mix everything, you can cook a vinaigrette. But to be seriously, the main point of a good study is: you need to mix different categories, layers of people for homogeneity, apply different tools to evaluate the service. This is where the analytics and the hypothesis will be based.

Pricing policy: what is its transparency or shade side

The cost of the agency's services depends on the task of the project, the complexity of the scenario, the number of ratings, the profile of the mystery shopper, the geography of the location, the level of rotation. If the client does not need anything else besides the measurement of the service, then, accordingly, the price is not high. But if you need to identify the reasons for what is happening, what customers feel, what their feedback is, then more operational processes and analytical actions are involved. This affects the cost.

Flexibility in pricing is a reduction in both costs and quality. Reducing the number of estimates means reducing the number of unique opinions, that is, rotation. This leads to a study with an insufficient representative sample, which does not allow you to make expert conclusions about the situation with the service in the chain. If you do it poorly, then does it make sense to do it at all.

Large international agencies that have been on the market for a long time are not looking for compromises "value - costs", but are trying to create greater value for their clients at lower costs. Companies that are struggling for the market share cannot afford this approach.

Rotation = anonymity and fresh look

I order to make the assessment in accordance with all standards of Mystery Shopping, the mystery shoppers rotation should take place. Mystery shopper should not come more than once every 3-6 months, depending on the specific project and the patency of the retail chain. If the chain per one day has the thousands of visitors, the mystery shopper can come once in 3 months, and if the location is visited with 3 clients, the mystery shopper should not come back within a year. The rotation gives the impartiality, fresh look and unrecognizability. It is important for the control. The unscrupulous companies-providers sometimes use the same mystery shoppers during one and the same time.

Recruitment of mystery shoppers is a delicate matter or what are the pitfalls of techno-innovations

Recruitment of mystery shoppers is tied to the human factor. Every business has its own target audience, so a mystery shopper must be one of them. Checking for compliance with the target customer is a prerequisite. The automated program cannot determine whether the mystery shopper is the target audience, cannot verify whether it is engaged in fraud or not, does he have an experience in this or that segment

Each shopper receives the support from the coordinator at each stage, from registration to filling out the questionnaire. This positively affects their loyalty and recruiting new ones. Some projects require the sending of a promotional code; without which it is not feasible. The human factor here plays a key role, and the application removes this layer.

Also it is worth cautious about the statements that all the mystery shoppers in the base are professionals. To begin with, a professional is someone who has been trained and has gained a lot of experience. Online training is not at all a guarantee of expertise. We can only assume that if a company is on the market for more than 15 years, then in its base it has a couple of thousands of both experts as well as the newcomers with an undisclosed gaze. After 2-5 years, some mystery shoppers can make up to 1000-3000 verifications in different locations. There are agencies with a vast base of mystery agents. For example, 4Service company with a base in more than 200 000 shoppers throughout Russia segments them by profile, specialties, gender and age categories, level of preparation. Coverage throughout the country, including remote corners, allows you to conduct training in any city and countryside by local project coordinators. Such employees are valuable in the recruitment of shoppers, as they understand the mentality of the inhabitants and the specifics of the region. Often, the customers themselves invite project coordinators to the meetings and train specific standards of the company.

In the database there should be different mystery shoppers with different levels of training. There are projects, for example, in banks, where a person, who is not financially-educated and without the experience in cash collection, could not carry out the task. There are inspections of automobile salons, where the mystery shoppers of a solid appearance on a certain brand of car should come to check.

Secretly but honestly

In order for the verification to take place, the mystery shopper must be mystery until the end. This is the essence of the service. There are cases when the mystery inspector could not find the location, or the staff recognized him. A visit in this case may not be paid. Mystery shoppers, who cannot accept this, begin to cheat. There are a couple of methods to prevent this:

  • depersonalization of portals: there is no connection with the software, the provider;
  • the instrument of "false visits" - situational verification-call with a question to describe what the shopper saw;
  • "anti-virus" trick - update of the anti-fraud system several times a year;
  • geo-tags.

Software for mystery shopping vs mobile app

There is special professional software to conduct Mystery Shopping and the integration with complex analytics. One of the most popular software is Shopmetrics. This is a personal service portal with the ability to implement the entire service management cycle of 5 main components: responsibility center (the personal office of the manager responsible  for the implementation of the service system), service standards (set of action plans, performance indicators), adjustment of internal HR and PR processes (the stages of training in the  questionnaire itself: each  employee receives materials and tests, mailings for the internal PR on service), evaluation and control of the service, cyclicity (systemic and cyclic actions, regular goals are set, the results are summed up with the team, individual work is done). Working on this portal, providers can provide the customer with online statistics and reporting on the service metrics in one click. Such portals allow you to do a deep analysis of the data and business processes mechanics, as a result - their optimization.

At registration the algorithm of registration of the labor relations with the mystery shopper that is absent in mobile applications is introduced.

Control in a square

An important component of the quality of Mystery Shopping program is to verify by the specialists the information provided by the mystery shoppers. The process is called validation (proof-reading). While validation some questionnaire can be filled in incorrectly. The experience of international large agencies shows that the percentage of such a reject is from 1 to 6-7. The validation or double validation is an essential principle of the work of the agencies. The customer must pay attention whether this process is available in the potential contractor. This insures the company-client from the unexpected and unpleasant surprises or even defective surveys, that can reach the staff and undermine the credibility of the program.

Mobile online services limit the opportunity to adjust the questionnaire. With the complex questions that can distort the questionnaire, the real validator will specify, compare the written response with the audio record, and the virtual one will simply wrap up.

From the latest innovations, validators analyze the comments of a mystery shopper on the emotionality: how much they did not like or were impressed with the service. Then they are processed at the client-customer level.

Automation by command

Professional portals also have well-established automated processes, such as self-targeting. The system automatically checks the profile of the shopper and immediately sends him a visit. There is also an auto-validation, but the difference is that such functions are regulated and included by the contractor's employee if necessary and in accordance with the terms of the project. And only those mystery shoppers who have proven themselves, write the detailed comments and work with the company for a long time, have an access to such automated processes.

Service research and measurment: not to be confused

If only statistics are needed, the measurement of the service is appropriate. But if a client wants not only to obtain dry figures of metering on compliance with his standards, but to find out why this happens, what cause-and-effect relationships the situation has, then he needs an evaluation with a subsequent analysis. The difference is not what data are got, but how they are analyzed and then processed. For example, analytics in 4Service is based on expert analysis of the data. Includes a deep content analysis of comments, the relationship of standard-emotions, comparison of consumer expectations and real experience. These are hypotheses and "excavations" of data in order to remove the valuable minerals for management of customer service and loyalty.

"Checking" (from the English word "to check") is not really about the service.

The employees of the analytical department study the client's business, correlate the number of locations, employees and standards to the required number of inspections, compose a questionnaire and form a toolkit, laying the foundation for the subsequent analytics. But if the customer has other purposes, such as checking certain standards of personnel work for calculating motivation or the level of knowledge after rebranding, then the client himself indicates how many checks he needs. Therefore, applications with automated functions fit perfectly to the format of service measurements or POS-audit, verification of the implementation or availability of the standard, the answers of sellers to the questions, marketing initiatives, promotions.

Download the game - it's good

Online services on the market with the mobile offers that collect applications from the companies and distribute to mystery shoppers, remind of the offer "download the game - it's good." It is like one intelligent tool for one solution with clear task boundaries. But the sentence "go to the site and choose a game under the mood, interest, and tomorrow you will play together with friends in another one" -  this is a market where there is a choice depending on the needs, goals and the identified problems of the client. This is one of the most important differences between the new online platforms and the experienced large agencies of the classical format. The latter automate their processes in part and at the stage of implementing the program of "mystery shopper" and do not abandon the human resource. They offer a set of solutions for each request with the appropriate pricing, work on the principle 360 with a complex interaction.

Dialogue is important

"Why do you need it" is an important issue for the client. The customer cannot always answer, for example, why he needs all the mystery shoppers to be experts or questions about staff satisfaction, instead of checking the applicants. And only after the launch is already in the process of analysis, when time and financial resources are spent, the recklessness of such curiosity is confirmed. Live communication with the client and experience provide an effective synergy in the proper launch of the project.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 20% of "satisfied" customers answered that they intend to leave the company where they are served; 28% of "dissatisfied" are going to stay. A satisfied customer does not mean loyal.

The application is as a toy: it was played and thrown away. There is no value and connection with the construction of the service system. Do the applications give the answers, how many business evaluations are needed, what other points of contact with the client are left without control, what questions in the questionnaire should be excluded, what should we do with the results obtained.

Important thing, in the view of Eugeniy Lobanov, Director of 4Service Group, is to communicate with the customers and employees to ensure that all the efforts are taken together to one big result.

Some global chains of fast-food restaurants refuse the Mystery Shopping program because of the recognition of mystery auditors. The request to provide a check becomes like a signal for the employees to serve perfectly and serve fresh food. And only for the mystery guests the staff does everything to ensure that they leave satisfied. The main offices, without adjusting the scripts of the mystery shopper's audits, decide to find a replacement in the online questionnaires for ordinary customers for a certain bonus. You can get the access to the questionnaire only after buying of something. So the control of standards remains in the care of visitors, which cannot be digitized and linked to the business KPI. The staff ceases to be in a good shape, guarantees for service quality and the orders disappear.

The client does not know about the standards and requirements of the business. There is also such a concept of basic standards as cleanliness and speed. They don't make a guest happy, but without them, the guest will go away disappointed and angry.

"If the client allows, we will necessarily consult, give our recommendations and support at every stage to prevent mistakes and frustration from the program. It's free, as an added value. It is more difficult, of course, with the state tenders, where everything is written and fixed for three years in advance", Eugeniy shares his experience.

The technological approach is important for the simplification of procedures, but the infection with the service at the level of ideology and qualitative changes occurs in a live communication.

When ordering a verification through the application, the customer receives the service not from the company, but from a private person directly. And he can control all the manipulations independently, but again in automatic mode. To keep everything under control: this reassures, but what if you are not an expert? Agencies that did not develop services to assess and control the client experience, but developed it themselves, stay faithful to personalization. At the meeting, the expert explains the whole methodology taking into account the specifics of the customer's activities, gives the comparison with competitors, shows how everything works on examples and cases. At the start, for the transparency of cooperation and reporting the client cabinets, demo versions, test visits and periods are created online.

According to Harvard Business Review, the anticipation of customers does not increase their loyalty, but reducing their efforts, the cost of problems solving, contributes to long-term cooperation.

If you follow the rules and quality standards of conducting, Mystery Shopping in combination with other tools, for example, NPS measurement and quality research, the service can improve by 9-15%. And this is a tangible practical result, the bonuses of which are loyalty of customers, a decrease in the number of complaints, an increase in the effectiveness of promotions held in the company and the impact on the financial result in the form of check increase and the  conversion of regular customers. The role of the integral indicator is great, it combines various evaluation tools and allows you to track service dynamics.

Author: Olga Velychko

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