Will Mystery Shopping Become Obsolete?

ivr.jpgHave you ever gotten one of those notices on your receipt to call a toll-free number and answer a few questions about your experience at a store or restaurant? Often the business “bribes” customers to participate by providing a coupon good for a discount on their next visit, or by entering them in a drawing for cash and other prizes.

Integrated Voice Response (IVR) is used by a lot of businesses, often as an add-on to their mystery shopping and other market research programs. Mystery shoppers have often wondered if IVR will put us out of business, but I do not believe it will. There is, however, something else on the horizon that causes me more concern.

IVR is nothing more than a customer satisfaction survey. It can provide useful information, but it will never be able to provide the details clients have come to expect from their mystery shopping reports.

Questions on the surveys typically measure the customer’s feelings about their visit. They might ask things such as, “Was the person who assisted you pleasant and polite?” Or, “Were you satisfied with the speed of service?”

This points up a major difference between mystery shopping and IVR: IVR surveys collect subjective customer opinions. Mystery shopping collects objective data. For example, while a mystery shopper report may include specific timings (e.g., the elapsed time between entering and being assisted, between ordering and receiving a food or beverage item, or for the check out process), customers participating in IVR might be asked if they their service was “prompt” or “timely.”

Can you imagine a customer trying to complete an IVR survey where they are asked how long it took (down to the second) to get their hamburger? Or the names of six employees who assisted them? It is hard enough for us, and we go in knowing that we will have to provide that information in our reports. The customers were not warned there would be a quiz!

Although some businesses may try to replace mystery shopping with IVR, they will probably find themselves returning to mystery shopping to get the data IVR can not provide.

So if IVR is not a threat to mystery shopping, what might be? Some companies are starting to use a system that makes an audio recording of all customer interactions. The recordings are then uploaded to a computer that scans the recordings, looking for certain words and phrases or other patterns. The reports can then be given to the client to identify training issues, upselling opportunities and more.

Employees wear a recording device around their necks and everything gets recorded. Because customers are also recorded they must be notified, and this is done via a video screen on the device. With the notification, this is legal, but some customers may think of it as an invasion of privacy. We have grown accustomed to our telephone conversations with call centers being recorded, but talking to someone wearing a video screen telling us we are being recorded is not the same.

Because this captures all interactions, not just the random visits by mystery shoppers, there is much more data available. That could, in part, make up for the fact that even these recordings can not provide the kind of on-the-spot reporting a mystery shopper can. I do not seen this technology replacing mystery shopping, but as businesses add more technology to monitor customer interactions, there may be fewer budget dollars allocated to mystery shopping.

What do you think? Will mystery shopping become obsolete?


  1. crawdaddydoo92 says

    I think there will always be a need for mystery shoppers. Even with these recording devices they are still based on interpretation and it’s not likely that management is foolish enough to think that they can see everything a customer would. Let’s face it these devices only record what happens with an employee, not other “enviornmental” aspects. I think as time goes on our job may change but I think we’ll always be needed to make sure that the employees, and the new technology, is honest/working correctly.

  2. Cathy Stucker says

    I don’t think mystery shopping will be brought to an end by any of this, but it may have an impact. It will not work in every situation, and it will not give companies the same information they can get from mystery shops; however, these other programs have their uses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *