By Josh Strutt
Associate Director – Performance, Retail Doctor Group


“Engaged customers are likely to spend an average of 20% more with your business.” – Harvard Business Review

When I’m speaking at events, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is about the effectiveness of mystery shopping.  Retailers are always seeking the silver bullet when it comes to increasing the consistency of customer experience and many believe mystery shopping programs provide this solution.  My answer to them is simple.  No one mystery shopping or sales training program is the silver bullet.  Equally, changing retail KPIs and reward mechanisms in isolation is pretty ineffective.  Rather, delivering the brand experience at the coalface requires an integrated approach at an operational level.

When you consider the enormity of retailers’ investment in brand dollars including advertising, promotions and sales training, you see how critical it is to understand first-hand the customer perception of your brand and their motivation to shop with you on a loyal basis. A consistently high service level will increase the value of your brand and ensure growth.  Indeed, in our experience more than 80% of customers defect to competitors because of the indifferent service they receive.  We can further reveal customer loyalty hinges on a retailer’s ability to provide a differentiated service or a unique shopping experience as opposed to price as many believe.

So what do customers want in your store?  Our research can reveal their top three needs that drive them towards brand loyalty:
  1. An experience that makes shopping easy and hassle-free.
  2. An experience that makes it easy to solve whatever problem they have.
  3. An experience that enables them to choose the option that’s right for them.

Putting an effective customer connection program in place is like taking out insurance for your brand and mystery shopping is simply one component.

Design Long Term Customer Connection Programs

Anyone who wears your ‘badge’ is making or breaking your brand values every time they connect with a customer and exceptional customer connection programs ensure they are always making them.  Investing in a good program will allow you to monitor and assess:

  • The sales ability and product knowledge of your teams.
  • The customer experience, pre and post training implementation, to identify further opportunities.
  • The in-store experience in terms of merchandise and housekeeping.
  • Success and delivery of promotional activity.
  • Service delivery of your competitors for comparison and benchmarking.

Furthermore, it’s imperative that your customer connection program is a KPI-linked program rather than one that reports on KPIs and benchmarks your capability to program goals.

Mystery shopping is just one part of a customer connection program and is a great inexpensive starting point to understand your customer experience, but the results must be linked to training outcomes and improvement programs, which is where a retail consultant comes in.  A mystery shopping survey should capture:

  • Brand values.
  • Operational compliance standards.
  • A fundamental sales relationship/sales/service script that truly captures a retailer’s DNA.
  • Key sales goals.
  • Exit surveys.

We recommend that retailers run mystery shopping programs for two months, refining as they go.  This enables them to start building the bigger picture about their sales and service delivery.  From this point on, we advise starting to refine and develop a sales training program that specifically addresses the sales and service gaps in a very customised and targeted way.  A well-developed training program will always include the current state of play as well as the desired goals.  We also advocate franchisee feedback into the program development, if appropriate, in order to obtain cultural buy-in.

The Benefits of a Customer Connection Program

We know from vast experience that an exceptional customer connection program will deliver a significant return on investment and result in:

  • Happier customers who act as loyal advocates.
  • Increased focus on people and training levels.
  • Improved customer experiences to deliver competitive advantage.
  • Increased retail sales metrics/conversion rates.
  • More motivated and inspired employees.

Multi-channel retailers should be looking to integrate Customer Connection programs across every channel and when it comes to online, this means giving your digital touchpoints a thorough health check when it comes to user experience.  Australia has some world-class usability research companies, who have the capability to separate subjective creative design from the fundamental user experience.  Look for those who truly dig deep into user insights and who can deliver on an experience.  These companies will work hand-in-hand with your Customer Connection Retail Consultancy to ensure bricks and mortar brand experiences are truly integrated and learnings passed from one retail touchpoint to another.

It’s true to say there is no silver bullet when it comes to increasing the consistency of customer experience, but a combination of mystery shopping, training, refining and true collaboration is gold.

Happy fit retailing.

Our Performance team can give you more tips to be the best of the best in your industry. For more on Retail Doctor Group’s retail consultant services driven by our ‘Fit for Business Fitness™” programs, email businessfitness@retaildoctor.com.au or phone 02 9460 2882.