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How to Mystery Shop

Posted On - 26/07/2013 20:30:03

There comes a point when what you need to know about your competitors can't be discovered remotely - you have to mystery shopThere comes a point when what you need to know about your competitors can't be discovered remotely. When you can't find particular prices from their website, adverts or shop window. Or where you need to experience their great – or terrible – customer service for yourself.

When this happens there's nothing for it, you need to mystery shop. You need to become a mystery shopper and visit them yourself. But if you do this it's more than just walking in and ‘winging it'. It needs thinking through. And in this blog I use an example to show you just how easy it is to do.

Setting the scene

This blog is part of series on how to write strategy. Its objective is to do everything possible to help you write your own, without actually doing it for you. Using an imaginary business – URPCSFIXED Limited - with 8 fictitious competitors, it illustrates the process end-to-end.

Each blog represents a major stage of strategy development with detailed guidance, tools, templates and the appropriate part of the Strategy Document fully written up, given. For more detail on the different blogs in this series and how they all fit together, see ‘A Strategy for Price Competition'.

Start by being crystal clear about what you need

To help you ‘stage' a mystery shop I'm going to outline a scenario: something to show you how it could be done. In it, you've successfully gathered a huge amount of what you planned (see ‘Sizing Up Your Competition'). But you don't have everything. What's missing? Prices for: 16G USB memory, retail packaged anti-virus, virus removal, data backup, HDMI cable and entry level refurb laptops.

Critically, because you can't assess these things from a distance, you also don't know anything about their in-shop customer experience including: shop layout, product and services merchandising, product and services range, how friendly and approachable staff are, their product and technical knowledge and what post sales customer care support they have in place. Important detailed products and services prices and Utilities information is missing.

How will you get it? Just go in and ask? No. You need a credible reason so you can appear a credible prospect. The good news for you is that's easy. Just start with a knackered laptop.

Set up an email address

Before I get into the ‘reason' more there's an important point to make. Whoever visits must appear credible. And one of the major ways of achieving this is by having a valid email address. So set up a simple online account - Gmail or something like that. Why? Well whether you end up buying something or not, they may ask for contact details so they can keep in touch. And if they don't you'll need it so you can offer it for the same purpose.

Whichever way it goes you're out to suss their approach to customer care and how they maintain contact outside of your visit. Because if they do you want to get on their mailing list. So you'll get a regular flow of information – offers, prices, hints and tips – all to your armchair. If they ask for a phone number as well just decline – you're happy to have them contact you but your phone is private. If you feel this is a bit clandestine don't - getting as close as possible to competitors is normal business. We know - our competitors do it to us!

So what about this knackered laptop?

You could visit for a variety of reasons: a broken screen, a replacement operating system, a virus or maybe all three. In the scenario I'm going to spell out it's a virus infection. You're not quite sure how it happened – you have a free antivirus on your system – but you're worried and need help.

Since you won't be leaving the machine with them and the only thing they may do is power it up to take a look, just use one a customer has left you. Uncomfortable about that? Deliberately infect your own. Whatever, you've the resources and know how to set this up. But importantly, whoever visits must be in the right frame of mind. The Mystery Shop IS NOT about trying to test or ‘out tech' the competitor. At best it'll annoy them, at worst it'll flush you out. IT IS about being an average customer with a problem. So don't ham it up!

Hello. My computers running really slow I think it may have a virus

Just walk in and ask the question. And listen to what they say.

How are you greeted and what questions do they ask? Just answer like an average customer would. Don't try to be clever or trick them - play things like one of your customers.

And while you do want their price for virus repair, what you want first and foremost is an answer to your question: is it a virus that's making the computer run slow or something else?

The price is just part of what you want to know so don't be fixated on it – you're out to assess their customer service and technical knowledge too. Persist a little – it's only reasonable you understand in plain English what they think the problem may be and how they're going to go about fixing it. Don't accept ‘leave it with me and I'll call you'. You'd like an answer straightaway.

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