Mystery Shopping has long been used by brands to detect customer experience (CX) issues and to encourage best practice by customer contact staff. The idea is to fool them into believing they are talking to a real sales prospect. There are a number of ways Mystery Shopping sales skills can occur, including expensive showroom visits, but usually they happen over the phone or by email. And the reason dealers love them is because sales staff believe they can always detect when they’re happening.

This may or may not be the case. But sales staff universally believe they can spot them a mile off. As a result, one of the objectives for Mystery Shopping – encouraging best practice – is rarely effective. In fact sales staff tend to relax more with sales calls they know won’t be checked because they believe they always know when they’re talking to a ‘real punter’. The older pros in particular take pride in fooling a Mystery Shopping actor that they have been taken in, and the new recruits have something to prove. This is clearly an unintended and undesirable consequence of Mystery Shopping campaigns. And if applied frequently, they enable sales staff to refine, or believe they can refine, their detection skills. Sales people will always try to beat the system. They are highly competitive people who like to win. That’s why they’re employed, and that’s why they love the challenge of spotting Mystery Shopping.

Mystery Shop calls happen in two ways. Actors call dealerships to score CX skills. This is an important and useful exercise to ensure dealers remain on their toes from the first point of contact through to conclusion, and to appraise brands about the experiences their customers suffer, or enjoy. Even if during that process the actor is rumbled, the dealer prospect handling process is tested. The second way Mystery Shopping occurs is to check on lead response fulfilment. Fake leads are seeded into selected dealerships and timed for a response. Phone numbers will invariably be provided because sales people are often reluctant to use them – favouring easier email communication instead. Calls are far more effective at achieving the #1 objective for any contact – to make an appointment for a showroom visit. Research has shown that calls, especially if made quickly, are around 10-times more likely to result in an appointment than emails from dealers which are easily ignored. A call always ends in a decision by the prospect, ideally whether to visit or not, and a better understanding of their requirements by the dealer. So the first test is whether and when the lead is called back. Both TrackBack (which detects every lead response) and the seeded false leads with Mystery Shop phone numbers (so only a few leads are tested) detect response rates. If the dealers’ calls are recorded by TrackBack, then every call is potentially a Mystery Shop call for scoring. And the sales staff know this. Not a single call via TrackBack is an actor fooling an actor. However, the sample of Mystery Shop leads will often result in the sales staff finding out they have wasted their time. This not only annoys staff, quite reasonably, it also fails to capture qualitative information to identify training opportunities to improve CX. And the more often it is used, the more annoyed sales staff become.

Mystery Shopping is a useful tool, if used sparingly, to assess CX for initial contact only. Tools like TrackBack are the best way to detect and encourage best practice for lead responses and all subsequent follow-up. Both are valuable to help sell more cars, to happier customers. But only TrackBack works cost-effectively all the time without upsetting or competing with sales staff.