What Mystery Shopping Revealed!

We recently completed a 'Mystery Shopping' exercise for a well known corporate involved in the service & hospitality industry in the United Arab Emirates. The information sieved from the exercise uncovered the truth about their services - both in terms of good & things to improve.

Based on our findings we submitted a report on the exercise to the corporate detailing in specific terms what their service staff were doing right & what areas to improve upon. In addition to the above the report included our core recommendations on how to further improve on their services so they could fortify their business relationships with their clients and consistently maintain a high level of customer service in the future.

As usual & expected the report initially triggered off considerable hue & cry from departmental heads who were highly protective of their staff & operation - they found it difficult to accept that many of their senior staff were falling short of what was expected of them in properly servicing their customers.

However the fact remains that a well devised mystery shopping exercise should disclose the unbiased feelings of the customers towards their service providers - if you as the service provider can take it with a pinch of salt then you can take steps to improve your service standards and if you turn a blind eye, it can seriously hurt the profitability & goodwill of your company!

Thereafter, out of curiosity we visited a few other well known corporate involved in 'service & hospitality' businesses in the United Arab Emirates to find out more about the service standards in the area.

Although the study was based on a highly limited set of samples from selected businesses in the service related industries; the study could be considered as being 'indicative' of prevailing service standards in the United Arab Emirates and you may be interested in the findings - they are listed below in no particular order:


  1. Neat & clean customer engagement & servicing areas
  2. Staff mostly well groomed, wore well pressed uniforms & name tags
  3. The outlets/shops had good internal & external signage and many were located at vantage points with easy parking options
  4. Shop decor were mostly acceptable to good.


  1. Staff didn’t heartily greet or welcome their customers
  2. Staff didn’t maintain eye contact or smile while interacting with their customers
  3. Most staff didn’t first verify the needs of the customer by asking relevant questions so they could offer products/services that matched the needs of the customer – this led to the customer not realizing the value in the product & perceiving them as being overpriced
  4. Most staff didn’t empathize with the customer’s plight or reassure them
  5. Most staff didn’t take the opportunity to subtly enumerate the advantages of dealing with the service provider
  6. Almost all staff did not cross, up or down sell
  7. Most staff didn’t offer complimentary or supplementary services – for example free delivery in Dubai within three days of purchase (furniture related companies), travel insurance (airline/travel agency), or free lipid profile test on first visit to a clinic etc.
  8. Almost none tried to close the sale!
  9. In cases where the customer bought a product or services and expressed satisfaction, none of the staff asked for referrals!
  10. A minuscule number of staff tried to build a business relationship with their customers, exchange contacts (business cards) for follow-ups & for future business solicitations
  11. With the exception of a few, most staff didn’t thank their customers for coming to their shop/outlet or accorded an invitation to come again
  12. Similarly with the exception of one or two none followed-up on additional information promised via email or a telephone call later!

It is not that the staff don’t know how best to attend to customers – contrary to that most staff were aware of 'customer service rules & etiquette' and many had attended customer service training time and again in their working life.

The killer is that they did not apply the servicing etiquette because no one was watching!!! Further investigations revealed that many servicing agents felt that their supervisors did not really care if they went the extra mile to win their customers'. 'As long as there is no complaints and all is well...' seemed to be the underlying expectations set by the supervisors!

Can you imagine how much damage such a stance can cause the business? To name a few:

  • Damage to the goodwill of the corporate or service provider concerned?
  • How much money is left on the table? – Sheer loss! (complementary/supplementary sale, cross, up or down sale etc.)
  • How many customers later go off to the competition?

Having been involved in similar exercises before we cannot but emphasize enough that if any servicing organization wants to find out the truth about their service standards and take steps to enhance them, then 'mystery shopping' would be an integral & affordable start point to apply - it reveals through in-depth scans & snapshots what is going on in the organization in context to customer service plus what areas to address specifically to further enhance the service standards.

Such exercises among other things can be extremely cost effective for any service related organization from the following perspective:

  1. Service excellence - giving what the customers want & in the way they want it
  2. Winning customer loyalty - repeat business
  3. Winning referrals from existing clientele - getting new business at no significant marketing, advertisement or promotional costs
  4. Commanding higher margins or yields - selling value in the product/services so customers are ready to pay more
  5. Develop & apply procedures that are customer friendly - streamline procedures to make services more 'customer-centric'
  6. All above resulting in a higher level of 'job satisfaction' for the servicing staff, which comes in daily contact with customers. Staff morale & motivation stays high because the staff is empowered by the mystery shopper’s feedback on their customers’ preferences & how to satisfy them.


Always conduct highly objective mystery shopping exercises that can identify specific service issues so you can work on them to significantly improve your services.

The trick is to:

  • Know exactly what information you want to find out from the exercise
  • Develop the right questionnaire & methodology (for managing logistical issues, cost control & effectiveness)
  • Select, brief & train the right mystery shoppers - briefing to the shoppers on the business & why the mystery shopping is being done is of paramount importance
  • Develop & provide brief, specific & experiential/immersive training programs that address the issues uncovered by such ‘mystery shopping’ exercise & follow up with specific 'On-the-job-training' to correct kinks & remove weak links
  • Run service standards evaluation before & after the mystery shopping exercise and related training to gauge the effectiveness of all correctional actions - what works and what doesn't?
  • Let the management be seen as taking keen interest in enhancing and maintaining a high level of service standards
  • Set up a scheme that publicly recognizes staff that provide excellent service
  • Install a 'bright ideas' scheme so staff feel more involved
  • Get your managers, supervisors & team leaders more closely involved in 'On-the-job-training' initiatives.
  • Conduct mystery shopping exercise only when you're fully committed to facing what the mystery shopping exercise is going to reveal to you - i.e., take action to correct anything so as to improve & maintain a high level of service standards
  • Align your training in line with what the mystery shopping reveals to you - i.e., focus your training and developmental efforts more on what your staff/company needs then conduct general training
  • Set up schemes in place that recognize good customer service

And get your staff involved in finding ways on improving service.

Trust me on this one

- your staff do the job and have the insider information on how to fix & improve things. They will save you a lot of money & time that you usually give to consultants that mostly complicate things!

Mohammad Abdul Khaleque (Mak)

Consultant, Trainer & Author - Customer Service, Sales, Leadership, Public Speaking & other Soft Skills plus NLP Coach.