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“So that will be 9 out of 10 for customer service….and 4 out of 10 for the overcooked steak!”


We’ve all heard of the concept of ‘mystery diner’ and ‘mystery shopper’. It’s an observational tool used by companies, who bring in an unknown outsider to their organisation to test employee knowledge, customer service skills and productivity. Having previously worked in the hospitality industry, a few years ago I decided to put my knowledge to good use by becoming a mystery diner.

There is a need for this type of all-seeing eye, to ensure a level of standard is kept in business, especially where customer service is concerned. There are however, other areas that need to be considered when using the ‘mystery’ concept.

In this blog, let’s call our mystery diner Benjamin. Given a designated time slot, Benjamin would enter the elected food establishment armed with a checklist in his head, of the info required to complete the lengthy online form at the end of the evening(trust me, it’s not a particularly relaxing experience being a mystery diner). To ensure as much info can be gained from the experience, the mystery diner is required to be constantly clock watching and checking. Was Benjamin seated within 5 minutes of entering the building? Was he offered a side salad with his order? How long did it take between finishing his starter for the plates to be cleared away? Is there hot water in the toilets?…and that’s before he even contemplates the quality of the food and the friendliness of the staff.

This service isn’t exclusive to restaurants. There are an increasing number of companies offering essential customer-facing services in some form using the ‘mystery’ concept. It’s now wide spread in many trades, including health clubs, supermarkets and hotels. The fact this industry is expanding at a rate of knots isn’t surprising, when you learn that less than 1 in 10 dissatisfied customers bother to complain. Is that because as a nation, we really don’t want to cause a fuss? Ask yourself how would you react if your steak arrived on your plate, obviously well done, when you asked for it medium rare? What if there is a barely a dribble of caramel sauce covering your sticky toffee pudding? Would you complain there and then, or would you smile and say everything is fine and then whinge about your bad experience for weeks after at every opportunity to anyone who would listen?

There is an essential pre-cursor to the arrival of a mystery guest in any business. If your staff know that at some point their work is likely to be scrutinised by an unknown visitor to the establishment, then it’s essential they feel they have had the training to deal with whatever is thrown at them. Not only that, they need to have the tools to ensure they can provide the service expected. It’s all very well providing a personal trainer for the discerning fitness fanatic at an exclusive, over priced gym, but pointless if half of the equipment isn’t working.

The ‘mystery’ concept can bring about great change, but is a pointless tool if the information gleaned from it, isn’t implemented. What happens after the visit is just as important. Whatever feedback is given by the Benjamin’s of the world, needs to be implemented to justify their presence in the first place, to those whose behaviour and skills have been put under the microscope. This ‘after care’ principle is the same whether in relation to mystery dining, mystery shopping or taking part in a 360 degree feedback review. Generally people don’t mind being reviewed as long as they have been given the right kind of training, and provided with the equipment needed to carry out their job. They also need to have faith in the system to know that having been reviewed, not only will there be an acknowledgment of what they do well, but there will also be training and advice given to help them implement any changes needed.

For any organisation, feedback is essential. Whatever observational tool you use, it’s got to be worth keeping in mind that whatever information ‘Benjamin’ brings to your attention, it’s imperative that it’s acted upon, to ensure the cooperation and trust of those involved in the process.

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