Evaluating Service Performance is no Mystery

As someone who spent time in retail management and even more time as a marketing researcher, I am a proponent of mystery shopping. Enlisting persons to assume the role of a customer or shopper to evaluate a service provider’s performance gives an unfiltered view of employee performance. In a retail setting, mystery shoppers can assess touchpoints of the service encounter such as how quickly they are greeted (if greeted at all), salesperson’s product knowledge, selling skills demonstrated, closing attempts, and transaction execution. Findings can be used to give positive feedback to employees who are observed demonstrating desired behaviors or to give coaching to employees who do not meet expectations.

Recently, Sports Business Journal ran a story about a study by IntelliShop of ticket sales employees for Major League Baseball teams. Mystery shoppers were used to evaluate salespersons’ attempts to build a relationship with someone calling to inquire about tickets as well as whether the customer was invited to visit the ballpark to learn more about season-ticket options. The study was not sponsored by MLB, but one would think it would be very interested to know how its teams fared in terms of serving potential ticket buyers. Apparently not! A MLB spokesperson quoted in the article said “While I haven’t seen all of the data, I think anyone would question the results of a survey where the research company aggressively solicited more than two-thirds of the league to forge a business relationship. They are incentivized to demonstrate a need to teams, one that they can fill. It is a clear conflict of interest.”

I assume that the MLB spokesperson has neither worked in marketing nor has a grasp on the concept of a mystery shopper. Question the results? Clear conflict of interest? The spokesperson’s dim view of the survey’s findings may be attributed to some teams scoring very low in terms of: 1) percentage of mystery shoppers invited to visit the ballpark and 2) salespeople’s efforts to build rapport with mystery shoppers when they called. Instead of taking a defensive posture, MLB teams should embrace the data… especially since they did not have to pay for it!

Mystery shopping is a valuable market research tool for uncovering strengths and weaknesses, individually and organizationally, in delivering outstanding customer service. Rather than feeling compelled to engage in PR-speak when results are less than ideal, MLB and its clubs should be thrilled because they now have insights into how their ticket sales personnel’s interactions with buyers are perceived. In effect, mystery shopping removes the mystery of identifying areas of improvement in enhancing the customer experience.

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