Friday, July 01, 2011

Mystery Shoppers – A Valuable Tool For Community Marketers

In the early 90’s, Durham’s community/destination marketing organization (DCVB) became one of the first to deploy “mystery shoppers” just as federal officials plan to do soon to get a handle on how difficult it is to access healthcare.

Unfortunately, this “best practice” is still far too rarely deployed even though it gives a perspective that can’t be gleaned from satisfaction surveys and complaint logs alone.  And there are more efficient and effective and much less dramatic ways to conduct them than those you see on Undercover Boss.

Periodically over the two decades that I led DCVB my associates regularly deployed “mystery shoppers” for many purposes including but certainly not limited to the eight below:

  • Confirm and improve how our own staff members responded to questions or issues or requests for directions via the telephone or during drop-ins from visitors and meeting planners etc,


  • Improve front-line training for front-desk people at lodging facilities, maître d’s, bartenders, wait-staff, theater and museum greeters, airport and train staff, bus and taxi drivers etc,


  • Confirm the accuracy and then address comments by staff in competitor communities,


  • Confirm and then address comments about Durham from real estate developers and agents to potential newcomers, including those based in nearby communities,


  • Confirm and improve how airline ticket agents, gate agents and reservationists referenced the co-owned airport and answered questions about Durham,


  • Confirm and then address how effectively public sector, non-profit-sector and private sector entities processed questions for visitor information and referrals to the visitor information center,


  • Confirm and address the information related to Durham and Durham locations provided by taxi dispatchers and drivers including the efficiency of point to point routing and to document illegal use of out-of-town cabs, and


  • Confirming and address the information given in response to questions by students and potential faculty on university campuses and in public schools.

We picked up on mystery shoppers as a best practice that had been pioneered by retailers.  All we did differently was to apply community-wide at every visitor touch point.  Today they often involve video-taping as well as telephone and in-person shops.

It is imperative that the “mystery shoppers” be from out of town so their eyes and ears are fresh.  But their effectiveness depends on giving them not only questions to ask but the appropriate answers so they can ask follow up clarifications.

The results are anecdotal, even if as we did, numerous “shops” are conducted simultaneously or sequentially in each category.  However, they are invaluable as a means to glean how your community is being presented to every type of visitor including newcomers and relocating executives.

“Mystery shops” are even more imperative in a community like Durham where one in three jobs is held by non-residents commuting in from nearby communities to work.  This condition intensifies the need for frequent monitoring as well as follow-up intervention, training and familiarization.

As with anything, what you put into preparation for “mystery shoppers” can make all the difference in how useful the results can be.

Community/destination marketing at its essence begins with defending and promoting the community’s identity.  To do this effectively, especially as traditional tactics such as advertising have declined so dramatically in effectiveness impotent, it is essential to monitor, understand and improve communications by and about your community across a broad range of internal and external audiences.

1 comment:

Angelina Marshall said...

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Satisfaction Questionnaires