Mixed Messages and Mixed Research: Mystery Shops, Customer Surveys and Social Media

Mixed Messages and Mixed Research: Mystery Shops, Customer Surveys and Social Media

On the spot restaurant reviews, customer service remarks, and feedback on wait times. Whatever customers talk about online, managers immediately learn about customer feelings when they monitor social media.  While these instantaneous comments are an important part of understanding customer opinions, the feedback is very different from customer experience services such as mystery shops and customer satisfaction surveys.  

Casual online comments travel fast, and make a substantial impact on potential customer buying decisions as well as employee morale.  Onsite and telephone mystery shopping results help companies reward employees for positive sales behaviors and fine tune training efforts.  Customer opinions through web or mobile surveys provide honest input about employees and services.  With these differences in mind, and the added complexity of random online comments, many companies wonder how all three types of research fit together. 

It’s easy to see how data from mystery shops and customer satisfaction surveyscombine to help answer the question of how company standards (as measured by mystery shops) compare to actual customer satisfaction data (as gained from mobile, IVR or web surveys). For a refresher see our post, “Head to Head: Customer Satisfaction Surveys vs. Mystery Shops”.

Example: Customer survey uncovers an area of dissatisfaction.

Solution:  Senior management identifies the operational processes that should be in place so the dissatisfaction does not recur. Mystery shoppers are deployed to observe and report on employee performance in the area of concern. Managers communicate mystery shop results to encourage and reward improvement. From there, managers may monitor future survey responses to learn if customers mention the issue again or recalibrate operational requirements to meet customer needs.

The connection between satisfaction surveys and mystery shops is clear; however the one among surveys, shops and social medial feedback is less obvious.  It can be tough to determine where to place the majority of monitoring and management efforts, now that social media has opened the field for more frequent and off the cuff customer comments.  At times, it can seem like a shell game, trying to find where the true answers are.

We’ve found this chart helpful in comparing the three:

Mystery Shopping

Customer Satisfaction

Social Media

What/How are we Doing?

What Should We Be Doing?

What are Customers Saying?

Reported facts

Solicited Recall and feelings

Shared recall and feelings

During interaction

After interaction

Before, During or After Interaction

Observed behaviors

Recalled behaviors

Impressions over time

Measure performance using own metrics

Measure performance using customer’s metrics

Squeaky wheel, greatest fan

Use to plan, train, reward

Use to plan

Use to filter plans

Specific facts

Directed perceptions

Specific or general opinions

Guides process execution

Guides process formation

Guides process definition


To achieve a balance among the three, you need enough monitoring of each. While retailers often include a combination of mystery shops and surveys in their customer experience measurement strategies, they sometimes miss on managing “digital connection” advertising and monitoring online feedback.  In a recent study, surprisingly, retail stores emphasized their website at physical stores more often than QR codes or social networking sites such as Facebook.  And many of the stores that advertised a Facebook logo did so without directly telling customers how they benefit from becoming a fan.  Taking a more active approach in meshing experiences across channels, and telling customers what they gain by interacting with the company through different means, can help retail companies make the most of feedback.

It’s important for companies to go a step further than simply advertising their Facebook presence and website.  Some retail companies use social media merely for one-way communication with their customers,while what they really need to do isrespond more to customer conversations online.  Companies that don’t engage with customers through social media may miss out on comments from critical customer segments. For example, social media feedback is an important way for momsto provide comments about brands, with a recent study showing that moms were 34% more likely to comment on brands online compared to other women.


To consider how mystery shops, surveys and social media go together, think of a doctor’s office.   A patient goes online and complains about a long wait in the waiting room. When the doctor’s office staff member reads the post, he calls the patient the next day, apologizes and explains why the office was so crowded that day.  This is great responsiveness on the part of the doctor’s office, especially considering how quickly those posting comments online expect a reply. 

Handling online comments as they come in, however, is not enough.  Facebook posts and other online customer comments may only center on a few customer concern areas.  If a business has several locations, customers from all locations may not post their opinions online.  More importantly, online comments usually come from very positive or extremely negative experiences. These comments tend to feed off of each other reflecting a “me too” attitude when sharing these opinions friends. What’s needed is across the board feedback for all locations, across all areas important to the customer experience.  In this case, monthly waiting room mystery shops could assess the waiting experience at all locations to learn how employees interact with waiting patients over time. If the doctor’s office develops new strategies on improving waits, the shops could be used to measure how well employees put the new ideas into action, and an online customer survey could ask for patient feedback on details of the waiting room experience.  

Another factor to consider is timing. Responses to comments on social media are after the fact; while mystery shops help companies proactively deliver great service, for the simple reason that most employees elevate their performance when they know that any customer may be a mystery shopper. This is true for restaurants,as well as other industries.  A solid mystery shopping program can help prevent negative viral comments online and provide regular feedback on employee areas of interest for you.  Will a customer notice an employee who stepped away to text after assisting them? If the customer notices, will they comment about it online?  Maybe, but a mystery shopper trained to observe employee behaviors will make note of this every time, ensuring that companies benefit from another set of eyes in the field.

When used together, shops, surveys and social media offer a powerful way to learn more about your customers, and drive you to actions that will keep them for the long term.

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