Moments of Truth – Mystery Shopping

Mystery Shopping Moments of Truth

Having just read a book first published in 1990 by Jan Carlszon who transformed the fortunes of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) it set us thinking about customer touch points and the moments of truth that cause customers to form their very first impression of a business they may wish to deal with.

The overarching themes of the book (and what Carlszon achieved with SAS) are focused around empowering staff to make decisions that ensure customers have the best experience and that every employee has the power to go over the head of ‘blockers’ in line management to senior managers if they see something that needs fixing that will adversely affect customer care.

This ethos is very much at the core of any successful marketing strategy.

How many times has a great sales campaign, or a great product failed because of issues related to service delivery.

From a marketing perspective, this is very much the essence of the ‘Marketing 7 P’s and why we as marketers should be, and in most cases are, very involved when it comes to testing the ‘physical evidence’, ‘processes’ and ‘people’ elements of the marketing mix – often many onlookers still view our involvement as merely a key player in the planning of promotional tactics.

This leads to the question of when was the last time you, as the Director of a family or owner managed business, ‘mystery shopped’ your organisation?

This does not necessarily mean paying for a full blown exercise – a lot can be found out by simply asking a close friend or business associate to contact your company or, if you think you won’t be recognised, do it yourself and experience what it’s like to be a customer!

Before you do so, make a quick diagram of the various points at which your potential customers and customers can be ‘touched’ and how their perceptions of you can be formed and subsequently affected.

When we start working with new clients, one of the first things we do to get a ‘feel’ for their culture and the service their customers will experience is to carry out a few simple tests of various touch points. You’ll also be surprised how much you can learn just by sitting around in a reception, and a really weird test, that is to visit their staff toilet – this very often gives you a very real sense of their culture and how they value employees.

The following are some of the most common customer facing touch points and ways they can be assessed and improved:



  • How many rings does it take to answer
  • Are your staff trained to answer calls and say the same greeting?
    • Hello, XYZ Company, my name is XYZ, how can I help you
  • Do staff sound inexperienced, gormless and disinterested, perhaps even stern and scary and prone to doing a Spanish inquisition to find out why you are calling – or intelligent, happy and helpful?
  • What do they say when transferring your call
    • Train them never to say “I will see if they are free/available” as this is basically saying what they are doing is more important than the caller
      • Say “Thanks, I’ll put you through now, please hold.”
    • Call waiting music or a recorded advertising is a great way to ensure the time passes and conveys the right impression. PH Media Group offer some great options.
    • If you have to have an automated answer service make sure the options are no more than four and the voiceover matches your company brand values.


  • Before making a decision to contact you, many people will choose to browse through a website to get a feel for whether you can solve their problem. Indeed, they may have done a ‘keyword search’ and found you via organic or paid for search.
    • Do the messages and content reflect your service offering?
      • If not, it is time to invest in an updated design and new content as it would be a shame to waste a valuable ‘click through’
    • Do your landing pages have appropriate calls to action that guides browsers to take the next step you want them to take?
    • Do you regularly check that web enquiry forms are being received and responded to within the promised time-scales?

Marketing Collateral

  • When was the last time you reviewed your brochures and on-line marketing such as email and social media?
    • Maybe it’s time to rethink your messaging and brand identity?


  • This is the big one!
    • Sometimes it’s all about attitude not skills!
    • Take time to review your recruitment and training processes to ensure your staff are having helpful and informative conversations with customers and are willing to excel in delighting them.
      • In today’s competitive world, a mediocre experience just doesn’t cut it anymore!
      • Deal with jobsworths and neg-heads – the middle management bypass Carlzon advocated!


  • When people visit your company what first impression do they get?
    • When they first see your premises
      • Do you look prosperous or about to go bust?
    • What does your signage say?
      • Is it easily identifiable?
    • What does your reception area say about your company?
    • What is your receptionist like – attitude and appearance?
      • Do they look inexperienced, gormless and disinterested, perhaps even stern and scary and prone to doing a Spanish inquisition to find out who you want to see?
    • What can customers overhear whilst waiting that will impact their opinion?
    • What positive impressions can they learn whilst waiting?
      • Wall pictures of projects or welcoming staff – or just an austere insurance certificate in a frame?
      • A coffee table booklet of press releases or customer testimonials
      • Will you offer them a drink?


A review of the above areas will usually uncover a number of easy quick wins to fix that will dramatically improve the customer experience and improve client satisfaction.

If you find some more complex issues that may be costly or time consuming to resolve don’t be put off – in making his changes Carlzon had to endure two successive years of negative profitability, but in doing so he prepared SAS for the dramatics legislative and consumer choice changes that lie ahead of the company.

If you would like help or further advice on your businesses moments of truth, please complete the enquiry form below.

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