The role of mystery shopping in the measurement of service performance

Wilson, Alan (1998) The role of mystery shopping in the measurement of service performance. Managing Service Quality, 8 (6). pp. 414-420. ISSN 0960-4529 (

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Mystery shopping, a form of participant observation, uses researchers to act as customers or potential customers to monitor the quality of processes and procedures used in the delivery of a service. The need for specific performance information stems from the increasing emphasis being placed on service performance by service managers. While service standards are invariably set by head-office staff and senior management, the task of delivering these standards falls to individual customer-facing personnel. Variations in service performance can have a major impact on customer satisfaction. This is emphasised by Bateson(1992) who suggested that the customer’s experience during the delivery of a service is as important to customer satisfaction as is the benefit that the service provides. Grönroos (1983) in his paper on “interactive marketing” also stressed that “how” you perform a service is often as important as “what” you perform. Managing the “how” requires the setting of quality standards (Berry et al., 1985; 1988; Grönroos, 1981; Johnston, 1988; Lovelock, 1988) and the measurement of performance against these standards mystery shopping is a technique which is frequently used by service organisations to measure performance against pre-set quality standards. In the UK, although mystery shopping is used quite extensively, very little has been written on how mystery shopping is undertaken and the steps taken by users and providers to ensure that a true measure of service performance is obtained. This paper reports on a programme of research which was aimed at considering: the reasons for organisations using mystery shopping as a measure of service quality; the procedures used to ensure the objectivity and reliability of mystery shopping research; the use made of mystery shopping data and the manner in which these data are communicated to service personnel.