It might seem strange to think that back in 1991 there was no Google, or Yahoo. There were no DVDs and if you were to hold a smartphone in your hand, people would safely assume that you were an alien being (especially with 600 crop circles appearing across the UK – remember those?!) But 1991 was a big year, Bryan Adams released ‘(Everything I do) I Do it For You’, the World Wide Web was created and Mystery Shoppers Ltd was born.
So Mystery Shoppers Ltd (MSL) is proud to announce its 25th year as a leading provider of mystery shopping services. In an era when customer service and compliance are paramount for retailers and the wider service industry, MSL has achieved a quarter of a century of innovation and growth. The Company commemorated the occasion with a party for staff at the An Mor in Bude.
MSL currently has a database of over 260,000 mystery shoppers, some of whom are professional full-time shoppers, some who do it as a hobby and some who even have their own covert video equipment. Using this huge database covering every nook and cranny of the United Kingdom (and even a number of overseas countries) MSL offers clients from many different industries the chance to truly understand how their customers feel about their interactions with customer service staff and indeed about the whole experience. A mystery shopping assignment can be a quick visit to a shop, a mortgage application to a bank or an international flight. It might be a simple telephone call to check the speed and politeness of greeting or complicated telephone enquiry to a bank about getting a loan. Telephone calls are usually recorded and, Increasingly, face-to-face assignments are recorded using covert audio or video recorders.
It’s all very ethical - client staff are only identified (or recorded) if they have been warned that their company plans to carry out mystery shopping, how they intend to do it, and how the information gathered will be used. The emphasis should be as much on identifying people doing a really good job so they can be praised and rewarded as it is finding instances where service could be improved and where further training or coaching is required.
MSL began operations in 1991 when Paul Grafton, the company’s founder and MD, certified Management Consultant and former British Airways In-Flight Product and Cabin Crew Training Manager, started the business with his wife Denise from their dining room table in Winkfield Row, near Ascot in Berkshire. Since then the Company has grown substantially and moved a number of times to accommodate increasing numbers of staff. There are now approximately 60 staff based at their administrative offices on the Holsworthy Industrial Estate, in Devon.
The Company also has offices in Varna, Bulgaria (where much of the covert video footage is processed and checked) as well as franchises in Kenya, Botswana and Myanmar (formerly Burma),
Mystery shoppers are selected from our database to match our client’s typical customer demographic, as well as factors such as car or house ownership. They are tasked to assess a variety of elements such as customer service, compliance with regulatory requirements and the promised customer experiences being delivered. At other times they may be assessing a client’s competitors comparing the competitor customer experience and probably also competitive pricing.
With a name like ours (we do exactly what it says on the tin), we’ve been able to gather a substantial database of brilliant shoppers to help meet our client’s varied needs over the years. In our time we’ve carried out some unusual work; we’ve set up plumbing blockages and car faults. We’ve cheated in exams (to check the invigilators are alert), parked illegally (to test the council’s parking wardens) and gone on timeshare holidays. We’ve been pregnant, bankrupt, hard-of-hearing, teenagers looking for contraception, pensioners buying insurance and trainee teachers. We’ve recruited Chinese gamblers, housing tenants, disabled mystery shoppers and males to take the last dance at a lap-dancing club (to ensure nothing is occurring which contravenes the licence).
25 years ago mystery shoppers applied by post and sent a photograph. All assessment forms were printed and sent out and received by post. All communication with clients and mystery shoppers was by telephone or letter. New business was attracted by advertisements and mailshots. Now the wonders of Google (where we have enjoyed first page listing for a number of years) means we don’t need to advertise-we are often hard-pressed to respond to the inbound enquiries we receive from our website. The web also explains how we’ve managed to build such an enormous database of mystery shoppers, who apply online. All assignment, training, briefing and reporting is automated through our web-based system which even ensures that shoppers are reimbursed for any expenses and paid their fee.
The MSL app lets mystery shoppers know if they’re in the vicinity of an available assignment. They can check the details, see whether they qualify, the fee and exactly what they’ll need to do and they can accept the assignment over their mobile phone. They can complete any required qualification and briefing, review the assessment form then visit the specified location carry out the assignment complete the form together with any required photographs of the shop or of their receipt and upload everything the moment their phone is connected.
Managing Director Paul Grafton said:
“We are delighted to be celebrating our 25th Anniversary and are thrilled with the growth of the company since launch, and particularly over the last four years when we have tripled in size. We are one of the fastest growing mystery shopping companies in the UK and are providing services to some of the leading companies in the UK and abroad with an excellent reputation across the industry. We pride ourselves on providing a tailored service and for that reason we have been able to develop an excellent relationships with our clients and with our mystery shoppers.”
But we don’t plan to stop there. In April 2017 Sophie, Paul’s daughter (currently Deputy Managing Director), will take the helm. And we’re planning for further growth with a new office area being developed jointly with our landlord.
Sophie Grafton said:
I’m delighted to be taking over such an exciting and fast moving Company and having the opportunity to lead it forward towards its next 25 years. As consumers become more and more demanding mystery shopping is a vital component of any organisation’s quality management programme. Mystery shopping not only acts as a diagnostic tool to identify what’s being done well and what isn’t, but by giving objective and constructive feedback to managers and staff it is also in itself a very effective tool for rectifying anything which may be amiss.”
If you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper, click here.