Are Mystery Shoppers Really the Way to Improve Customer Service in the UAE?

I am amazed how poor customer service is in the UAE. Perhaps it’s because I am an American and I have set my standards too high.

A news story this summer about expat customers in the MENA region state that a survey concluded Americans have the highest expectations while citizens of India and Pakistan have much lower expectations. This may be the case, yet a vast majority of expats, no matter what the country, complain about overall service from telephone companies to retail stores in the UAE.
Senior management of these establishments are well aware of the continuous public complaints about indifferent clerks, the inability to deliver or repair an item or return or make an exchange of a product.

Solution, the Mystery Shopper!
The Mystery Shopper is very popular in the UAE and is according to Wikipedia “Mystery shopping was standard practice by the early 1940s as a way to measure employee integrity. Tools used for mystery shopping assessments range from simple questionnaires to complete audio and video recordings. Mystery shopping can be used in any industry, with the most common venues being retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, fast food chains, banks, gas stations, car dealerships, apartments, health clubs and health care facilities.”
Mystery shoppers pose as customers in which they perform specific tasks, purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way – and then provide detailed reports or feedback about their experiences. Once the report is given to management it is up to them to determine next steps.
In a June 4, 2010 article in The National reported there are thousands of mystery shoppers who “scour banks, shops and hotels across the Emirates every hour of every day, clandestinely monitoring the level of service offered to customers. It’s a service that has become crucial for companies vying for customer loyalty, in a world where people are watching what they spend and where they spend it.”
The article goes to state secret shoppers are “on the front lines, collecting the information and data that’s crucial to understanding the confusing retail and banking landscape.”
With this army of secret shoppers, untold numbers of reports are presented to highly educated members of management. Why is customer service still so poor across all industries?
Well, there are many studies and articles on how to improve customer service but I think the Kipp Report (The Middle East’s first online-only business magazine) states it best in there June 6, 2010 blog “Mystery shoppers? Let Kipp save you the bother:
“Kipp doesn’t think retailers need to invest too much money in hiring mystery shoppers, at least, not yet. Mystery shoppers are an incisive tool aimed at perfecting service in a mature and competent retail market. They can help bring excellence in a retail market of high standards. Here in the UAE, that’s a total waste.

Here’s what retailers need to know: Your customer service levels are, by and large, terrible. There are no strengths, and improvement can be made in every single area. The average customer’s opinion of the shopping experience is that it is a horrific trial of patience and endurance where the staff adds little or no value and the only redeeming aspect is the product.”
Kipp suggest four very basic ideas of which I believe point third is crucial.
1. TRAIN your staff so they know about the products they are selling. Why? It will help them sell more and it will be useful to the customer.
2. TRAIN your staff that following people around a store or hovering next to them constantly is not service, it’s stalking.
3. EMPOWER your staff to work on their initiative, so they could open an extra till when a queue builds up, for instance.
4. MORE does not equal better. Dozens of staff in one store does not equal good service (see point 1) particularly when they can’t follow point 3.
In my conversions with store managers and owners they believe the most effective method to improve customer service is to find the staff that are preforming below par, and weed them out. In some cases fire them, others yell, shame or discipline the staff member so they understand what they are doing wrong. In my years as a executive, I learned quickly it is management’s responsibility to properly train staff to know their products, how to work with customers, and to empower a staff member as much as reasonably possible to take the lead and find ways to solve the problem. This is not done by scaring the staff.
You can have a million secret shoppers but until proper training and empowerment by management and owners is put in place customer service will not improve. I’ll state the obvious, the happier the customer the more likely they are to return to your store and buy again. It is much more cost effective than slick ads or additional employees. Get more employees when you have more customers and do some training!

One Reply to “Are Mystery Shoppers Really the Way to Improve Customer Service in the UAE?”

  1. Interesting Insight considering that Retail Sector is very big and serves as a major attraction for tourists and residents.

    My Question to you would be, what exactly in customer services is going wrong? Once we know the variables that are going wrong, then we will know the means to correct them


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