Feedback eats broken systems for breakfast
3rd November 2020

A few years ago, I was speaking to a HR Manager who works in the retail industry and I was telling him about my new mystery shopping business. He screwed up his nose a bit and said “Mystery shopping? Isn’t that a bit old school? Does anyone even do that anymore?”


I took a deep breath, told myself not to be defensive (although I must admit his comments did sting) and tried my best to explain the good work that we were doing with our clients.


I remember getting in my car after our meeting and just sitting there with my hands on the steering wheel, making no attempt to drive the car at all. That feedback was really tough to hear. Was mystery shopping old school? Had I just started up a business that people and businesses felt wasn’t relevant?


I eventually started my car and I decided to call one of my clients, who had also become a good friend over the years of working together. This client is commercial but even better in this context, she’s always honest, I was grateful when she picked up immediately.


I pretty much got straight to the point “I’ve got a question for you; why do you mystery shop?”  It didn’t take her long, in addition to being commercial and honest, she’s quick witted and articulate; “Easy. We mystery shop because it makes a positive impact on our business. It gives us feedback so our Managers can raise the bar. It keeps our people focused on the priorities and it drives sales results. I like to believe it helps gives us our point of difference.”


I remember getting off the phone and repeating what she had said over and over out loud to myself, to ensure that I remembered it. As soon as I pulled up at home, I wrote her words in the notes app on my phone. In fact, I still have that note in my phone and it’s why I’ve been able to accurately relay what she said that day.


Both conversations went through my head over and over. Instinctively I knew why I started this business, but at that point, I had not done the hard work to get to the heart of why we do what we do. My system was broken, and I needed to fix it. In hindsight, I was super grateful that the HR Manager had given me that feedback, as it drove me to clarity. I was reminded that feedback eats broken systems for breakfast.


Within in days of that conversation, I got crystal clear why we mystery shop and why our clients mystery shop. We do it for impact. Impact on the team’s behaviour. Impact on the coaching conversations managers can have. Impact on the customer’s experience. Impact on business results.


Last year I visited a store within the retail chain of that HR Manager who thought mystery shopping was redundant. I was there with my brother in law, who was in the market for a few items that would have meant spending around the $500 mark.  Unfortunately, the experience was not a good one. My brother in law really liked their merchandise but the guy serving us was dismissive, cold and abrupt and he really put us all off the whole experience.


Now perhaps the guy who served us was just having a bad day but something in their system was broken that allowed this poor experience to take place. At the very least, I’m willing to bet that dozens of customers would have been treated the same way that day (we witnessed this happen to another two customers while we were in store). At worst, there was a deep cultural issue when it comes to providing a high standard of service at this organisation. Either way, this was negatively impacting their business, just how much, I don’t know.


Interestingly enough (and not knowing any of the background with this particular retailer) my brother in law walked out of that store, turned to me and said “Nic, you need mystery shop those guys, they desperately need some feedback.” He ended up purchasing his items elsewhere and spending well over $500 in the end.


The irony of this story is not lost on me. The HR Manager from this retail chain gave me feedback. It was tough to hear but I wrestled with it. His feedback actually drove me to get clarity on why Human Experience exists and since then, I’ve never once struggled to explain why an organisation should mystery shop. In hindsight, I’m grateful he screwed up his nose and told me his thoughts that day.


Yet this same HR Manager was not open to getting feedback on the performance of the team members within their stores. Fast forward a year and I get a small sample of the impact of not being open to feedback. I saw how when feedback goes hungry, it impacts the behaviour of the team, the experience of their customers and the results of their business.

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