Published in


HR meets Marketing Part 6: The case for the Mystery Shopper

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment; when the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.”-Paul Black

The best time to improve is always now. And what better way to get started on this path than through one of marketing’s oldest research technique- the mystery shopper. Wikipedia describes this as;

a method used by marketing research companies and organizations that wish to measure quality of sales and service, job performance, regulatory compliance, or to gather specific information about a market or competitors, including products and services.

Another simpler way to understand this technique is in its words. Imagine if we could hire a shopper who would be anonymous or unknown to the attendants and workers of the shop we’re running, to help us gather some valuable feedback around areas of concerns or business impact? The MS provides a business or service a tremendous opportunity to view, identify or improve on processes that are critical to customer service, compliance or business results. And why do this? Well, for the two simple facts below;

  • People are biased in their judgement & accounting. By getting fresh perspectives & true accounts of events, only then can you really form a true picture of what’s really happening.
  • People lie. For different reasons including to cover up their asses or other selfish ones, human beings will not entirely be honest with you about everything all the time.

Is this a real thing?

Well in some advanced markets, this is an entire industry believe it or not with agencies who supply businesses across all ranges of services including government, health, retail, food & restaurant etc, MS at a fee. These shoppers submit detailed reports and feedback about their experiences through assessments and reports ranging from simple questionnaires to audio and video recordings. It is a proven technique that works to provide management and teams feedback that is true, accurate, unbiased and complete.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”- Mark Twain

“Without proper self evaluation, failure is inevitable.”- John Wooden

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

So how can the hiring team use this market research method to get closer to achieving its goals? Let’s look at some scenarios that may need a second or third perspective.

  • The application process

From candidate emails, types of tools & technologies you’re using to the ease and complexity of the process, there’s much to research about here and anonymous applicants could just be the guiding light you’ve been looking for. Aside from some good companies who conduct a short survey once an applicant has completed the job application, you could go further to use product design methods like heatmaps and analytical tools embedded into your site. There’s a wealth of info to be mined here such as noticing disability concerns, long loading time of pages, users trying to zoom in on a certain section because the fonts are too small, users scrolling aimlessly through the job ad because of how long or boring it is, some buttons not working or being repetitive actions, poor choice of colors or fonts etc.

  • The screening process

A great example of this is the one we highlighted in this previous article where the CEO took it upon himself, together with 3 other top senior engineers at the company, to apply for a junior engineer role on their ATS. And to their surprise the ATS declined them at that very first stage based on normal ATS biases like key words. But through this experiment, they were able to see for themselves what that screening criteria was for applicants and how their systems could be flawed and how they could fix it. So could you be missing out on key talent because of your choice or quality of screening techniques e.g ATS, chat bots, questionnaires, personality & competency tests,case studies etc. Put them all through the test yourself or using MS.

  • The interview process

The interview process is a goldmine of info if you’re really keen on improving the quality of your hiring process & results. Check out our previous articles here to see all the ‘moments that matter’ here and how you can create an evaluation study from our recruiter guides which you can then use to put your interview to the test.

  • Your employer brand

From your brand equity i.e how you perceive yourself vs how others perceive you to activities such as CSR, recruiting & networking events, social media and online reviews, what past employees are saying, your internship program & student initiatives, diversity strategies, culture and so much more that can be tested and improved to help grow your overall employer brand based on your talent goals.

  • Compliance

The legal risk during hiring is one that can’t go unmentioned. That’s why most companies require additional information from candidates during the hiring process including date of birth, religion, disability status, gender, sexual orientation etc. A claim that you’re biased against a certain group of people(and we’ve seen many on social media!) could harm your brand as well as cost you in litigation fees. Be intentional about following the law to the letter and always checking your processes against not only the law, but laid out standard operating procedures, manual, policies, culture and SLAs.

  • The job market

From what your competitors are up to, your employer brand above, unemployment rates,service providers e.g new tools & agencies, salary mapping & bench marking and emerging legislation and trends, there’s much to be discovered here and Linkedin offers a great course to business leaders on this that can hep you get started.

Is this ethical?

While some may think of the MS as a spy, in essence they are much more than that. The motive here is rather not punitive but forward thinking. It requires management to set the right tone from the very beginning by maintaining the confidentiality of the shoppers and upholding ethics & transparency throughout. The results from this research cannot in any way be used to say let go of a staff. It can however be used as a conversation starter to discuss team or individual performance or development plans.

How to get started

Find out if there are agencies in your location who offer this type of research as a service. If not, you can still achieve the same by encouraging anonymous responses and a feedback system. Even adding an anonymous open feedback form on your site or candidate emails could go a long way in shedding light about areas of improvement and those that you’re excelling it. It can be as complicated and as simple as you make it out to be. You also need a strong culture of performance & growth that will make the process seen as a growth initiative which will then guarantee buy in during implementation of recommendations by all parties involved. In my opinion, you could use this technique to even get info about your other facets of HR including culture, performance management, learning or engagement. One way you can do this is by making use of interns since most companies usually have a fresh group every quarter or so or graduate trainees. These groups provide you with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and could potentially unlock a whole lot of value for your company.

Got any more tips on the mystery shopper? We’d love to read them below on the comments. All the best!

Still looking for more? Check out



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Stella Ngugi

Stella Ngugi


HR Generalist| Founder @JobonicsHR | Where HR, Tech& Entrepreneurship meet| Eat. Pray. Code. Blog. Hire | 🇰🇪 IVisit for more info.