Best Practices for Effective Hotel Mystery Shopping Programs

Hoteliers, restaurateurs and spa operators wishing to maximize the value of their mystery shopping program often ask: Now that I have this report, what exactly do I do with it?

Operators get the best results from their mystery shopping program when they effectively utilize and master the following:

  • Superior Report Structure
  • Frequency & Schedule
  • Customized Evaluation Criteria (tests)
  • “Buy-in” at all levels
  • Distribution of the Information
  • Behavior Modification/Catch them Doing Right

Superior Report Structure

A house is only as strong as its foundation. Decide early if you want your mystery report to be checklist-driven, narrative-driven or both.

Tips for Clients to Consider:

Narrative and Checklist Driven Reports
Upscale hotels should want  reports that have extensive and detailed narrative as a checklist will simply not provide enough of the nuances to determine if the service levels met company expectations.

a closer look at hotel quality If you are implementing a mystery shopping program for more than two upscale units, we recommend that your report have both extensive checklists and come with a very detailed narrative, so that corporate gets what they want (matrices with exceptions) and the property gets what they need (detailed story telling to coach behavior).

In a limited service franchise situation, we recommend going with a checklist-driven product because the information you are seeking is typically much more black and white.

Standards
The standards you set should be higher than what the typical guest expects.

Resist the urge to focus too extensively on standards that do not reflect what is important to the guest. Remember, the mystery shopping report is an MRI and should be directed at service behaviors.

Frequency & Schedule

The ideal frequency, cost aside, is monthly. An effective program can be four-to-six times a year as well, although the length of time between reports can hamper implementation and measurements of action plans. Either way, at least two weeks between the published date of the last report and the next one is ideal.

Shops are most effective when they occur on different days and during different occupancy periods. If last month’s shop began on a Friday, the next one should be a weekday stay. Every staff member should expect that they will be shopped.

A top tier firm that implements mystery shopping programs should agree, in writing, to never refer the same evaluator to the same venue more than once.

Evaluation Criteria-Varying the Tests

Keep Mixing it Up

Clients should be sure to provide ongoing input on what they would like the evaluators to test. Routine tests are a sure way to “out” the shopper as they will become predictable and the reports will be homogenized. Request a late-night check-in once in a while so that evaluators are touching outlets in different ways. Showing up for breakfast five minutes after closing or asking the concierge for a tough dinner reservation at the hottest restaurant in town will reveal volumes about your staff’s resourcefulness.

The mystery shopping program should be working in concert with your other CRM programs. If guests are complaining about noise in the bar, evaluators should too, so that you can practice typical recoveries on the shopper and model/coach the behavior.

Don’t do too Much
Your mystery shopper should be testing all facets of your value proposition but do so carefully so as not to blow their cover. If the same evaluators are asking questions all over your property over two days, staff will get wise and the results will be skewed.

Evaluators
Make sure the firm you use to implement mystery shopping programs never refers the same evaluators at a property. Many companies often refer the  same evaluators after a year or refer the same people under different names. Our experience has shown that staff have excellent memories of who shoppers were and can recognize them by sight.

Creating “buy-in” at all levels

We strongly recommend that general managers have input into what is being tested. If your portfolio of properties is varied, it is acceptable for there to be some variations.

If Property A has a full-time bell staff while Property B does not, allow the GM at Property B to modify the standards while respecting the tenets of the service levels your company intends to provide.

The last thing you want is for a property to feel like the standards don’t fully apply to them or for them to get used to certain deductions on every evaluation. With data suppression, you can still get apples-to-apples comparisons while acknowledging that the properties are unique.

Distributing the Information: Do not “silo” the data

Make sure the firm you use to implement mystery shopping programs has robust and easily-accessed data tools. Forty page reports that sit on a desk or get distributed by paper start you off at a considerable disadvantage.

At the Property
One of the challenges of using a detailed mystery shopping report is getting the information to your key team members quickly and concisely.

If your shopping reports only come in printed form or in .PDF attachments you are saddling your team with too much irrelevant data (and paper). You should be able to select applicable sections of a report and email what is pertinent to the accountable managers with the click of a mouse.

With that said, all managers should have access to the entire report if they wish. Making sure all key players share an inclusive feeling about the process lessens the ‘gotcha’ effect and confirms it is a learning tool for all.

Companywide
General managers are, by nature, competitive. And while you may not want GMs to see other properties’ reports in detail, you should publish global data at least quarterly, to report company data and identify who the top performers are. A Top Ten list by department will motivate average performers via peer pressure and reward the top performers through recognition of achievement.

Correcting Behaviors

If you want to use the shopping report to coach staff, you should request a detailed and fully-supported narrative. A checklist does not provide the depth and perspective needed for an employee to inwardly digest what they need to do better. We strongly recommend that subjective thoughts (which really do have value in a different context) are kept separate from the narrative detailing the events.

Scoring
Remember that the score of the report or a section is great for comparing performance to peers, but at the property level, the narrative reigns. Situations can occur where someone scored well, but the performance demonstrates room for improvement. In other cases, an employee may perform very well but miss standards for details like not using the guest name or not wearing a name tag.

Concentrate on what the narrative says and have management and the employees draw like-minded conclusions about the outcome.

Poor Performances
If performance is particularly poor, it is wise to shield the detail of the report from the offending employee’s peers. Even the best employees have bad days, and humiliating an employee will only create a defensive and negative atmosphere. We recommend sharing the report with the employee in question and share the rest with the remaining staff verbally or opaquely by removing the employee name when you distribute or announce the findings.

Great Performances
An employee that does an exceptional job should get the same amount of attention as the one the missed the mark. It is often easy to get into the trap of focusing on the bad. Balancing the approach demonstrates that you are approaching your shopping report in an unbiased manner, and it helps everyone take the good with the bad.

If an employee does particularly well, publish the entire contents on your intranet or via a module like our Peak Performances library; a quality portal archiving great performances. It is much more meaningful when employees (especially new ones) can see actual superior peer performance. It lets them know what you expect in a real, not conceptual, and demonstrates that great things are happening at your company all the time.

If you have any questions regarding this article or your current quality measurement program, contact Jim Coyle or Kevin McGovern at (800) 891-9292. Consultations are free.

About Coyle Hospitality Group (Coyle)

Coyle has developed quality measurement programs for over 100 hospitality companies since 1996. Dedicated exclusively to the hospitality industry, Coyle’s mission is to provide clients actionable quality insights that provide a strategic and lasting market advantage.

© 2018 Coyle Hospitality Group 2016. Reproduction of any material without written authorization is strictly prohibited.

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