Mystery shopping in the later living sector

Why mystery shopping is a friend not foe of later living

What is mystery shopping?

Being able to see your business through the eyes of a prospective customer is invaluable. You could
even argue it’s essential when it comes to your sales process and ensuring it’s operating and performing as you expect and need it to.

Mystery shoppers provide an objective and unbiased perspective. They see it how it is and say it how it is.

There are many reasons to commission a mystery shop in the later living sector, here are just a

Benchmark tool – many operators choose to use it as a regular annual exercise, to measure and guide them on how service levels are doing and how specific teams of staff within the business are performing. It is part and parcel of the operator’s DNA and will be carried out with the full knowledge of staff.

Trouble shooting – other operators use it as part of a trouble shooting exercise, helping uncover a specific issue or concern within a customer-facing process, whether it’s sales or operations.

Brand and marketing – similarly, mystery shoppers can help uncover whether your marketing messages and brand perceptions are actually working and translating through to the service received on the ground.

Training investment – training and other new initiatives introduced within the organisation, including a revised sales process or new operational procedure, need to work. A mystery shop exercise can soon uncover if they are being implemented and carried out as they should be. You will have invested time and budget into training or changing practises, you need evidence they are working; in some cases, these may be regulatory or compliance changes and so proof of uptake could be a legal requirement.

Assessing the competition – invaluable for new entrants to the market and also some of the more established operators who need to check they are still remaining current and relevant against the competition. (More on both of these further down this blog so please do keep reading.)

Advantages and disadvantages of mystery shopping

This is not a negative tool designed to highlight failure and weed out poor performers. Indeed, it can reward good performance. Used in the right way and for the right reasons, it is an incredibly useful
and pro-active approach for the on-going development of your organisation, from the ground up,
supporting staff and enabling management teams and boards to use hard evidence and data to drive
decisions, for the benefit of everyone.

There are some obvious advantages:
– You receive an objective and unbiased sample of what a potential customer might experience. This is essential if you are ever to achieve your end goals/targets.
– Great for identifying staff training needs and potential gaps.
– Provides evidence your teams are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, there’s synergy and everyone is pulling together.
– Perfect for invigorating sales teams and introducing a reset – something that might be useful as we come out of the pandemic situation or for the start of a new financial year.

There are also disadvantages to think about:
– Many mystery shops only monitor and evaluate and don’t offer any pro-active recommendations.
– Many will only address individual members of staff or a specific team, the exercise may not provide you with an overall picture of what’s happening within your organisation.
– If the reasoning behind introducing a mystery shopping exercise isn’t explained to your teams in the right way, it can lead to negativity and low morale.

Where does it work best in the later living sector

Sales is the obvious place to introduce mystery shopping. We all recognise by now that the sales process within our industry is far removed from simply a property transaction. There is so much more than the actual bricks and mortar that influences and motivates a potential customer and so this naturally has to form part of the sales process.

Sales teams must work together, they understand that in the majority of cases, a purchase is going to take several months to secure from initial enquiry through to visit/s and eventually to reservation. It needs a joined up approach and detailed information sharing and stored so as the customer journey is mapped out and can be picked up whichever member of the team is working. Consistency and continuity will be key for a customer and their family.

Organising your mystery shop

If you’re considering introducing mystery shopping into your business, the best starting point is to understand what your objective is from the exercise. What are you trying to evaluate or what are you trying to understand is happening/not happening within your organisation.

Providing a detailed and comprehensive brief will be essential as you commission this work – this will ensure you get the very most from the exercise. Also, consider what type of ‘shop’ you require. Some providers will be limited to phone sessions, others a mix of both phone and in-person visits. Some will combine these with online activity, eg: booking a visit or attendance at an event, even the experience of navigating your website.

Check out the credentials before you plunge in and commission your mystery shopping partner. What industries do they specialise in, if any; do they have any experience in the later living arena; can you handpick your mystery shoppers; and how flexible can they be to your needs.

Most important for you will not only be the data and information they provide you with after the exercise, but also any insights and recommendations they can offer up. A fresh pair of eyes can often see something obvious that isn’t working or needs to be introduced or changed – it may be so obvious when it’s pointed out, but teams and management are often so entrenched in what they are doing, they would never have seen this for themselves. These types of findings can prove a real bonus to you in this exercise.

Sharing your mystery shopping results

You’re going to get the very most out of a mystery shopping exercise if you share some of the findings with your teams. They can be used in personal development plans, as mentoring opportunities, to help build training sessions, and in wider strategic decisions that you share with teams as you develop the business.

Even the most negative findings can be pivoted into constructive, positive feedback. Just remember, if you hadn’t carried out the exercise, you may never have discovered some of these findings. Now you have, you are in the driving seat and can act upon them.

Using mystery shopping to gain a competitive edge

Of course, one of the advantages of using mystery shopping is to assess your competition, particularly in a crowded market place. Thankfully, operators don’t suffer too much in this regard yet as the UK retirement property sector has plenty of room to grow and develop itself.

But for new entrants to the industry, who need to get a better feel and understanding of how other brands in this space approach their customer experience, this can be a great discovery exercise. Likewise, some of the longer established operators, who may have not adapted to the changing market and could potentially risk getting left behind, will find mystery shopping a potentially invaluable project to benchmark their own behaviours against the competition.

Next steps 

If you’re considering planning a mystery shopping exercise into next year’s budget, or need a simple one-off project completing urgently, please do come and talk to me.

Experience of this industry over the past two decades means I’m well placed to assess exactly what you require. I’m working with a team of later living professionals, from across a range of disciplines (sales, operations and marketing) with no affiliations to existing operators and can therefore provide an unbiased and highly effective mystery shopping service for you.

Get in touch today

If you want to know more about the service and how it could support you, please give me a call or drop me an email, I’d love to chat about your specific needs.

Tel: 07879 470253


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