Cost-effective mystery shopping for the hospitality sector

The case for using online reviews

Why would one do mystery shopping? From a management or HR point of view, it can serve as a disciplining stick – if staff are aware of mystery shoppers, they are more likely to be on higher alert when attending to guests. If can even be developed into a spine for bonus and rewards schemes in some very customer-centric organisations. From the research and insight perspective, it provides one big benefit over traditional C-SAT surveys in that it captures a great deal of depth about the guest experience which may slip through the fingers of even a very good questionnaire.

It is for most, however, prohibitively expensive, so not many organisations can afford the luxury of extensive mystery shopping programmes. The good news is that there is a viable alternative that Hospitality businesses can and should embrace, as many already do.

This alternative is called TripAdvisor. Aside from its obvious marketing and sales potential, when used cleverly, it can serve as a mystery shopping facility. That is the case for a number of key reasons:

  1. By its nature, TripAdvisor turns every potential guest into an incognito mystery shopper, so slip-ups in customer service are unlikely to be confined to the dusty Complaints Book, but can be “reported” on the same day (with the added pressure of going global, of course).
  2. TripAdvisor reviews are spontaneous and highly ecologically valid. Reviewers are not incentivised on participation, so their comments are candid and they are naturally inclined to focus on things that are important to them as opposed to following a script.
  3. TripAdvisor is good, and getting better, at fishing out dodgy reviews, while on the other hand many of the experienced reviewers become increasingly expert at breaking down the guest experience in line with a model customer journey.
  4. Finally, the reviews are date-specific, so that the experience can be tracked to a particular shift or scenario, and allow drawing meaningful operational conclusions.

But arguably the single biggest opportunity, is approaching TripAdvisor reviews as a source of aggregate data. Some hospitality companies attract hundreds of reviews, which offers an enormous opportunity not only for cherry-picking particularly worrisome or laudable areas, but also for gauging the relative weight of those issues. We would argue that the value this can bring to the table is not far off the mark of the meticulously structured output delivered by physical mystery shoppers.

There is an instant potential objection: how does one make sense of all those scattered and bitty reviews, which are a far cry from an orderly and structured output of traditional mystery shopping? Gladly, this is where we come in. Using content and discourse analysis techniques, we can aggregate and interpret the data very swiftly, while elucidating it with particularly striking cases that illustrate the most salient themes. This covers the bases of satisfying both qualitative and quantitative requirements of such an exercise. And best of all, our client does not have to pay for collecting the data, as it is already there. Worth a stab? We should think so.


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