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Kill Mystery Shopping Now

by Jeremiah Wilson
December 2011

For 30 years the VHS tape dominated the movie industry. Every movie from 1977 to 2003 was released on VHS. Nearly every American family had a video camera that recorded precious memories, children’s sporting events, and Christmas Nativity scenes. TV stations used VHS tapes to capture every major news event from the Carter administration to 9/11.

The VHS tape was an engrained part of American culture.

But, then something better came along.

After a fierce competition between Sony’s Betamax, Philip’s Video 2000 and MCA’s Laserdisc, a technology called the DVD emerged.
In late 2003, for the first time ever, DVD rentals surpassed VHS rentals in the U.S. By 2006 major film studios stopped releasing new movie titles in VHS. By 2007 fewer than 40% of Americans still had VCRs and far fewer actually used them.

On December 31, 2008 the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a warehouse in California. The owner of the warehouse summed it up best: “It’s dead, this is it, without a doubt. I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I’m done. Anything left in the warehouse we’ll either give away or throw away.”

VHS was replaced by a technology that was cheaper, better, higher-quality and gave the viewer a ‘more real’ viewing experience.  Now Blu-Rays, streaming video and downloaded material are slowly killing the DVD for the same reasons.

Time marches on.

History of Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping is sort of like the VHS tape. It began in the 40s. For decades it was how cutting-edge companies measured customer experience. Mystery shopping allowed businesses to better understand how their employees interacted with customers, how employees sold products, and how employees provided customer service.  It allowed them to train their employees more effectively. Businesses from banks to theaters, auto repair shops to hotels use mystery shopping.

Mystery shopping is a billion dollar industry worldwide. Each year more than 8 million mystery shopping calls are conducted.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Mystery shopping providers laud its benefits, frequently calling mystery shopping, “the eyes and ears of your customers.”

Basically here’s how it works: paid callers posing as real customers call your hotel, for example. They ask for information about pricing, about perks and about your property. They pretend to be a potential guest at your hotel. Sometimes they will put the room on a credit card and then call back later to cancel. (Remember they’re not real customers). Other times they will simply decline offers all together and avoid getting a room. They typically follow advanced call scenarios and ask scripted questions. Some mystery shopping companies even record these calls for their clients.

Companies gain valuable insights from these calls.

But here’s the bad thing about mystery shopping: It is totally, completed and utterly FAKE! All of it. Every bit of the interaction is made up and staged. The participants are actors. The company paying for the mystery shopping is the audience in a theater. The entire interaction, from start to finish, is as fake as fake can be.

The ‘fakeness’ of mystery shopping provides the company paying for it a very unrealistic and inauthentic idea of what their customer experience is like. It provides them with a very low-quality measure of their customer experience.

Mystery shopping is a lot like the VHS. It needs to die.
Replace Mystery Shopping with REAL Recorded Calls

Mystery shopping is old-fashioned. It is outdated. It is fake. It is stale, low-tech and no longer cutting-edge. It needs to die an ignominious death.

New technology is here. That new technology is cheaper, better quality, and gives companies an actual view of what their customer experience is truly like. The mystery shopping provider that said mystery shopping is “the eyes and ears of your customers,” is wrong.

Recording real calls from actual customers is better, and it is here.

Companies can now record real live customer interactions from actual customers. This replaces fake mystery shoppers, armed with fake scenarios, fake questions and fake objections to buying your product. You can now hear recordings of your actual customers calling your business.

It should be obvious why real calls from actual customers are better than fake mystery shopping calls, but if it isn’t, here are several reasons:

Hear real situations from real customers, rather than fake scenarios from fake mystery shoppers.

Hear real objections from real customers, rather than fake objections from fake mystery shoppers.

Hear real questions from real customers, rather than fake questions from fake mystery shoppers.

Train your employees to improve their customer service based on real actionable data take from real live calls, rather than fake data based on fake mystery shopping calls.

You don’t waste your employees’ time talking to mystery shoppers who aren’t going to actually buy from you (because, remember they’re fake). Instead they talk to real customers, uninterrupted by the fakeness of mystery shopping.

Your employees won’t act when they’re talking to real customers. Employees act when they hear a mystery shopping call. After two or three mystery shopping calls most employees will figure out the person they are talking to is a fake mystery shopper (not a real customer) and they will put on a show. They will perform. Simply: you get a much more real sense for what the customer experience is actually like when the caller is real, rather than a fake mystery shopper.

Recording real calls from actual customers is extremely easy. It doesn’t require installation of any device on your property. It doesn’t require any work on your part.

Recording real calls is significantly cheaper than fake mystery shopping calls. Seriously. It makes sense if you think about it; mystery shopping requires hiring a person to make the fake calls. Recording real calls doesn’t. Recording real calls is much cheaper.

Think about it this way: if you wanted to argue that mystery shopping is better, what would your argument be? In what ways is mystery shopping better than recording real calls? Are there any? Mystery shopping costs more money. It’s fake. It provides fake insights into customer experience. It distracts your employees from talking to real customers.

If someone has an argument for how mystery shopping is better than recording real calls, I’d love to see it.

The VHS was preeminent for decades. Mystery shopping was preeminent for decades. Every business that cared about customer experience used mystery shopping.

That has changed.

VHS was overtaken by technologies that were cheaper, better, higher-quality and provided a ‘more real’ viewing experience. The same is true of mystery shopping. It has been replaced by something that is cheaper, better, higher-quality and provides a ‘real’ experience.


Mystery shopping is dying. It is being killed by something that is, in every way, superior—recording real, actual customer calls for a cheaper price.

There is no rational argument for mystery shopping’s preeminence over recording actual customer calls. There simply isn’t.

Mystery shopping is an engrained part of hotel culture.  But, something better came along.

People that insist on keeping their VCR and never buying a Blu-Ray or DVD player are viewed by 95% of Americans as way behind-the-times. Most of us know their viewing experience is simply not as high-quality as it could be. Businesses that persist with mystery shopping calls and ignore recording real customer interactions will be viewed the same way. They will be behind-the-times.

Kill mystery shopping now!

About Jeremiah Wilson
Jeremiah Wilson is the Founder and President of ContactPoint. ContactPoint is the world leader in marketing and sales optimitics. Their new product, LogMyCalls, provides inexpensive tools for hotels seeking to optimize marketing and phone performance. These tools—phone call tracking, call recording and call performance scoring—allow hoteliers to improve their ability to secure reservations over the phone. For more information, visit or call 866-811-8880.

McKay Allen
(435) 215-7049

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Also See:
New Research That Impacts Hotel Industry Sales Processes, A Statistical Analysis of Skills that Make Reservations More Likely, a Collaborative Study with UNLV Professor Dr. Robert Wood, to be Presented at IHMRS / November 2011

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