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Marketing and PR expert Angie Petkovic on why mystery shopping can give your spa a competitive edge 

Mystery shopping is an essential tool when it comes to understanding and assessing your spa from a consumer perspective but is often dismissed by spas as simply giving a freebie away, with little or no commercial gain.

However, used properly, mystery shopping may be the most valuable “giveaway” available to a spa. 

Mystery shopping involves the appointment of an undisclosed individual or group to test your product or service within a defined period of time.

They attend as a normal client, assessing the experience against pre-set criteria and feeding their findings back to the managers in exchange for a refund of costs incurred and usually also an agreed fee. There are two types of mystery shopping available for spas; professional and personal, each of which have their benefits. 

Professional mystery shopping
Professional mystery shopping is a form of peer assessment within the industry. It involves appointing a professional organisation to assess the calibre and quality of your business and your staff, including training, quality of service, retail sales and industry benchmarks.

Assessment will be provided incognito by industry professionals, to help you determine if the training you have provided your therapists or employed them for is put to good use, that they are delivering on the brand values and that they are not cutting corners. 

Enlisting a professional mystery shopper is great for upholding standards and providing valuable feedback for appraisals. Additionally, it keeps staff on their toes, as they’re never sure when a mystery shopper might arrive. It also gives spa managers and directors valuable insight into their staff, both as a team and as individuals, and can help identify areas for improvement. Properly applied, these insights can enhance client satisfaction and increase revenue. 

Personal mystery shopping
Personal mystery shopping is also provided by anonymous visitors who don’t reveal their identity until after the visit and, just as with professional mystery shoppers, any costs incurred will need to be reimbursed. However, working with a personal mystery shopper will give you insight into the customer spa experience, rather than business practices. 

Customers notice different things, such as the length of the spa experience, the waiting times involved, price, cleanliness and the quality of food. This gives you an excellent overview of what clients will actually experience when they visit your spa.

Because they don't provide as much insight into business practices, personal mystery shoppers might seem to deliver less immediate commercial value than their professional counterparts, but don’t underestimate the importance of putting your business to the test against other spas they have evaluated. There will be valuable information in that. 

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Gettng the most out of your myster shop
Some spas don’t see the value of mystery shopping, viewing it as a cost to the business, rather than affordable market research with the potential to transform the spa. However, if mystery shopping doesn't work, it’s usually because it’s been poorly planned and monitored, therefore not delivering the insights it has the potential to. To maximise the return on an investment in a mystery shopper, spa managers need to: 

For example, if you want to appraise staff and standards, focus the mystery shop on that. Don’t just let your mystery shopper waft in, leave you with a few random comments and waft out again, make sure the process is an organised one. Agree a timeframe for their visits and discuss the areas of the business you want assessed.

Decide on the criteria, questions and grading system in advance – to ensure the data is both quantifiable and qualitative. Most mystery shoppers will be experienced, so if you know what you want to achieve, but not how to achieve it, tell them what your objectives are and ask for guidance on creating the framework to realise them. 

A one-off visit is better than nothing, but a regular commitment is preferable; not only does it provide an incentive for spas to actually implement changes, it also provides a benchmark for how the spa performs over time.

This will help ensure that the spa is up to date, that any changes are well received, that standards are consistently high across all areas of the spa and that the business meets the needs of the consumer. You don’t have to commit to a mystery shop every month, but once a quarter or even every six months will prove invaluable.  

Mystery shopping can be instrumental in giving an external perspective on the performance of the spa and help keep it at the top of its game. Get it right and you can expect to see an increase in revenue, staff contentment, customer satisfaction and standards. 

Angie Petkovic is the managing director of Apt PR, a UK marketing and PR agency whose clients include spas and business across the beauty, hospitality, leisure and tourism industries