Any retailer worth their salt will have been glued to the recent Mary Portas: Secret Shopper series, and not just because of her ’statement haircut’. I was delighted to see someone like Mary bring mystery shopping to TV, as it’s a subject close to my heart, having been the focus of my professional life for the past 15 years.

While I didn’t always agree with her tactics, Mary really highlighted the importance of keeping the customer at the centre of your business; something a lot of bakery businesses seem to forget. Mary’s ’secret shopper’ expeditions weren’t representative of mystery shopping there are no wigs involved for a start but there are five major reasons to think about instigating a programme of mystery shopping to ensure you’re giving the best possible customer service.

Firstly, the feedback you receive from mystery shoppers is from an independent third party, so when it’s fed back to staff, it’s not just coming from the manager, but from the people who really matter the customers making it easier for them to accept.

Secondly, if it’s done by a quality company, mystery shopping will act as a good coaching tool for your staff, as a good company won’t have a tick sheet of ’yes’ and ’no’ boxes, but will seek to tell a narrative of their entire visit to your premises from how easy you were to find, to their thoughts about the business when they returned home. Staff start to understand the entire customer journey, not just those few seconds in front of the counter.

Next, you can use mystery shopping to reward and motivate your staff, by setting goals to improve the feedback they get from mystery shoppers. You can use the feedback to benchmark your entire team. Staff will quickly realise that any customer could be a mystery shopper and will look at each customer differently. For example, for one client we give staff an on-the-spot reward of a £20 note if they ask the mystery shopper the correct up-sell question. The difference to the bottom line has been marked, as staff fall over themselves to get the up-sell question in first, in the hope of being given £20.

You can also use mystery shopping to compare and benchmark yourself against your competition. Ask a mystery shopping company to shop their stores as well as yours and feed back on what they’re doing right and wrong. Believe me, you may well have had your competitors’ mystery shoppers in your shop already.

Finally, mystery shopping can bring about a change of culture within your business. It makes staff think about the whole experience they provide, not just product and price.