Doing Some Real-Time Mystery Shopping Using Twitter.

Something that has been banged around in my head has got me thinking over the past few months. Usually when I’m out shopping, either for groceries or at a mall or store, I find myself on my cell phone not making calls, but instead using it to post tweets to Twitter. The topic of these tweets can vary depending on day and circumstances, but sometimes it’s about the location and store that I happen to be in, either about the people, customer service, product or environment. So why not have your business or perhaps even your customers take advantage of it?

Interesting scenarios that could occur would be that if you’re willing to show that you’re open to feedback, you could publicly encourage your customers (whether they’re buying or not) to tweet about their experiences and either include your business’s Twitter handle (e.g @name) so you’ll be sure to at least get their feedback to respond to OR you could have them include a hashtag (e.g #hashtag) that you could monitor to track a trend in your customer’s experience.

An excellent example would be with companies like United Airlines or even AT&T. If management is interested in the public’s perception about their brand, they could have their “market research” teams seek out what people are saying about them on Twitter. It’s not that hard. Simply go onto search.twitter.com and look up your brands name. However, in the age of social media, maybe combining a real-time element with the traditional mystery shopper program is a good idea.

The idea here would be that you share an aura of legitimacy in your methods to improve the quality of your brand rather than just assuming that your customers trust you will always strive for excellence. Let’s face it, they’re already going to do it, so why not encourage that. I know that when I go into a Safeway and see an employee at an empty (but open) register chatting away with another customer for a lengthy period of time when there are several people waiting and the topic has nothing to do with the product the customer purchased or about anything relevant, I’m immediately on my phone twittering away complaining out into the twitterverse about such incompetence. Brands would learn from this and understand what needed to be changed to help make things run more smoothly.

As I mentioned, examples of where this would (and probably should) come in handy is with brands like United Airlines and AT&T among others which I have seen being lynched in the world of Twitter. Frankly, United Airlines would probably first be a whole lot better if they actually monitored what was being said about them. Like I said, regardless of whether you’re accepting of this “secret shopper mentality using Twitter” or not, it’s already happening. Learn to embrace it. Let people know that you’re improving your service and let the customers tweet out their improvements or what they’re seeing that could use some improvements. Perhaps the customer service agent was rather abrupt for no apparent reason or the flight attendant was super nice and let you sit up in first class because it was too crowded in coach. Whatever the reason, let customers know that they can be your eyes and ears and whatever they report will be looked at and some will be investigated similar in the manner of traditional mystery shopping programs.

As for AT&T, it’s about the same pattern as United Airlines . There are people who are constantly on Twitter berating the brand – look for yourself as it’s a near daily trending topic! So why not jump right in and take control of the situation? Perhaps some people are having issues while they’re beginning the process of searching for the right phone at an AT&T store? Maybe they’re not getting the right quality of service you would expect at an AT&T store so you can have them tweet out the store location, the number and the employee who may or may not have performed according to expectations. This can also extend to non-face-to-face interactions as well…including the phone calls to customer service or anything happening via email.

Regardless of whether you’re willing to encourage and be open about having customers use Twitter to reach out to you, remember that it’s going to happen and by you embracing it, there’s a better chance of higher brand perception because they may feel that you’re willing to accept constructive criticism to improve your brand, customer service, and overall appearance. Don’t miss out.

Image credit: PC World

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."