The Mystery Customer Technique is an observational market research methodology where the field researcher assumes the role of a customer unbeknownst to customer service staff in order to collect data on the customer experience. As customer service personnel are unaware that their behaviour is being monitored, the data collected is freer from errors that occur in self-report or traditional surveys that don't monitor behaviour as directly or rely on secondary accounts and self report. The success of the mystery customer technqiue is based on the premise that people act differently when they know they are being watched. Caution must be exercised in the use of this technique in some cultures due to prescriptions on personal privacy.
Mystery customer surveys are common in service industries such as fast food franchises, hotels and airlines as a staff training and performance appraisal method. However, they are becoming more common in market research, especially where service is a key part of a brand and the customer experience is key.
Mystery customer and mystery shopper surveys are often carried out by spscialist agencies who maintain a field staff of mystery customers with different demographic characteristics. However due to the overlap in the skillset, many market research agencies offer these services as part of their range. Mystery customers are specifically trained up in observational skills as well as in the use of the very detailed checklists used to objectively record observations reliably and validly.