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College Admissions Mystery Shopping

College Admissions Mystery Shopping

In 2020, we were highlighted in a piece by University Business focused on a new emerging trend in the college admissions world: mystery shopping to improve customer service. We’ve been providing this service to higher education clients since 2013, first under the CampusFeedback brand and now as 360 Intel. Based on our experience, here’s what you should know about it:

What gets measured, gets done

A lot of business leaders and managers make assumptions about the way their staff members are interacting with customers or potential customers, and higher education is no exception. Particularly in the admissions process, where there are so many touchpoints with prospective students and the pressure is so great to hit the annual enrollment goal, it is easy to lose focus on the experience that those prospects are having along the way. You can ask them during the process, through surveys or anecdotally, how they’re feeling about things, but that is just one piece of the puzzle (and you often won’t get a straight answer). You can look at your numbers: leads, applications, deposits, etc., and compare them to historical data to ensure that there aren’t any glaring issues. However, unless you have a mechanism to truly put yourself in the student’s shoes and objectively analyze the process, such as mystery shopping, then you are likely missing some easy opportunities.

Customize and adjust your approach

One of the great things about mystery shopping is that you can tailor the details of the program to your goals and needs, which are always evolving with the times. From the shop itself (over the phone, online, in-person, virtual meetings, etc.) to the instructions that the shoppers are required to follow, to the questions on the report they fill out, to the scoring of the reports, to the schedule of how many and when the shops occur – it is all in your control to determine these things so that the information you are receiving has maximum benefit. We are happy to help at the beginning for new clients by providing some general best practices, but we often find that after a few months of shops that some major blind spots are uncovered, which leads to changes in the program details afterward.

Build it into your culture

We find that clients who see the best return on investment with us, across all industries, have a strategy for integrating the mystery shopping program into their company’s culture. Everyone needs to be bought into the purpose and value of the program, otherwise, morale can be negatively affected and the shops can become very contentious. Instead of approaching shoppers as a “gotcha” tool, we recommend sharing and emphasizing the great points on the reports just as much as the opportunities for improvement. Many of our clients even have incentive programs tied to mystery shop scores for their staff, which can be very useful if done correctly.

As always, if you are interested in learning more about mystery shopping for the college admissions process, please reach out to us!