Although the cost of mystery shopping varies depending on services rendered, individual mystery shops generally range from $30 to $70 for telephone calls, $100 or more for onsite visits, and $100 or more for Web shops. In return, the municipality receives conclusions and recommendations that can lead to the development of customer-service training programs, re-evaluation of Web site functionality, and one-on-one staff coaching. On the flip side, mystery shops can also determine what is working well and identify opportunities for employee and/or department recognition.

For the public sector, mystery shopping helps paint the picture of the real experience through the customer's eyes, finding issues to address and best practices to adopt.

— Ed Gagnon is president of Customer Service Solutions Inc. (CSS), which specializes in customer retention and growth strategies, training, and research. CSS has been providing consultative mystery shopping services since 1998.