I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “mystery shopping.” According to Wikipedia, it’s a practice used by market research firms or companies themselves to measure service and other aspects of the customer experience.

Here’s how it works: The company hires a person to pose as a customer. The mystery shopper then performs “specific tasks such as purchasing a product, asking questions, registering complaints or behaving in a certain way, and then provide detailed reports or feedback their experiences.”

How does this relate to employee communication? Simple. Putting yourself in the role of employee and observing how communication works gives you valuable perspective, illuminating how to make improvements.

Take workplace communication, for example. Our firm defines workplace communication as the stuff that happens in the working environment: posters, bulletin boards, electronic screens and other signage. (It’s sometimes called “environmental communication,” but that often leads to confusion because people think it's about being green.)

Because workplace communication isn’t shiny or sexy, it’s often overlooked. And that’s a wasted opportunity, since employees do notice communication when it’s quick and compelling (just as you notice billboards as you’re driving by).

To improve workplace communication, play mystery shopper and tour the facility:

  • Start outside. How do people enter to come to work? What do they see first? Do they pause to punch in? Do they change in a locker room?
  • Follow employees as they take a break. Where do they go for coffee? Where do they have lunch? Do they ride in elevators or climb stairs? Do they visit the credit union?
  • Travel throughout the environment the way employees do. What are other places employees frequent? Where do they walk fast without stopping and where do they pause?

When our firm acts as mystery shoppers, we often see that communication is awry: posters are located in hallways where people never go, bulletin boards (or video screens) are hung to face the wrong direction, newsletters are distributed in awkward places, not in the traffic flow.
This would simply be bad decorating if not for the fact that we’re losing the chance to reach employees when they’re not distracted by other things—and, as communication becomes more challenging, this is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

Get out of your office and go “shopping.” You may be surprised at how much you learn.

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