Describe Behavior, Not Feelings, in Your Mystery Shop Reports

woman_writingThe best advice I can give secret shoppers about making their reports better is contained in just four words: Describe behavior, not feelings. This is a reminder to keep reports objective and stick to the facts.

Every mystery shopper has probably written comments such as, “Susan was polite and helpful.” The problem with that is that it says what you felt about Susan, but it doesn’t say what she did. The best mystery shop reports allow readers to experience the shop visit with you. Your answers and comments lead them through the visit, and they know exactly what happened.

Let’s look at some examples.

A sentence such as, “Susan was polite and helpful,” indicates that the experience was positive, but tells nothing about what Susan actually did. When you read that sentence, what do you imagine Susan’s actions might have been? She may have:

  • smiled
  • given a friendly greeting
  • made frequent eye contact
  • said thank you
  • helped the shopper find a product
  • answered product questions knowledgeably
  • suggested products
  • offered a basket to hold purchases

Of course, she may not have done those things. We really don’t know because the shopper doesn’t tell us. A better comment might be: “Susan greeted me 17 seconds after I arrived. She smiled and made eye contact. Susan asked if she could help me find anything. I said I needed a toner cartridge for an HP printer. She asked for the model number, took me to the toner, picked the correct cartridge from the shelf and handed it to me.”

That is a lot longer than the original sentence, but it tells us what happened.

Here’s another example: “Service was prompt and efficient.”

That could mean lots of things. For example:

  • Our drinks were served three minutes after we ordered them.
  • Water glasses were refilled before they were half-empty.
  • Allen served our entrees five minutes after the salad plates were cleared. He returned to the table one minute later to ask if everything was satisfactory.

You get the idea, right? Comments should be specific and tell what happened. Vague comments, containing words such as polite, friendly, helpful, rude, slow, prompt, efficient, timely, etc., do not give a picture of what occurred during your visit. Be specific and describe behavior (what the employees did), not feelings (how you felt about it).


  1. kara smith says

    I am struggling with writing reports that have a strict ‘character count’ in their comments sections. I find that I am trying to give good descriptions & then I run out of space! This means I have to rework or delete details in order to fit the answer in the space provided. Do you have any suggestions I can use in these situations? Is it appropriate to use shorthand or symbols (like & or w/) in the comments in my online reports?

    • Cathy Stucker says

      That can be frustrating; however, it appears that the client does not want long comment and lots of details. It may be acceptable to use symbols such as ‘&’ in these reports to save space–it all depends on the company and the client.

      Watch out for any unnecessary words, such as very, really, so, etc. Just keep your writing as tight as possible.

      If there are things you believe they need to know that simply will not fit in the space allowed, send an email with the information to your scheduler.

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