While doing a mystery shop, you overhear a conversation between employees where they use obscenities. Or, worse, an employee curses while talking to you. Should you include it in the report? And if you do, should you actually put “those words” in your report?
What if the employees are not the ones swearing, but other customers? Should that go in your report?
It seems that the language gets coarser every day, and people say things in public that they would not have said even in private many years ago. I am convinced that some people are so accustomed to swearing that they do not even notice when they drop an f-bomb in a public place. Therefore, it should come as no surprise when you run in to employees or other customers cursing up a storm.
Here are some tips on when you should mention the use of offensive language in your secret shopping reports, and what you should say.
Each mystery shopping company, and even each of their clients, may have a different policy when it comes to whether this type of information should be included in shop reports. Because you probably do not know whether they want or need to know about swearing, you might want to ask your scheduler how it should be handled.
If you are unable to wait for an answer from your scheduler because of a tight deadline on the report, I recommend that you include a description of exactly what happened. The editor can then decide if the incident should be included in the report that goes to the client.
There are times when you can not include the information in your report. This may be because there is no section of the report where it belongs, or because you are not allowed enough space to record the details. In that case, document everything in an email to your scheduler so they can decide if the information should be shared with the client and how.
Only report what you know. If you are not sure if someone is an employee, do not refer to them as an employee. If you did not hear portions of the conversation, do not guess at what was said.
If you have the names of the employees involved, use them (unless the client does not want names used anywhere in their reports).
When the offensive language comes from customers, you might want to address how the business handled it. For example, if you or another customer complained, did the manager or other employee deal with the unruly customers? Did they apologize to you but do nothing? Or did they shrug it off and ignore the complaint? (Remember that some clients will not want you to complain about anything during a shop, as that may make you memorable. However, other clients will want to know how complaints are handled. A careful reading of the guidelines before the mystery shop should tell you if they do not want you to make any complaints.)
Be as specific as possible when describing what happened. Use actual quotes whenever you can to put the bad language in context. For example, I once did a restaurant shop where the bartender had a conversation with another customer that was not only laced with profanity, but included many negative comments about the business. I included several sentences, verbatim, in my report. Instead of trying to characterize what was said, quote it whenever possible.
The bad language may not be spoken. You may find something written on a rest room wall or elsewhere. If you saw it, other customers will, too. I would include it in my report.
And what about using obscenities in your report? I do not, but I make it clear what words were used. For example, if you enter just “****” that could be any number of colorful words. Give enough that the editor can figure out exactly what was said. For example, when I found a bad word scrawled in lipstick on a store display, I included in my report that the word was “s**t.” You know what that is, right?
The editor may want additional information from you, so make sure your notes are as detailed as possible. As soon as you can after the shop, write down everything you heard and saw, as specifically as you can.
Even though some people do not think twice about profanity, others are deeply offended. Many clients will want to know if their employees (or customers) are doing something that will harm their reputations and drive customers away. As mystery shoppers, it is our job to tell them—even though the telling is not always easy.