I spend a lot of time reading articles, blog posts and news stories about mystery shopping. Sometimes these are written by employees, many of whom believe that mystery shopping is unfair.
Many of these employees are under the impression that mystery shoppers are determined to turn in bad reports, even if we have to make things up. If only they knew . . . most of us would rather do a positive report. Not only because we want the employees to look good, but because it is easier to write a report on a good experience than a bad one. Of course, to do our jobs properly we have to report what actually happened, not what we want to report or what the employee would like us to report.
They also seem to think that we pick and choose what we report on. Aren’t their employers educating them about the mystery shopping program and how it works? Employees are (supposed to be) trained on the company standards and procedures. Secret shoppers are there to make sure employees are following the procedures and meeting the standards. It is not about what we think they should do, it is about what their employer expects from them.
There are a few lazy, bad mystery shoppers out there. They may not put in the effort to do an honest, quality report. You know, though, in those cases it is more likely that the employees will come off looking better than they deserve, rather than worse. That is because of what I said earlier: It is easier to write a report saying they were wonderful than pointing out problems.
There are times when the mystery shop report may seem unfair because the shop visit occurs at a time when the location is especially busy, or they are understaffed, or service and cleanliness are adversely affected by other factors outside of the employees’ control. However, those factors are also outside of the control of the secret shopper. Blaming the shopper is beside the point.
Hey, employees, want to get a great mystery shop report? Do your jobs. That is all we are looking for. Greet us. Suggest an upsell. Say thank you. Do what your employer has told you to do.
If you get mystery shopped and your employer has not explained the standards to which you will be held, ask. Tell them you want to do a great job, and need to understand exactly what is expected of you. Unless of course you really don’t give a damn. In that case, take the shop report you deserve.
Secret shoppers, take a look at these sites to see what employees and others are saying about us. You may have a laugh or your blood may boil, but you will have a better understanding of how some employees view mystery shopping and the people who do it.
Blockbuster employees complain about mystery shopping.
Starbucks employees complain about mystery shoppers
A tutorial for employees on how to spot a mystery shopper. Hah!
Have you seen employees commenting about mystery shopping? Share what you find here.
Benjamin Watson says
What would you do if you suspected your own company of falsifying/manipulating/doctoring a mystery shopper visit? Is there a way to verify the actuality of the visit from the mystery shopper company?
Cathy Stucker says
I’m not sure who you believe falsified the report. If it is believed that the report submitted by a mystery shopper is not accurate, there are several checks that can be done. Most reports will include the date and time of the visit. Because many businesses now routinely have video cameras running, it may be possible to compare the report to videos taken at the time the shopper said s/he was there. Although video can not prove or disprove every element of the report, it can be use to verify may part of the shop.
As someone who has been on both sides of this as a store manager and as a mystery shopper, I can say this, that I always believed that shoppers do a valuable service by helping employees to do a better job, improve skills. For those who complain, perhaps they need to look inside and tell themselves the truth about how they work. As a shopper I look for the good in all situations while remaining neutral and open to what is occurring in the moment. I want the person I am shopping to do well, am always rooting for them without leading them in anyway. In my experience this past year I have actually had only one experience that I had to write some negative comments and it was not about a person but a condition of a location. The mystery shoppers job is to catch someone in the act of doing a good job if at all possible and to report on the service received, the knowledge displayed.. Sometimes there are just people who don’t want to do their job and that needs to be reported. My shops are in the luxury arena and it is rare to encounter poor service. However it can happen.
Writing reports take time and thought and it is indeed easier to write about a good outcome that a poor one. If a shopper falsifies a report then they are out of integrity and they are not doing their job.
I work in retail and take exception to the suggestion that those who disagree with the concept of mystery shopping do so because of some flaw in their conduct.
We get two mystery shops per month (it was the same at my last company) and I work part-time. I am therefore rarely mystery shopped, but since the reports are not coordinated, it is often the same people every time, while others get away scot-free. Therefore, that aspect of mystery shopping is unfair. Since I only work a few days a week, if I get a bad report it may be many months before I can show it to be a freak occurrence.
…Bringing me on to the sample size. On average, each worker will be shopped once every few months. In science, that datum would be practically negligible. Yes, “every customer is important”, but no matter how good a worker is, they do not please every single client. If the dissatisfied shopper is really a spy then the resulting report is petrified, laminated, displayed, scrutinised and archived. What is a rare but inevitable event is made to look like the norm, and could potentially affect an honest person’s career.
You claim that you always want to give a good report. That’s great, I’m sure you do. I would jump at the chance to be mystery shopped by you. It cannot be said, however that it applies to all mystery shoppers. We can’t presume the good intentions of all mystery shoppers, especially when people’s jobs and reputations are at stake. If I am to accept your results, I need more than your word to show there is no possibility of falsification. I am a worker and might be doing a bad job. A mystery shopper is also a worker and might do a bad job. When there’s a bad report, how do you decide whether the mystery shop is accurate and reasonable or that the service was poor? So, a mystery shopper may claim that they ‘want to give a good report’. So what? I want to give good service! Who are we going to trust, the person honestly displaying their real name on a badge, or the person whose job is based on deception?
The questions on the report are often too vague or too specific. Too specific means that the mystery shopper may penalise us on things that we have actually done but perhaps the wording was slightly different, or we had our own personal way of doing it. Perhaps they forgot we did it. Consulting the report actually begs the question! Too vague and personal opinion comes into play. I once received perfect comments across the board, but since the mystery shopper scored me one down on each question (e.g. 4 out of 5, since who likes to award 100% for anything?). Those lost points accumulated and I ended up failing, even though it was unclear that I had given anything but perfect service! Such is the absurdity of mystery shopping. On the subject of the variation between mystery shoppers; when you see someone get a poor fail and a maximum score pass in the space of a month without them changing their methods, you are sure to doubt the rigour of the mystery shop system.
Mystery shopping is supposed to be helpful. When I read the few mystery shop reports I’ve had, I’ve often been flabbergasted at the strangeness of what I’ve supposed to have said or done. I know how I react in situations, and when I read that my “greeting” was a particular phrase I am sure I would never say (it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t something I’d say) then I end up doubting the other parts as well. When I read about my salesmanship, I often want to see the encounter play out, so I can see what the mystery shopper is alluding to. If I disagree with any of it, there isn’t a way that I can be shown my mistakes. I just have to take their word that I made mistakes. I end up learning nothing from the whole experience.
Finally, businesses want to find out how customers feel after service from one of their employees. Mystery shoppers are not customers. You might think I’m quibbling about a word, but there is a world of difference. Mystery shoppers do not necessarily care about any of the products, they have absolutely no intention of buying and are only present out of vocational necessity. Customers, on the other hand, are genuinely interested in the products, may well hope to buy something and would prefer it if the salesman did not push a more expensive product. Mystery shoppers wait for the worker to ask the “right” questions. Customers will ask questions to get the right information. Therefore, what a mystery shopper writes on the report has no relation to what a customer might think as they leave the store. I doubt a customer will walk out thinking “I wanted to buy product x but since the salesman didn’t ‘ask for the sale’ I won’t”! Real customers have a completely different mindset from mere spies and therefore give out different signals, resulting in a different experience.
Knowledge is power, but mystery shopping produces knowledge of a kind so weak and fallacious that we should not base any important choices on its results. Companies shouldn’t fork out to spy on their own ‘cherished’ employees, rather they should use that money to slightly increase the pittance those workers receive so that it is slightly less of a struggle to pay bills and support families.
Cathy Stucker says
Mystery shopping is a tool and, as with any tool, it is only as good as the person using it. The shoppers do not set the standards or design the questionnaires or decide how often a business is shopped. The business does that. All we do is report what happened.
Mystery shopping is not about what the shopper thought, it is about whether or not the employee did what the employer expects them to do.
The shoppers also do not determine how the reports are used. All of that is up to the business.
Thanks for the reply Cathy. I agree with what you say, and want to stress that I don’t blame the individual mystery shoppers (I believe that most probably the majority of mystery shoppers are honest and try to be fair). I am merely attacking the idea of using mystery shopping to assess the conduct of workers. It could work if used correctly (high sample sizes, more carefully thought out questionnaires, video/audio evidence) but from what I’ve seen it is used very badly indeed.
My reply to the “mystery Shopper” who wrote this article in 2009.
Cathy, your comment that a mystery shopper should not be held accountable if the store is super busy and understaffed is an ignorant comment! If you are going to write an article defending a bad mystery shopper at least do it intelligently.
If the store is busy and the poor employee is running around stressed out then the “secret shopper” “mystery shopper” whatever you want to call him/her should WRITE IT IN THEIR REPORT. Also, not all Secret shoppers are doing their job correctly and there are very good employees who can fall into a trap and get a bad report from a lazy secret shopper.
Cathy Stucker says
Dan, mystery shoppers are not to make subjective comments such as saying that a store is “understaffed.” However, they may be able to indicate that in the report by noting how many people were waiting for service, how long they had to wait, etc. Mystery shop reports are supposed to be objective. That means that the shopper should say what the employee was doing, whether that was serving customers or talking with a co-worker, but not offer opinions. You may not like the standards set by your employer, but the mystery shoppers are also working under standards set by your employer.