Have you ever had this happen? You are mystery shopping more than one location of the same business, and one of the employees from a place you shopped earlier turns up at another location. Oops. What can you do?
Many businesses have “floating” employees who work at more than one branch or store. This happens in banking, retail, property management (apartments), and other businesses. Sometimes floaters have a regular schedule that moves them from place to place, and other times they may be filling in for an employee who is ill or on vacation or when a location is otherwise short-staffed.
I used to shop a lot of grocery stores, and often did two or three in one trip. One day, a manager was at both of the stores I shopped. Fortunately, I saw him before he saw me, and the store was big enough that I was able to avoid him for the rest of my visit. However, there are times that isn’t possible.
In some situations, it may not matter that you are visiting more than one location of the same business, especially if some time has passed between visits. However, if the visits are close together time-wise, or far apart geographically, it may look odd. As mystery shoppers, we want to be very careful about not drawing attention.
Do you think it would have looked odd if that grocery store manager had seen me buying groceries, half an hour after he had seen me at another store? Um, yeah, that seems a little strange. However, if you happen to run into the same employee at another bank branch several days later, that might not send up any red flags at all. (Of course, if you are there to set up an account, or the branches are far apart, it might.)
Have a cover story ready. Make it credible, and do not be afraid to seem a little dumb. Playing dumb is a mystery shopper’s secret weapon. When they ask why you are in another branch of the same bank asking about their investment account options, you might act like you didn’t realize it was the same bank. Of course, at that point you will probably have to abort the shop and either do it another day or contact your scheduler to see if they would prefer to send someone else now that you may have made yourself memorable.
If you regularly mystery shop in places that are far from your home and far from each other, be prepared to explain why you are there. Keep it simple, such as your work or school being nearby, or that you are visiting a friend or family member.
Do not give too many details in your cover story. If an employee asks, “Didn’t I just see you at our Midtown location?” do not give a long story about why you were at two different stores. A simple explanation, such as, “I can’t believe I forgot to . . .,” is all you need. Looking a little scatterbrained is better than looking like a mystery shopper.
Of course, at times there is just no way around it. You will have no choice but to abandon the shop and contact your scheduler. Do so immediately, so the scheduler can decide what action to take.
This happened to me at 2 branches of a wireless phone company. I had done an overt audit at one location then went to do a mystery shop at a nearby branch 1 1/2 weeks later and saw the same employee. Luckily, I recognized him immediately when I entered while he was with a customer & on the phone. I knew he didn’t see me and did a 180 & walked out without a sound. Close call & I e-mailed the scheduler as soon as I got home with a full explanation. The scheduler asked if I went back the next day, but I said I wouldn’t for fear he’d be there again and I’d be revealed. Someone else had to do the shop, but I’m pretty sure the client would rather have the job done by someone unrecognizeable.