There are times when you may have someone with you on a mystery shopping assignment. Although you may be required to do some shops alone, others allow, encourage or require you to have someone with you. This is most common in situations where real customers may have a spouse or friend with them, such as assignments that take you to restaurants, new homes, etc.
At times, both of you will be contracted and paid by the mystery shopping company. However, most of the time one person is the secret shopper and the other is along for the ride. If your companion is not an “official” mystery shopper, it is your responsibility to make sure that he or she knows what they need to do to help you get a complete and accurate evaluation—and they definitely need to know what not to do, so they do not affect the integrity of the shop.
Your companion’s error could cause the shop report not to be accepted by the client. That means you would not be paid, and you might even be barred from future assignments.
Here is how to make sure anyone with you on a mystery shop knows exactly what to, and what not to do.
Start by choosing your companion wisely. If your best friend is prone to blurting things without thinking, she is probably not a good choice. She is likely to give away the fact that you are the mystery shopper. Someone who is not good at following directions, or who may resent being told what to do, is also not a good choice.
Your companion must be someone who is willing and able to follow directions, and who will be discreet. They must understand that they can not talk about the mystery shop with anyone else: before, during or after the shop.
Train your companion on the shop requirements. Restaurant shops often require that you take someone along. On most restaurant shops your companion would need to know if there are things that must be ordered (or that should not be ordered), if there is an amount of time you must spend in the restaurant, any limits on alcohol consumption and other requirements. They also need to understand that the server is required to suggest certain things (such as appetizers, coffee, dessert, etc.) and they should not ask for those items before the server has had an opportunity to make a suggestion.
Because most shops require that you order different items, my husband and I usually plan our order before we get to the restaurant. If it is an unfamiliar place, we download the menu from the restaurant web site so we can study it ahead of time. That way we can focus on the observations and timings we need, and not trying to make up our minds about entrees.
For other types of shops, you may need to make sure your companion understands the scenario. For example, on a new home shop there may be required answers to questions about why you are in the market for a new home, your budget, how long before you expect to buy, etc. You need to be on the same page.
A retail shop may require that the salesperson explain the provisions and cost of the extended warranty plans to you. If you companion says something such as, “You don’t have to waste your time on that. Those things are rip-offs,” they may keep the employee from properly doing his job.
The best thing is usually for them to allow you to take the lead. That means in asking or responding to questions, deciding when it is time to go, paying, etc. If they are not comfortable allowing you to do so, they should not accompany you on mystery shops.
Let them know how they can help. Can they help you out by getting names? Checking the other rest room? Counting the number of checkout lanes that are open? If there is something they can do to assist you with the shop, let them know what it is and how to do it.
Teach them about general mystery shopping procedures. It may seem silly to ask how late they are open on the weekend when you saw a large sign announcing the hours on the door. Or to ask about the sauce on the special when you know you are ordering something else. But these may be requirements of the shop. Advise your companion that they should not jump in with answers or comments or interrupt your conversations with staff, as you are doing your job.
Stress the importance of confidentiality. They are not to talk about mystery shopping, or discuss any aspect of the evaluation, while on the shop. That means they are also not to ask you questions in the middle of the shop about what they are allowed to buy or do.
And confidentiality extends to the next day at work, the family party or anywhere else. They should not talk about the specifics of the shop or the fact that you are a mystery shopper with anyone other than you.
All information is on a “need to know” basis. Do not offer more information about the client, the shop requirements or the report than your companion needs to know. They do not need to know every question that you will be answering or “how they did” on the shop. They definitely do not need to know how much you are being paid.
If you are allowed to take your children on shops, you may want to keep them completely in the dark. Small children have been known to let secrets slip, and the fact that Mommy is doing a mystery shop is a big, juicy secret.
Prepare your companion effectively to guarantee that your shop goes smoothly. My husband has accompanied me on mystery shops for more than 14 years, and we have never had a problem. That is because I go over all of the requirements with him just before the shop so he knows what is expected. If something unusual comes up, he lets me handle it. We are a well-oiled, mystery shopping machine!