Mystery Shopping: How to Be on Mystery Shopping Companies’ A-Lists

Being a mystery shopper entails a lot more work than most people presume. When advertising their services, the mystery shopping companies play the job up to be all fun and games with a lot of free stuff. And while, yes, mystery shopping does have its incentives, it also takes a hard worker with a sharp eye for detail and a good memory to perform the shop up to par. It is those mystery shoppers that diligently do their job instead of simply reaping the free food or other items that the mystery shopping companies invite back. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind before you perform your mystery shopping assignments to keep you on the top of the MS company’s list.

The first rule is that it is imperative that you only accept assignments that you have plenty of time to do. Don’t try to squeeze a shop in at the last minute. The chances of you forgetting something are more likely and it is almost a sure bet that your report will indicate a haphazard effort. Additionally, the mystery shopping companies love to see shops performed and reports turned in close to the earlier date in the range of days allowed to shop. This takes tension off of them to make sure it gets done and assures them they won’t have to rush to schedule someone to do the job you backed out on at the last minute. If a recruiter sees that you consistently do your shops early he or she will most certainly favor you when selecting a shopper among a group of people, due to the security you provide.

No matter what type of shop you are to perform, be it retail, restaurant or hotel, you must pull off the experience as a regular customer. That is, to the employees you are monitoring. This is fairly easy to do if you’ve ever been in the type of establishment you are shopping before, as you just act the way you always act in that sort of place, while taking mental notes the whole time. However, some mystery shops require you to go the extra mile and do a sort of “role playing” scenario. These are a little difficult but in the cases where they are required, they absolutely must be done, as they are usually the main focus of the client’s customer service measurement.

Some role-playing scenarios include tasks like dropping a napkin on the floor at a restaurant and waiting to see how long someone, if anyone, picks it up. Another one is subtly nudging your coat so that it falls onto the floor and pretending not to notice, seeing if someone else does. And yet one more is stalling to sit down in your seat, either fumbling with a jacket or a purse or something else, and waiting to see if the hostess or host waits until you are seated to begin talking. It is very tempting as a mystery shopper to want to avoid these parts of the job, as they require a little more effort, more on the spot pretense and may also be awkward to do in a subtle manner. But again, if a company wants this done, you absolutely must do as many scenarios as possible, for they are usually very key to the client. So if you haven’t ever done anything like this before, try practicing when you are out with a friend before you do the real shop and see what happens. The worst thing you could do at the real shop is give yourself up and blow it.

Be sure you pay attention to every physical aspect of the building you are entering, both outside and inside. You should’ve reviewed the report questionnaire ahead of time and memorized what you needed to take note of, but in case you forgot it’s a likely bet that for most mystery shops, you will need to make strict observations on such things as light fixtures, window cleanliness, sidewalk neatness and cigarette butts/trash cans cleaned up outside. This area of the report is pretty important to be sure you actually observe because it is something that is very difficult to fake if you get home and realize you forgot a part of it. You must look at everything, almost literally everything on the interior and exterior and also in the bathrooms to check for problems. Most likely there is bound to be at least a few, for everyday maintenance is a little much to ask. But even if you have to run to the bathroom and take notes, or write a memo on your cell phone, be sure you are accurate. For you don’t want to get caught stating that the paper towel machine was filled and working fine when in fact the restrooms use heat dryers.

Most mystery shops require you to observe a manager on duty. They can be hard to spot, but before you say they weren’t in sight, be sure to search the premises thoroughly because very rarely are they not. It can be difficult to notice a manger, for her or she usually is not in uniform and sometimes is hiding in the back or the kitchen. Be on the lookout for someone with a semi-casual, conservative outfit on, usually a plain colored shirt and dark slacks. It all depends on the shop location, but this describes at least most of the managers you will see at, for instance, a casual dining restaurant. This person will usually be actively working or walking around observing and/or greeting customers at their tables.

Finally, you want to try your hardest to get as many names as possible because descriptions can be deceiving and hard to discern. If you have to use a description alone though, be very careful how you word it. It is important to be “politically correct” in the most conservative sense, avoiding the notation of their ethnicity and sticking to hair and eye color along with estimated age range instead of skin color and body type. The client and most likely these employees you are observing will receive the report as you wrote it so it is important to be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

If you follow these basic guidelines, you are on your way to start a successful mystery-shopping career. Be strict in following the rules of the shop but don’t forget to have fun too. Mystery shopping can be quite an adventure, as you are like a spy on a secret mission. And yes, the free stuff certainly helps.

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