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Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

A pastor recently said to me that, thanks to his the slower growth in his church, he was thinking about paying neighbors $25 to visit his church and tell him the problems they saw.

“That’s mystery shopping,” I said. “But I don’t think you should do that.”

He thought it was a good idea, because it would be a great way to bring in some outside eyes to get a different perspective. “They’ve never been here, so they can tell me whether they were greeted at the door, whether they were made to feel welcome, and if there was anything they really liked or didn’t like,” he said.

I agreed that it would be a great way to do that — some churches do hire mystery shoppers — but paying friends to do this for you was not the way to do it.

“These are your friends, and they love you. They’re not going to want to tell you something is wrong,” I said. “They’ll worry about hurting your feelings and so if there are any glaring flaws, they may not want to tell you about them.”

Churches of any size can benefit from mystery shoppers.This is the same reason why writers should never ask family and friends to review their work, especially as you’re starting out. Your family and friends love you and want to support you, so they don’t want to do anything to discourage you. And so they’ll basically tell you, “Oh, it’s fine. It’s good. You did a good job.”

Churches are going to have the same problem. You’re not going to get good feedback from friends for that reason, and your members are not always able to spot problems either. Most people have their own ideas about the ways they think churches should be run, and so the problems they see may not be problems so much as they’re just their own preferences.

They don’t like the music; they love the music. The preaching takes too long; the music should be trimmed to allow more preaching time. They like the Bible the pastor uses; the pastor is using the wrong Bible. On and on and on.

Churches are a personal choice and allowing the members to dictate how they should be run is a risky venture. You’ll try to be everything to everyone, which means you won’t be anything to anyone.

Instead, it helps that you start with your vision of what you want your church to be. What’s your mission? What drives you? What, beyond teaching people about God, gets you up at 5:30 every Sunday morning?

Then, hire mystery shoppers to actually check to see whether you’re doing that. And this should be something you’re willing to spend a little money to do.

Think of it as a business decision or an investment: a family of four that has a $60,000 household income could potentially be worth $6,000 of tithes. So if you could bring in four new families per quarter because you invested in mystery shopping, what would that be worth?

The mystery shoppers can tell you important things about what people are looking for: were they greeted at the door? Were people friendly to them? Did they meet enough people during their time? (A favorite statistic my friend likes to quote is that if a new person doesn’t meet six new people at a new church, they’ll be gone after three weeks.)

Churches need to look at mystery shopping as an important part of church marketing and growth. If you want to learn more about mystery shopping, please visit the Measure CP website.

Erik Deckers is a content marketing professional, book author, and newspaper humor columnist, and is the communications director for his church, God’s House Orlando in Orlando, Florida.

Photo credit: Steven Pavlov (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

If you operate a bookstore, whether it’s a small independent bookshop or a large chain of bookstores, mystery shoppers can let you know whether you’re meeting all your goals and expectations for performance and customer satisfaction.

While you can accomplish this through customer surveys, keep in mind that 1) very few people take customer surveys, and it will take a while to amass enough responses to get meaningful results, and 2) you’re likely to get more complaints than positive responses, which can skew the total survey results. Rather than balanced or even positive skew results, the complaints may make it look like the bookstore is totally failing and just needs to be shut down.

This the problem when you rely on surveys to deliver your customer experience results: bad data in means bad results coming out.

This is also where mystery shoppers can show you what the surveys can’t.

Use mystery shoppers to assess your bookstore's customer experience.For one thing, mystery shoppers are completely objective. They aren’t reporting only on good experiences or bad experiences. They’re telling you what they experienced. But you can’t just rely on one or two shoppers to paint the total picture. Get several in there each month and look for patterns and trends.

You can also find out who your top performing employees are. Rather than just looking for employees who make mistakes, use the mystery shoppers to help you find the people who excel and do well. Of course, you’ll also want to look for training opportunities for the people who need work, but don’t just use mystery shoppers as a gotcha form of discipline.

If you operate a large bookstore chain and have to cover a lot of properties, you may want to focus several mystery shoppers on a specific region for a time. This can give you an idea of what you should be looking for in the rest of the country, and establish a baseline for what you can expect.

You can ask mystery shoppers to do a number of things and have the results reported right back to you via the mystery shopping app or dashboard:

  1. How clean are the bathrooms and the general store area?
  2. Are the shelves neatly arranged and stacked? Are books put away properly?
  3. Are things easy to find? Is the signage clear and easy to understand?
  4. Ask the shopper to ask for a book you don’t carry. Did the sales associate offer to order it? (Ask them to order it too.) How easy is it to get that done?
  5. Were the associates friendly and helpful? Were they knowledgeable about the books you asked them to find?

Mystery shopping at a bookstore is like any other business: you want to make sure your customers have a good experience, that your staff is knowledgeable, and that your facilities are clean and well-presented. This is something Measure CP can help you do.

To learn more about using mystery shoppers in your bookstore, please visit our website. You can also speak to one of our mystery shopping experts to create your own program.

Photo credit: Martin Cathrae (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

A lot of times, mystery shopping is used to find problems companies are having, to correct any shortcomings they may have. But what about using mystery shopping as a way to find employees who are doing good work and rewarding them?

A typical mystery shopping program involves a shopper visiting a business, like a restaurant, wireless store, or even a gas station or service station, and then ordering food, visiting the bathroom, noting the general cleanliness of the place, and whether the employee smiled and was courteous.

Many restaurants see this as the bare minimum level of acceptable, and they’re more noted for what they aren’t. The food isn’t terrible, the bathrooms and dining area aren’t dirty, and the employees aren’t surly. As long as diners can have a predictable and reliable experience, they’re satisfied with what they get, as long as the meal isn’t terrible.

But some restaurants, hotels, and other businesses pride themselves on providing an over-the-top, wonderful experience. Disney World and Disneyland come to mind. Fancy, fine dining restaurants come to mind. Even Chick-fil-A comes to mind, because their employees are polite, courteous, and always smile. They always say “my pleasure” every time you say thank you (you do say thank you, don’t you?). And they go out of their way to make sure your Chick-fil-A experience is better than any other fast food experience you could have

This is where a mystery shopping program could catch people doing something right. You could always say that Chick-fil-A has just raised their minimum performance levels, but what if they instead wanted shoppers to find those standout employees? Who were the ones who really stood out as being friendly and helpful? Who helped you figure out a complicated order? Who offered to get you a refill while you were dining in the restaurant, or brought your order out to you?

I have a pet peeve about some places, like a coffee shop, where they have a station to put the drinks, which is on the opposite end of where you’re sitting. Rather than bring the drink over to your end of the counter, they take it to the opposite end, call your name, and then watch you walk all the way down to that end of the counter. That is a Minimum Performance Level. The baristas I like will walk to my end of the counter or even bring the drink out to me. I continue to support those businesses and don’t go to the ones that are satisfied with the Minimum Performance.

And if I were doing a mystery shopping visit for those coffee shops, I would certainly want to highlight those baristas who took the extra step and made sure I had a satisfactory experience at the store. Even that little service of bringing my coffee to my end of the counter is notable and makes me appreciate them that much more.

Bottom line: If you want to do more than just squeak by in customer satisfaction, if you want to offer more than just “meh, I guess it wasn’t terrible,” then you should look for the employees who do good work. While you can find them on your own, if you’ve got more than one location, you’ll have trouble making that all work. This is where a mystery shopping program can make a big difference.

To learn more about how to use a mystery shopping program in your businsess, please visit our website. You can also speak to one of our restaurant mystery shopping experts and get your questions answered.

Photo credit: Wild Bill (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

A friend of mine loves independent coffee shops so much, whenever he moves, he spends weeks and months scoping out the new independent shops around his city, until he finds a few that become his go to place for meetings, getting work done, or just sitting and reading.

He also visits Heine Brothers Coffee whenever he’s here in Louisville, and loves the one on Bardstown and Longest, with the little Carmichael’s Bookstore attached to it.

That got me to thinking about coffee shops using mystery shoppers to determine how well they’re doing, as well as how their competition is doing.

Why not? Restaurants and bars hire mystery shoppers to make sure they’re providing top-notch service to their customers, and I’m sure the big chain coffee shops do it too. So why can’t independent coffee shops?

A latte with a printed image on the foam. Some independent coffee shops have begun using foam printers.Whether you’ve got a small single shop or you own a small chain of 17 stores like our local Heine Bros. Coffee, mystery shoppers can help you find the problem areas you might be missing and to show you the places where you excel.

This is especially important if you own several shops and can’t be there to oversee the quality control on all of the shops. Besides, when the cat’s away, the mice will sometimes play, and they’ll be on their best behavior when the cat’s around. (Translation: People behave well when the boss is there, but you don’t see what’s happening when you’re not.)

Here are a few ways mystery shoppers can help you improve your customer experience.

  • Are your bathrooms clean? You may get busy in a small store, and not realize your bathrooms get filthy after a few hours. Most restaurant mystery shoppers, especially at fast-food restaurants, are asked to make a bathroom check.
  • Do your baristas smile and are they friendly? Again, this is another request of the fast-food customer experience management people — they want their guests to receive a friendly greeting and a smile. If your customers think you don’t want them or appreciate them, they won’t come back.
  • Are your baked goods fresh? Do you have a decent selection, or do you frequently run out of things? Think of mystery shopping as a surprise inspection. Shoppers can come in the morning or afternoon and tell you if you’re running out of your baked goods by lunchtime.
  • Is the coffee good? This is a personal, subjective thing, but there are standards after all. Is the coffee okay? Good? Awesome? You may like it, but you may be surprised to find that some people don’t. And while it may not be a quality issue, it could just be that you’re only serving dark roast, and some people want a medium blend. Or you’re only serving the breakfast blends, and you have customers who want that put-hair-on-your-chest taste. Running a few mystery shoppers through your store will clue you in.
  • Was there a long wait? Most people will stand in line if they know the wait is worth it. But new people might not be willing to wait that long.
  • Is there adequate parking? Some places don’t have enough parking at certain times of day, and people will pass you up rather than drive around the block several times.

You’re probably wondering why you just can’t ask your customers, especially your regulars. Think about some of your regulars, the people you know by name, or at least by order. How do you feel toward them? Probably warm and friendly, right? And they feel the same way about you. They love you, they love your shop. That’s why they keep coming back a few times a week.

And that’s why they won’t tell you the truth!

Would you tell a good friend that you don’t like the way she dresses? Would you tell a good friend that you hate his goatee and think it makes his face look weird?

Of course not. That would be rude. And that’s how your regulars are going to feel about telling you the truth about the tiny things they don’t like about your place. “Kylie doesn’t smile at me very much. I think she doesn’t like me.” “I love your blueberry muffins, but you’re always out by the time I get here.” “Your bathroom smells funny. Like, all the time.”

So don’t ask your regulars to point out your flaws. They’ll either hold back so they don’t hurt their feelings, or they’ll make something up so they don’t feel like they failed you. It’s better to get an objective opinion from several people who don’t have a vested interest in protecting your feelings.

You can work with a mystery shopping agency (don’t tell your staff you’re doing it), have shoppers come in and look at a few different areas (bathroom, smiles, and wait times, for example), and they’ll report all their findings back to you.

With this information in hand, you can figure out which areas you need to improve so you can get more customers to spend more money.

And you can ask mystery shoppers to do the same kind of intelligence gathering on your competition to see if you’re missing anything, or if there’s anything you’re already doing better than they are. (And that’s always a good feeling.)

If you would like to learn more about using mystery shoppers for your own independent coffee shop, please visit our website. You can also speak to one of our restaurant shopping experts to come up with your own unique program.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Pro Blog Service, used with permission)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Insurance companies need more than a little help in their online web portals. A mystery shopper, Ellen Carney, who is actually a principal analyst for Forrester Research, found out that trying to buy life insurance online can be more than a little challenging

In a story on, Carney — going under the pseudonym “Alice” — went through the phone call and website process of buying term coverage with several different insurance companies. She found the process to be less than helpful. Or successful.

Carney rated seven insurance companies across 11 categories, and what she found was not too surprising nor unexpected.

A paper life insurance form. Insurance companies can hire a mystery shopper to make sure their sales and marketing channels are functioning properly.According to the story, Carney rated MassMutual with 66 points, while New York Life scored the lowest with 30. John Hancock barely broke 30, while Lincoln, Ladder, Northwestern Mutual, and Prudential all scored 50 – 56.

Part of the problem is that while “Alice” got several some sort of followup from brokers and agents, whether it was an email or many, many phone calls, others never bothered to followup with the woman who had actually initiated an online purchase.

Basically, here was someone signing up to give them money, and they couldn’t be bothered to call the person back to take it.

Part of the problem, said the article, was that life insurers have not paid close attention to their online sales channels or tried to develop them and make them easier to use. They blamed falling sales commissions as a reason that agents won’t chase customers who abandoned an online shopping cart.

Bottom line, if someone expressed enough of an interest to start the sales process, there’s probably some small, easy-to-fix reason for their quitting. Salespeople call these objections, and they have entire books of scripts to help overcome them. So just follow up and see if you can snag that sale!

Another issue is that many times there’s a disconnect between the sales and marketing departments. It’s like that scene from Glengarry Glen Ross where Sales says the leads are shit, while Marketing says the leads are good.

This is where a mystery shopper program can make a big difference. While Alice was just one mystery shopper doing research for an industry report, a mystery shopping agency can help an insurance company find out any holes in their lead generation and sales process.

With the right kind of program, insurance companies can have mystery shoppers set up a program where people pretend to buy insurance, going online to make a purchase, and then assessing and measuring the performance of the salespeople who follow up. Or they can even find people who are already going to buy life insurance and ask them to rate the entire process.

Regardless, a mystery shopping agency can help you set up a mystery shopper program for your entire company, whether you want to measure your marketing efforts, your sales team, or even your customer service department. To learn more, please contact Measure CP and ask to speak to one of our mystery shopping experts.

Photo credit: Investment Zen (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Secret shoppers from Canada’s Automobile Protection Association uncovered some deceptions and fraud at 13 Vancouver, B.C. car dealers earlier this month.

According to a story on the APA’s website, they sent shoppers to 16 dealerships, but only three of them earned a Pass rating. The remaining 13 dealers failed for one reason or another.

Four of the dealers failed because they were pulling a bait-and-switch. That’s where they advertise a base model of car at a very low price, and then tell customers that model’s not available anymore before upgrading them to a more expensive model. In some cases, secret shoppers were told that the base model was only available as a factory order, and would take as long as six months to arrive.

Four dealers were also found to have added several extra charges, including charges for things like filling out paperwork and fake “Green” charges that look like payments to some environmental authority that doesn’t actually exist. The APA story even said that while some charges were in the fine print of the dealer advertising materials, other charges seemed to be completely made up. Secret shoppers found charges like a $795 brokerage fee, $549 to fill out a bill of sale, and an Additional Dealer Markup (listed as ADM) of $1,599.

Phoenix car dealer in 1939. They probably didn't use secret shoppers back then.The APA also found deceptive advertising offers, such as a Ford dealer promising a $1,000 discount to Costco members, although it wasn’t available on the model of Ford Focus the secret shoppers inquired about.

Secret shoppers were also given a lot of misinformation and misrepresentation about the warranties. In fact, half of the dealers misrepresented the manufacturer’s warranty for rustproofing as a way to upsell extra coverage.

“If a salesperson tells you there’s no corrosion warranty on a new vehicle, they’re lying,” said the APA. “All carmakers offer corrosion warranties from three to 12 years, depending on the brand.”

The APA urged British Columbia’s Vehicle Sales authority to “clamp down on dealerships that add extra charges” as well as close loopholes that let auto manufacturers break the rules that apply to dealer advertising.

In the meantime, congratulations to the Canadian Automobile Protection Association and their secret shoppers for protecting Canada’s buying public from overpaying for their cars or getting needlessly ripped off.

If your organization ever needs secret shoppers for fraud enforcement and legal compliance, Measure CP can help. Our team of experts can help you put together a brand protection and compliance program to ensure the laws and regulations are being met and people are being protected from unscrupulous or dangerous violations.

Photo credit: Don O’Brien (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

TaskRabbit, the handyman-for-hire app, just announced that their network had been hacked by cybercriminals, putting over 1.25 million Taskers at risk for having their personal and financial data stolen.

During the investigation, the app and website will be temporarily be taken down while cybersecurity investigators and law enforcement determine what happened.

Cybersecurity image of a padlock over a screen of jumbled text. TaskRabbit was hacked by cybercriminals, so we thought this was an appropriate image to post.We wanted to alert you because we know many mystery shoppers like to use systems like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, and GigWalk. Some stores and brands will hire mystery shoppers to perform small tasks, like take a picture of a store or buy a sandwich, and upload the results to the client.

The mystery shoppers are then paid by the client, and money is either placed into their app’s account, or they can be paid directly to your PayPal account. (Some apps may even let you connect directly to your bank account. We don’t suggest you do this.)

If you use TaskRabbit, or any other mystery shopping/task completion service, here are a few things you’ll want to do to protect yourself online (plus a few others in that link right there).

  1. Change your password. One of the things the criminals took were all the usernames and passwords of all the accounts. So change your password immediately. And use something that’s easy for you to remember, but hard to figure out. Don’t worry about the whole *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq kind of password. Pick a really long sentence that only you will remember — HotDogsArenNotedForTheirUnusualHistory — and write it down somewhere. You should be using passwords like this all the time anyway. And if you can swing it, get a password vault like 1Password (which runs on Mac and Windows), or KeePass (which is free and Windows-based), and you can save all these complex passwords without having to ever remember them.
  2. If you’re on TaskRabbit, disconnect your PayPal or bank account. We’re not sure if the criminals can get your credentials this way, but you don’t want to find out that they were able to drain your PayPal account. Change your PayPall password while you;re at it.
  3. Set up a account. If you’re on TaskRabbit, they may offer you a free year of credit monitoring from someone like Equifax or Experian (which is a problem in itself, since Experian was hacked last year). But Credit Karma is more thorough and can help you keep an eye out on unusual transaction. Take the free credit monitoring they offer, but just know that if the criminals have your account information now, they can use it two years from now, long after the credit monitoring has run out.
  4. Change your email password. The worst thing that can happen is that you lose control of your email account. A crook only has to change your email password, and then start visiting sites like your PayPal account or bank, click the Forgot My Password link and enter your (their) email address. Then they’ve got your new password and access to your account.
  5. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication wherever possible. Two-factor authentication (TFA) is an extra security step that sends a short code to your mobile phone. When you log into your Gmail, PayPal, or other important sites, you’ll be asked for that code, and you can’t proceed until you give it. At the same time, if you ever receive a TFA code on your mobile phone for no reason, you’ll know that someone tried to get into your account, but can’t without that code.

At Measure CP, we take every measure we can to protect our mystery shoppers from cyberattacks and criminal activity, and we’re sure TaskRabbit did too. But there are so many ways for criminals to break in that no one can ever be 100% safe. (You only have to look at the Experian and Target data breaches to know that. The Target breach was through a third-party contractor who fell victim to a phishing email.)

So practice good web security. Use complicated, but easy-to-remember passwords, or better yet, store them in a password vault. Change any and all passwords associated with TaskRabbit or any other site that has been hacked. And turn on two-factor authentication on your important accounts, like your primary email, your bank, and anywhere else you want that extra measure of protection.

Photo credit: TypographyImages (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

When it comes to competitor research, you have a few options. You could send different staff members into your competitors’ businesses — stores, restaurants, multi-family dwellings — or you could lurk on their social media accounts and see what they’re doing.

Or you could hire mystery shoppers to do some secret competitor research on your behalf.

Normally, mystery shopping is done by a company on that particular company. For example, a wireless store will have mystery shoppers go into their own stores and figure out how things are going. They’ll get a question answered, upgrade their phone or buy a new one, and make sure the month’s promotional signage is in place. Then they’ll report all that back to the mystery shopping agency who shares it with the wireless store client.

You can do this for competitor research as well.

Black Friday shopping at Macy's. Department stores often use competitor research to keep track of each other.Mystery shopping agencies are equipped to send people out on shops, only they will share the data with the client. The difference is, the mystery shopper only knows they have to do a shop on a particular store, they don’t know the client is actually a competitor.

Some of the reasons to do competitor research with mystery shoppers include

  • Seeing how your competitors manage their customer experience strategy.
  • Getting an idea of traffic patterns for similar businesses.
  • Seeing what products and services your competitors are selling, and seeing if they perform better or worse than yours.
  • Learning what kinds of promotions and specials the competition is running.

Is Mystery Shopping for Competitor Research Legal?

Yes, it is. It’s not illegal. There may be some gray areas, if you’re a black and white thinker, but it’s no worse than a pizza executive from one chain ordering pizza from another chain to see how it tastes.

Social media makes it easy to keep track of what other people are doing too. Thanks to Twitter’s List feature, it’s possible to create a private list of all your competitors (that way, they don’t know you’ve added them; they get notified if you add them to a public list). Then you can watch everything they’re promoting and talking about with customers. It’s hardly spying since you’re watching public communications that they’re willing to share with everyone..

Since these kinds of things go on all the time anyway, competitor research is a light, light gray area.

In general, doing competitor research is a sound marketing strategy. Sure, you need to focus on your own core competencies and doing the things you do the best. Train your people so they’re doing their best, make sure your processes and policies are creating top-notch products, and provide excellent customer service. Then work with a mystery shopping agency to check up on everyone so you know you’re all doing your best.

If you can do that, your company will thrive and grow, and your competition will the ones chasing you. But it won’t hurt to do competitor research on them in the meantime, so you can see if they’re copying you and the great work you’re doing.

If you’d like to learn more about doing competitor research, or just mystery shopping your own brand, please contact us and speak to one of our competitor research experts.

Photo credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

CMOs, if you’re trying to decide between mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys, there are a few key differences to be aware of. While the two different programs can give you an idea of how your brand and your staff are performing, they each fulfill different functions and show you two different sides of the same coin.

With mystery shopping, you have professional shoppers who are there to assess your strengths and requirements, such as whether your staff is performing a certain function or a particular franchise is displaying your latest promotional items, such as this month’s sandwich special or buy-one-get-one offer.

The shopper is tasked with entering a business, placing an order, having a meeting, getting a service, etc. They’re also often asked about things like store and bathroom cleanliness, employee friendliness, and so on. They tell you whether your store is meeting your brand standards. You can’t expect your regular customers to know whether that’s happening, mystery shoppers are trained on that.

With customer satisfaction surveys, you don’t always get an accurate assessment of the data you actually need. Are the bathrooms clean? Did the cashier smile? This may be something you need to know, but you’re asking customers to recall something they may or may not have seen a couple days ago. At least with a mystery shopper, they know whether that’s part of their assessment and will take note of those details.

Also, the response rates from a customer satisfaction survey can sometimes be random and unreliable. Very often, the response rate on surveys is random and unpredictable, based on the business and even the mood of the customer.

And that’s another important issue: very often people are more likely to respond to a customer satisfaction survey when they’re unhappy with their experience. That means you could only get a 5% response rate from all of your customers, but what if most of them had something they weren’t happy about? Those responses outweigh the one or two responses from the other 95% who had a wonderful experience, and it looks like you have a staff of incompetents running a store bathed in chaos.

With mystery shopping, the response rate is going to be as close to 100% as they can get, because that’s what they’ve been hired for. If you want five shoppers to visit a particular store, you’ll get five shoppers to visit that store.

We don’t want to downplay customer satisfaction surveys though, because they’re equally important.

For one thing, customer satisfaction surveys give you a lot more data to work with. If you get 500 people through your store per day, and you get just a 1% return rate, that’s still 5 people per day responding, or 1500 responses in 30 days. You can build up quite a picture with 1500 data points.

For another, it gives you better insights into complaints and deficiencies. While you can’t completely rely on the accuracy of the customer satisfaction survey — remember, it’s probably more skewed toward the negative — you are seeing legitimate complaints. And if they’re happening at a particular time of day, such as the morning shift, you know there’s a problem with the morning shift that needs to be addressed.

On the third hand, mystery shoppers can only assess so much, and may not be able to spot a problem. One mystery shopper finding one problem may only be an aberration, and not indicative of an actual problem. It’s harder to find patterns with a few mystery shoppers.

Ultimately, if you want a complete picture of your brand performance, you need both mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys. Mystery shoppers can tell you whether your standards are being met, and your customers will tell you whether they’re happy about it.

Customer satisfaction surveys can alert you to a problem, but the mystery shopper can investigate and help you figure out why it’s happening.

Mystery shopping can tell you how your different locations are performing and whether they’re meeting your company’s expectations, but customer satisfaction surveys will tell you about their satisfaction and dissatisfaction with their experiences.

Measure CP can help you combine the insights and results from both programs to get a a holistic picture of how your business is reaching and assisting customers and satisfying their needs. If you would like to learn more, please visit the Measure CP website. You can read more about our services, or you can speak with one of our mystery shopping and customer satisfaction survey experts.

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Working as a mystery shopper isn’t as complicated as it sounds. In fact, our goal is to make things as easy and uncomplicated as we can.

The goal of a mystery shopping agency like ours is to provide our clients with a customer’s-eye-view of how their business operates. Working on the premise that “when the cat is away, the mice will play,” everyone knows that the way a business operates while the manager is around than when he or she is out. And smart business executives want to know that their carefully-honed image, service, and business plan is being run the way they expect it to.

They want smiling faces, friendly greetings, full service, clean facilities, and any other expectations and goals they have set for their entire operation. But they can’t be there to monitor it all the time.

Enter the mystery shopper.

This is the person who visits a particular business, branch, or individual location, looks for a few select items on a checklist, and reports back to the mystery shopping agency. The agency collects all the reports from all the shoppers working on this particular “case,” and presents it to the client.

The client can see what’s working and what’s not in each location. Maybe they expect all their staff to greet customers with a smile, and to say “thank you” at the end of a transaction. At Chick-fil-A, employees are expected to say “My pleasure” whenever a customer says thank you. The mystery shopper will keep track of that and note whether the company associate did what they were supposed to.

OYou never know where your role as a mystery shopper could take you. This is a young woman standing at a coffee shop counter.r maybe the bathrooms have to be cleaned every hour, and need to look presentable anytime a member of the public walks in. The mystery shopper will visit the bathroom during the visit and report on its condition.

The mystery shopper is usually expected to buy a particular service — buy a chicken sandwich; get their oil changed; test drive a car; visit a senior living facility; take a phone in for repairs — and they’ll be reimbursed, plus they’ll be paid.

After they buy the service, the mystery shopper will then fill out a report, answer all questions, and write up a brief statement about their visit, and sent it all back. The information may be uploaded on a website, it could be filled out on a mobile app, or it could even be that the shopper had to shoot a video on their mobile phone and then upload it to the mystery shopping agency.

(This means you have to be somewhat tech savvy. If you’re not, be sure to practice, PRACTICE, PRACTICE with your technology before you go on your first shop. You don’t get paid if you can’t deliver the information the client needs.)

A mystery shopper is basically the eyes and the ears of company management, looking for all the problems, challenges, and even the successes of the company associates. They help the company find opportunities for improvement and training, so they can better serve their customers, keep more of them happy, and keep them returning.

If you would like to be a mystery shopper, you can sign up to join the Measure CP team by visiting our special application page. We hope to work with you soon!

Photo credit: (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

If you’re interested in mystery shopping, or have just started, you’ll start figuring out a few ways to maximize your time and make more money by taking the right kinds of shops and using a little bit of planning. Here are a few mystery shopping tips we’ve learned over the years that we’ve been doing it, and that we’ve learned from other professional shoppers.

Organize your shops by proximity.

When shoppers are first starting out, it’s not uncommon to see them take a scatter approach, doing as many shops in a day as they can. While it’s an admirable pursuit, it can really cut into your overall productivity. If you live in a bigger city like Louisville, Orlando, or Cincinnati, you could spend an hour driving from one side of town to the other to your next shop. Instead, keep your shops confined to sections of town, like the northeast side on Mondays, northwest on Tuesdays, and so on.

When you first start out, just do a couple of shops to make sure you get the hang of everything, rather than taking on a small handful of shops, only to find out you’re struggling and you didn’t get paid for any of them.

A map of Louisville with red lines dividing it up into 6 grids. Great for organizing mystery shopping trips.

You can divide your city up into grids or small areas and do all the shops in each area one day of the week. #1 on Monday, #2 on Tuesday, and so on.

Practice with your technology

If you can get audio or video shops on your schedule, those are worth more money because you’re doing extra work and providing extra services. You can do a lot of your audio and video recording with a smartphone. One thing I like to do is put my phone into a shirt pocket with a little bit of padding underneath it so the lens will peek out of the pocket. If I’m doing an audio-only recording, I put the phone upside down so the microphone is poking out.

Invest in spy technology

I have a pair of sunglasses that have a micro camera in the bridge between the eyes, but I’ve also seen regular glasses that offer the same feature. They can make a big difference in the quality of the video you shoot and audio you record, and that can make you more valuable and reliable to your mystery shopping agency.

I’ve also seen button cameras that you can wear in your shirt, sticking it through one of your button holes. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to do any sewing or removing the original button. Just don’t put the original button in the hole and put the camera through the hole instead.) You can do similar things with audio recording technology and special microphones. These are ideal for the audio-only shops you may be asked to do from time to time, and there are a wide variety of tools available.

Work with more than one mystery shopping agency

While we would love to have enough shops for every shopper in our agency, it doesn’t always work out that way. So some high-level mystery shoppers will work with more than one mystery shopping agency. They still follow the patterns of breaking up all their shops by region, and taking the video shops that pay more money.

The nice thing about working for mystery shopping agencies is that 1) you don’t have to live in the city where they’re located. We’re located in Louisville, Kentucky, but we have shoppers all over the country; and 2) if you’re already working for one agency, the others will know you have the experience when you apply, so you’re more likely to get picked up.

Edit your mystery shopping reports

Poorly-written shopping reports will not get paid for, no matter how much money you spent. Be sure you use a spell checker on your report — write it out in a word processor or on Google Drive first — and consider using a writing quality tool like Hemingway App to determine whether your sentences are very complicated, slightly complicated, or in passive voice. You can load your reports onto the Hemingway website or download an app directly to your computer.

I also recommend installing the Grammarly plugin on your web browser, whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. And if you have a Mac laptop, you can even download a native Grammarly application for your computer.

If you would like to become a mystery shopper, you can sign up at our website,

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Technology has certainly sped up the way we do things: the retail supply chain has changed as Amazon has worked to perfect fast fulfillment and two-day shipping. It has changed the way retailers and suppliers exchange information and sell products online. And it has even changed the way products are promoted and shared between shoppers.

All of this has led to things like the retail omnichannel, the idea that the customer experience is the same in the store as it is in the ecommerce site, as it is on the mobile app, as it is on the packaging from the online order.

And all of this has led to the redefinition of the “modern customer experience.”

A recent article by Daniel Bakst says that regardless of how things, the key to delivering a modern customer experience is “by providing the value that brought customers to your brand in the first place.”

Mobile survey in Persian. Every good retailer is worried about their customer experience, no matter where in the world they are.In other words, don’t lose track of what made you a customer’s favorite in the first place. But at the same time, don’t get complacent. If customers don’t find anything new or exciting, they’ll start looking for new ways to spend their money and find the things that made them excited about your own brand in the first place.

This means you always need to be focused on the customer experience and make sure this is what your customers want from you. Measure the performance of new products, current products, and even new products available from competitors and new suppliers.

How can you manage all this? Data collection. As Bakst says:

If your brand is hoping to start the journey of fostering and executing modernity in its Customer Experience, then data-collection is the first step. Without data, brands are simply making guesses hoping that customers will like it. Before any major investment or change is made, organizational leadership should have a clear idea of what changes need to be made, how these changes will take place, and what kind of effect it will have on the bottom line. Enact Customer Experience measurement programs like mystery shopping and voice of customer feedback surveys to get a clearer understanding of how customers feel about your existing Customer Experience, and what changes can improve upon these feelings.

We’re a big believer in point-of-sale analytics and paying close attention to your top performing brands and suppliers. But, most retail buyers only have the bandwidth to keep track of their Tier 1 suppliers, and can’t pay as much attention as the Tier 2 suppliers or seasonal items.

Plus, you have no way of knowing what your customers actually think about your store and brand.

This is where mystery shopping and the “voice of the customer” feedback helps. A mystery shopping agency can not only help you determine whether your stores and staff are meeting your standards, you can use mobile surveys to keep track of what people buy and then assess their attitudes toward those products.

With enough surveys, you can get an idea of what customers think of your best performers, information you can’t always get just by analyzing sales data. And with enough mystery shopping reports, you can determine whether your staff and store performance is providing the experience your modern customers expect from you.

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has started a mystery shopping program — they call it “shadow shopping” down under — as part of its review of the mortgage broker industry. According to, ASIC is “delving into the suitability of brokers’ advice.”

ASIC said this is part of its effort to better understand the home loan purchase process, which goes beyond broker commission and remuneration.

“While broker remuneration practices may have an impact on home loan choice, ASIC recognises that a range of other factors influence which home loan products are purchased, and that the purchase experience may vary across purchase channel, i.e. via broker compared to directly from a lender,” said Michael Saadat, ASIC’s senior executive leader for deposit takers, insurers and credit services.

Ultimately, they want to know which factors, other than commission, affect which home loans clients buy, and whether consumer outcomes can be improved.

But this is more than just a marketing move. While ASIC wants to gain insights into how borrowers buy home loans or find decision making points in the whole process, this is also about regulatory compliance and ensuring that brokers are following the legal requirements in the Australian home loan process.

This past November, Saadat told Australian Broker magazine that anything they discovered “will be more about understanding to what extent brokers are potentially not meeting their legal obligations, and whether ASIC, for example, needs to produce more guidance around what they can or can’t say to consumers or whether some other action is required”. 

All of this comes on the heels of ASIC’s findings of rampant loan application fraud originating from the mortgage brokers in June 2017. After those findings, they launched a project to “develop industry-based and best practice solutions to prevent loan fraud, particularly in respect of the home-loan market.”

I sometimes wonder if we’d had similar oversights and compliance mystery shopping programs if the mortgage/credit crash of 2008 could have been avoided or at least lessened. I’m glad to see that mystery shoppers are going to be involved in regulatory compliance efforts.

This is something that mystery shopping agencies, whether in the US, UK, Australia, or elsewhere, can do for lawn enforcement agencies, government agencies, or regulatory agencies. The way ASIC’s program, and any other mystery shopping program, will work is to have either people who need home loans evaluate their loan buying experience, or hire shoppers to pose as home buyers and go through the loan application process without actually taking out the loan.

We’ve done age compliance shops for the purchase of tobacco and alcohol products, regulatory shops for fair housing in home and multi-family dwelling rentals, and have even helped some retail chains ensure their clerks are properly trained on the different rules and laws regulating sales of certain products.

If you would like to learn more about using mystery shopping as a way to monitor legal and regulatory compliance, please contact Measure CP and ask to speak with one of our mystery shopping experts.

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

We’ve talked in the past about mystery shopper scams and the way unsuspecting mystery shoppers can be tricked into different ways of parting with their money. We recently heard a story that has us scratching our heads a bit and wondering if this is a scam or not.

A mystery shopper competition in the United Kingdom is offering customers £100 ($141) gift cards to spend in Aldi in exchange for a review. While this is not an unusual practice per se, it still has us thinking this may be a scam for a couple reasons.

For one thing, $141 is an awfully high amount for a grocery store review. Typical mystery shops run between $8 – $20.

But most importantly, Aldi has said they are not involved with the shopping campaign at all.

Aldi supermarket, Alphington Road, Exeter. Aldi supermarkets are the subject of a questionable contest for mystery shoppers.

Aldi supermarket, Alphington Road, Exeter

They released a statement that said,”Aldi has confirmed that this opportunity isn’t genuine and is in no way connected to the business. Please alert readers to the fact that this is not an Aldi opportunity.”

For another thing, Aldi does not sell gift cards. So there’s no way this mystery shopping contest is offering Aldi gift cards. (Maybe they’re Visa gift cards, which Aldi accepts, but there’s no such thing as an Aldi-branded gift card.)

According to a Cambridge News article, if the shoppers are selected, they only have to visit the store and then provide “honest feedback” about their visit.

To qualify, shoppers must provide their personal details and agree to submit a 500 word written review within a week of the visit, as well as a video and photos.

And there’s the rub: shoppers are being asked to provide their personal details. While your basic personal details are not that hard to find — name, address, email address — anything more than that is liable to make you the victim of identity theft.

At no point should you ever share your birth city, mother’s maiden name, or social security number to someone who’s promising to send you a large gift card.

If these are the kinds of personal details you have to provide to qualify for this kind of “contest,” chances are it’s not on the up and up.

That’s because it could just be an outright lie; they may not send you a card in the first place, but they’ve got your details and can use that to sign up for credit cards in your name.

Now, this could be on the up-and-up. It could be a totally legitimate contest being run by a marketing agency or even an Aldi’s competitor. And the contest website even says they’re not involved with Aldi’s and that this is not an Aldi’s-sponsored contest.

Still, it makes me wonder what kind of mystery shopping campaign it is. Here in the United States, no one would publicly hire mystery shoppers for $141 to go check out a store without some connection to the store.

There might be companies that would do a secret shopping campaign to gather competitive research, but they certainly wouldn’t announce that they were doing it. They would usually hire a mystery shopping agency, or they would do a lot of their own competitive research with their employees.

As we always say, the bottom line in avoiding mystery shopping scams is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Someone offering you $141 (or even $100) in a mystery shopping contest is probably not a legitimate campaign. Avoid it, hold onto your personal details, and only work with agencies that are members of the MSPA Americas (the Mystery Shopping Professional Association).

If you would like to become a real mystery shopper yourself, you can sign up at our website. Or to hire a mystery shopping agency to run your own campaign, please visit the website for more information.

Photo credit: David Smith (, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Compliance checks are essentially surprise inspections that federal government agencies and local law enforcement will carry out to ensure that a retail establishment is following the rules and laws created by the government concerning the products being sold.

In other words, they check up on stores to make sure they’re not doing anything illegal.

One example of a compliance check is the age compliance check, which is done to ensure people buying alcohol and tobacco are the legal minimum age to purchase it. The legal age for buying alcohol is 21, and it’s 18 for buying tobacco.

Rum display in a liquor store. Minors are often sent in to buy alcohol during compliance checks.Alcohol retailers that fail to card their customers to determine their age can be penalized and fined by the local law enforcement agencies or the state’s Liquor Control Board, in conjunction with state and local law enforcement. However, it’s usually the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that conducts tobacco compliance checks.

The FDA calls them “Undercover Buy Inspections,” where the retailer is not aware the inspections are taking place. Minors, or people who look very young, will come into the store, buy the product, and then the enforcement begins — it starts with a warning letter or ticket.

A second infraction draws a monetary penalty that can be pretty stiff. Two violations in 12 months is $279, four violations in 24 months will cost you $2,236, and six violations in 48 months costs $11,182. So these guys aren’t messing around!

And if you persist in violating the law, the FDA can hit you with a No-Tobacco-Sale Order (NTSO), where you’re not allowed to sell tobacco products at that specific location for a long period of time.

What About Marijuana Compliance Checks?

Meanwhile, in states where it’s legal to sell marijuana, compliance checks are often overseen by local law enforcement and the Liquor Control Boards

For example, a recent check on underage marijauana sales by Washington State, where it’s legal to sell and use recreational marijuana, saw an 88 percent compliance rating with local laws.

But it’s not just underage sales that are the problem. In states that allow medical marijuana sales, there is a myriad of rules and regulations the dispensaries have to follow.

According to, these are the top five most common medical marijuana dispensary infractions.

  • The license does not immediately input all marijuana and marijuana product(s) into the State-mandated inventory tracking system and account for all variances.
  • The dispensing facility does not have accurate or updated tracking logs for visitors, security and/or waste.
  • The business does not have all required financial business documentation available as required (federal and state).
  • Marijuana and marijuana product sold to patients does not include all required public health and safety warning statements as required by law.
  • Surveillance cameras do not have clear, unobstructed views of the license premise and blind spots or sight obstructions exist.

Compliance checks can be a royal pain, especially if you’re the one caught selling products to underage buyers or patients who don’t have the right paperwork. This is where it helps to work with a mystery shopping agency.

Mystery shoppers can help liquor and tobacco retailers and marijuana dispensaries stay in compliance with their local laws. Many times, it’s the clerks and non-owners/non-managers who either aren’t fully aware of the laws or don’t have a vested interest in avoiding penalties and fines causing the problem. Working with a mystery shopping agency like Measure CP can help you run spot compliance checks without actually suffering any financial and legal penalties from anything we find. Our job is to report our findings to management, so we can help you find any shortfalls and holes in training.

And we don’t just have to do compliance checks; we can do other checks, such as restroom cleanliness, condition of the stores, friendliness of the staff, or anything else you want to know about at your retail establishment.

To learn more about mystery shopping and compliance checks, please contact us for more information or to speak to one of our mystery shopping experts.

Photo credit: O’Dea (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

There are plenty of reasons why we’re seeing casual and fast casual chain restaurants go out of business: Millennials are killing them by not eating there. There are too many restaurants and not enough people are supporting them. People are more interested in farm-to-table not boil-in-a-bag. And some restaurants, like Chipotle, are working hard to re-earn their customers’ trust after several food contamination incidents.

A recent article on, These American Restaurants Are Failing to Attract Customers showed 17 casual and fast casual dining chains that are losing sales, closing up stores, and are seeing a general decline in their overall performance.

  1. Sonic
  2. Ovation Brands (Hometown Buffet, Old Country Buffet)
  3. Noodles and Company
  4. Panera Bread
  5. Outback Steakhouse (Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhours, Carabba’s, and Bonefish Grill)
  6. Subway
  7. Cheesecake Factory
  8. Applebee’s
  9. Chipotle
  10. Chili’s
  11. Buffalo Wild Wings
  12. TGI Friday’s
  13. Domino’s
  14. Shake Shack
  15. Ruby Tuesday
  16. Jack In The Box
  17. Starbucks

While each brand had its own reasons why it wasn’t doing well — Sonic blamed bad weather, Outback says people are flocking to delivery and take-out, Cheesecake Factory is found primarily in malls and suburbs — it’s hard to say why these particular casual/fast casual dining brands are failing.

But there are three strategies restaurant brands can use to help boost their sales and increase their customer base.

And they involve mystery shopping.

1. Ask your guests what they liked and didn’t like via mobile surveys.

Don’t rely on anecdotes from customers and don’t spend too much time reading online reviews. Anecdotes may be representative of patterns, but without actual data you can’t be sure. And online reviews are usually only written by complainers or people who love your product. They don’t catch the people who only had a “meh” experience and aren’t motivated to come back.

But with a 4- or 5-question mobile survey, you can quickly find out what problems your customers had, what they enjoyed, and spot patterns on the national, regional, and city level, as well as identify any problem stores or staff quickly and easily.

Rather than waiting for a six-month survey to show you why you’ve lost hundreds of customers, you can identify patterns and trends in a matter of days, and fix the problem before it gets worse.

2. Are your bartenders pouring right

Outback steakhouse, one of the 17 casual and fast casual dining brands having sales strugglesWe once mystery shopped a high-end restaurant that was losing thousands of dollars every year to help them identify their problem. One thing we found was that their bartenders weren’t using jiggers to measure their drinks, they were counting. They were often (unintentionally) over pouring, giving a little more liquor than a recipe called for. While that doesn’t matter one or two times, imagine losing three drinks out of every bottle of liquor. That starts to add up! Our client was losing a few thousand dollars a month just to overpouring.

Another thing they were doing is whenever the bartender poured beer from the taps, they would pour off the foam. I’ve seen bartenders fill up half a glass with foam, and keep filling until the foam ran out, sometimes losing one beer’s worth of foam for every two glasses.

Foam collapses and turns into beer. And all my beer snob friends tell me that the foam is part of the experience, and it enhances the flavor. (I don’t actually know — talk to some beer experts who will tell you why foam dumping is a bad idea for beer.)

But the bottom line is that your bartenders are dumping one in three beers. If you’re charging $5 per beer, you’re losing hundreds of dollars of inventory because they haven’t been properly trained on beer pouring.

Mystery shoppers can visit your restaurants, order from the bar, and pay attention to how the bartenders are filling their drinks.

3. There’s more to loss prevention than just theft.

How many people turn away because it took too long to be greeted and seated? How long did they have to wait before their server brought water or their food came out?

While it’s good PR to comp a person’s meal if there are screwups in the kitchen, how many times do you have to do that per day or per week? A mystery shopping program can help you identify where problems may lie with your hostesses, servers, bartenders, and even managers.

One problem with any kind of management-employee situation is that the employees are often on their best behavior when the boss is around, but they let up on those standards when he or she isn’t. Mystery shoppers can be your eyes and ears in your restaurant, telling you what you can’t see, showing you the problem areas, and helping you find areas to train and retrain your staff so they can better serve your customers.

By finding problem areas, correcting loss prevention and overpours, and surveying as many of your customers as you can, you can keep your patrons happy, keep them coming back, and possible help reverse the trend that these national chains have been seeing for the last couple of years.

If you would like to learn more about what mystery shopping can do for your casual or fast casual dining brand, please contact us and ask to speak with one of our mystery shopping experts.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

It’s hard to believe, but the age-old mystery shopper scam is still around and catching unsuspecting people who just want to earn some extra money. But we’re still seeing articles that show people are falling for the scam and getting caught by unscrupulous dirtbags who think nothing of preying on people.

Since we recruit mystery shoppers, these filthy rotten scammers only make our job harder, because if someone gets burned or is on their guard about mystery shopping, we have a harder time convincing them that we’re running a legitimate operation.

If you’re interested in mystery shopping, but you want to make sure that the offers you’re seeing are legitimate, here are a few telltale signs to look for.

Scam icon - Watch out for mystery shopping scams out there.

You’re expected to PAY for your shops.

If you had a job at a restaurant or office, would you pay to go to work? Of course not! Mystery shopping is no different: it’s a job, you get paid to do it. There is no way you should ever have to pay to receive shops.

Basically, if there’s a mystery shop in your area, and you’re qualified to do it, you can accept the shop. There’s no fee, there’s no wage sharing, nothing. This is a job like any other, and if you’re chosen to do it, you’ll get paid to do it. You won’t pay to become a shopper ever.

You’re promised a lot of money.

I saw one mystery shop that offered $350 for a single shop. Honestly, that’s way too much money being offered. A typical mystery shop can be anywhere from $8 – $20, depending on how big the shop is, how complex, and even what’s being asked of the shopper. Anything outside of that range, especially from someone you’ve never worked with before, is almost certainly a scam. (We’ve had a few shops that fall outside that range, but we offered them to people we’ve worked with in the past, so they know they can trust us and we can trust them.)

One mystery shopping scam story in Texas (see below) promised $350 for buying three Walmart gift cards and said there would be two of those jobs a week for as long as the shopper wanted them. At $700 per week, that’s a $35,000 salary, just for driving to Walmart twice and buying three gift cards.

Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. And $35,000 per year for three hours a week? That’s impossible.

3. You’re promised cruise ship and vacation mystery shops.

I’ve been doing this job for a lot of years, working with a lot of national clients, and I have never, ever seen a cruise mystery shop. I also belong to MSPA Americas, our national trade association, and none of their members have ever seen cruise mystery shops either.

That’s because these shops don’t exist. They’re not out there. The people who promise these are lying.

Believe me, if there were cruise ship mystery shops to be had, the staff at the mystery shopping agencies would do it themselves. Again, it sounds too good to be true, which is a serious red flag.

4. There are spelling and grammar errors in the announcement.

The people who perpetrate these scams aren’t necessarily in the U.S., and so English is their second, third, or fourth language, which means their announcements often have errors. They also don’t use a lot of the same expressions and slang we use in the United States, and their formal English may sound stilted and unusual.

While people are prone to make errors in their writing, you shouldn’t see a lot of obvious errors in a job posting. The occasional typo is not a big deal, but it it’s a poorly-written ad, it’s almost certainly not real.

5. You’re asked to deposit a check and use those funds for your shops.

I recently heard a story about a woman in Texas who fell victim to the old “deposit this cashier’s check” scam.

This is where the scammers send you a check for a few thousand dollars, ask you to deposit it, buy some gift cards or wire part of that money back to them, and then rescind that check. Or the check is found to be counterfeit.

Now, not only are you out the money that you wired or used for the gift cards, but the remaining money that you were supposed to “keep” is gone. The woman in Texas received three checks for $2,850, was asked to buy $2,500 in gift cards and mail them, and then keep the remaining money as her commission.

After the shop was done, she found out the checks were counterfeit, and she had negative $2,000 in her bank account. There was no recourse or way to recover the money, so she lost $2,000 of her own money to some anonymous thieves.

Bottom line, never deposit a check from a stranger, and never buy gift cards as a part of a shop.

If you want to make sure a company is legitimate, check out the MSPA America’s Service Provider’s Search. If the company is listed there, they’re probably legitimate. But be careful, the scammers know this and will sometimes pose as real companies.

So watch out for all these other warning flags too. And if you’re not sure, call up the mystery shopping provider listed on the website and ask them about that particular shopping campaign. Ask if they have you listed in the system. If they don’t know anything about that particular shop, then it’s most likely a scam.

If you want to learn more about becoming a real mystery shopper, please contact us, we can tell you how it all works, and we can even help you get set up in our system.

Photo credit: Anecdoteak (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Last week, we examined a study that looked at how different states and municipalities manage their alcohol age compliance checks. And it has already been established by several other studies that age compliance checks already decreases sales at establishments that get checked. But what kind of effect do those alcohol age compliance checks have on neighboring liquor stores and bars?

Dr. Daren Erickson and other researchers from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota decided to find out for themselves and published the study, “Do Alcohol Compliance Checks Decrease Underage Sales at Neighboring Establishments?

The bar from Cheers. Never saw any alcohol compliance checks here!

The bar from Cheers.

Whenever a liquor store clerk or bartender doesn’t ask a young-looking person for ID, that’s considered a violation and the clerk or bartender will receive a ticket. In some states, the owner of the establishment may also receive a citation.

So does news spread around the area when age compliance checks are done? When the police do their checks, especially those who are doing it at random and not checking every establishment, do the bartenders and liquor store clerks notify each other? As Dr. Erickson and associates said:

Underage alcohol compliance checks conducted by law enforcement agencies can reduce the likelihood of illegal alcohol sales at checked alcohol establishments, and theory suggests that an alcohol establishment that is checked may warn nearby establishments that compliance checks are being conducted in the area. In this study, we examined whether the effects of compliance checks diffuse to neighboring establishments.

They used data from a previous study, which included more than 2,000 checks at more than 900 establishments. They used a multi-level logistic regression to “model the effect of a compliance check at each establishment as well as the effect of compliance checks at neighboring establishments within 500 m (stratified into four equal-radius concentric rings), after buyer, license, establishment, and community-level variables were controlled for.

In the end, they found that it was less likely that establishments would sell alcohol to underage youth after they had been checked, but that this effect decayed over time. More importantly, they found that of the stores and bars that were checked within 90 days, their alcohol-selling neighbors within 125 meters were also less likely to sell alcohol to youthful buyers. But they observed that those effects also decayed with distance — that is, the farther away a store was, the more likely they were to still sell alcohol to youthful-looking customers.

Alcohol-selling establishments that fail alcohol age compliance checks several times are in danger of losing their license, and in some states, the owners can be hit with citations and fines as well. Liquor store chains and bars that want to make sure their staff are complying with alcohol sales laws can work with Measure CP to run surprise mystery shopping checks. This will help you make sure you’re in compliance with the laws and find areas for additional training.

And local law enforcement agencies that would like to organize their own alcohol compliance checks can work with Measure CP to find youthful-looking professional shoppers, as well as to administer and tabulate all of the results of the compliance checks, leaving you to manage the actual enforcement.

Photo credit: Marcin Wichary (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Underage alcohol consumption has become such a problem in the last couple decades that it is now a public health issue, and one that Measure CP can help local law enforcement agencies monitor.

A 2014 study, “Current Use of Underage Alcohol Compliance Checks by Enforcement Agencies in the U.S.” found that age compliance checks at liquor stores and convenience stores actually did curb illegal alcohol sales.

Alcohol compliance check sign from Utah. It says "No one under the age of 21 is permitted to enter this store unless accompanied by a parent or spouse of legal age."

Liquor store sign in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Daren Erickson and other researchers from the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota conducted a national survey in 2010-2011 to measure how many law enforcement agencies were conducting underage alcohol compliance checks, and how many used optimal methods “including checking all establishments in the jurisdiction, conducting checks at least 3–4 times per year, conducting follow-up checks within 3 months, and penalizing the licensee (not only the server/clerk) for failing a compliance check.” They also wanted to determine some of the characteristics of agencies that performed these checks.

The group received responses from 1,082 local law enforcement agencies, and found the following:

  • 26% of them had at least one full-time agent assigned to work specifically on alcohol-related issues.
  • 7% of them had an alcohol-related division.
  • 94% of them indicated that underage drinking was “somewhat or very common” in their jurisdiction.
  • Only 35% of local law enforcement agencies reported conducting compliance checks.
  • Of those agencies performing checks, 55% reported checking all alcohol establishments, but 28% reported checking randomly selected establishments.
  • One third of agencies conducted checks annually, one fourth checked twice per year, and one fourth checked 3 – 4 times per year.
  • Finally, 76% did follow-up checks when an establishment failed an earlier compliance check.

They also measured some of the state-by-state comparisons and found:

  • In 47% of the states, both the state and local law enforcement agencies were responsible for enforcing alcohol retail laws.
  • In 39%, the state agencies alone had primary responsibility for alcohol retail enforcement.
  • 18% of the agencies (9 total) indicated that illegal alcohol sales were very common in their state.
  • 76% of the agencies with the authority to conduct alcohol compliance checks did so.
  • 24% conducted compliance checks almost yearly, and 21% conducted them 3 – 4 times per year.
  • Of the agencies that conducted compliance checks, 94% of them conducted follow-up checks of any kind.

Of course, things may have changed in the seven or so years since the surveys were first done. Did the numbers go up or down? Are there more alcohol compliance checks or fewer? What about the number of local law enforcement agencies that have, or don’t have, a full-time person dedicated to alcohol-related issues.

This is one area where Measure CP can help local law enforcement agencies. We have a vast network of mystery shoppers who can help with alcohol age compliance checks (as well as tobacco compliance checks), whether departments want to hire us to recruit shoppers or even work with us to coordinate a compliance check campaign.

We can coordinate with shoppers throughout a city or even a state and reach our shoppers via a mobile app, so information can come in a standardized format and in real time.

This can help reduce your workload, letting you focus more time on actual enforcement, while we handle the administrative aspect of the work, including paying shoppers, handling their taxes, and other details normally handled by the law enforcement personnel.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us, and one of our alcohol compliance check specialists can help you further.

Photo credit: Cory Doctorow (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping

Churches Should Hire Mystery Shoppers, Not Ask Friends

Some business owners think customer loyalty is only earned through offering repeat business programs like loyalty cards, and offering regular specials and coupons.

Customer loyalty can actually be earned through providing excellent customer service, and making sure customers are pleased with the service they are getting.

That is why mystery shopping can play a much bigger role in establishing customer loyalty for restaurants and stores: because mystery shopping can help management learn where they have shortcomings and problems, and provide staff feedback and training to help them overcome those problems.

customer loyalty

English: Different customer loyality cards (airlines, car rental companies, hotels etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With mystery shopping, management can get unbiased, objective feedback on those areas that concern them the most. Whether it is the amount of time customers have to wait before they receive help and attention, the taste of the food, the cleanliness of the facilities, or the favorability of the programs and specials, all of these areas can affect customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Mystery shopping helps with customer loyalty, because it shows management just what people are thinking when they visit that establishment. What typically happens is when managers watch the staff to make sure they are doing everything right, the staff does everything perfectly. But their standards may slip when they know no one is watching them. Mystery shopping lets managers watch the staff without being onsite.

It also helps them better train the staff to avoid problems that might drive away customers and hurt customer loyalty. If the staff can fix problems, and avoid screw ups, customers will have a better experience, and will be more likely to return.

Finally, if staff know they are being mystery shopped, but do not know when it will happen, they are more likely to provide better service at all times. Better service means more customers will be happy. Happy customers will tell their friends, and become evangelists for the business. As they tell more people, they will also have more affinity for it, and will be more likely to return, becoming regulars to the business.

And as more people visit the business, because of those recommendations, they too will enjoy the benefits of improved service, and can also become raving fans and returning regulars. That is the essence of good customer loyalty.

Ultimately, mystery shopping becomes more than just a report card for businesses. It is a tool for customer loyalty and customer experience management. Managers who want to improve their customer loyalty programs should consider working with a mystery shopping agency to see how they can improve.