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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

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,

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

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)

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros


Respondents often ask how they can better maximize their earnings. While it can take a variety of shops to reach your financial targets, it is important to know that Mystery Shopping Provider’s (MSP) entrust higher-value projects to those with a history of making accurate and high-quality submissions. Brands rely on very precise data to make business decisions, sometimes affecting multi-million dollar budgets, thus making it critical for assignments to be done correctly the first time.

Because many programs require you to follow certain criteria as directed by each client, here’s how you can understand all the steps necessary to achieve success.

How can improving quality lead to financial reward? MSPs typically make assignments available to those individuals with a strong record, based on their ability to accurately follow directions. Not only are quality and accuracy critical – timeliness is, too.

To help, we have collected four best practices designed to improve your skills!


1. Tools to Stay Organized

When accepting an assignment, check your calendar and be sure you are available to complete the assignment before or by the due date. Because assignments have deadlines, it is critical for you to finish on time; otherwise, clients lose valuable resources, leading to incomplete and unusable submissions.

Most smartphones today have a calendar feature with reminders and alarms. As soon as you accept the shop, add a reminder so you do not forget to complete it, especially when accepting an assignment in advance. Google offers a free calendar tool, making it easy to manage your tasks, especially if you are scheduling tasks for multiple MSPs.


2. Stay Objective, Don’t Let Things Become Personal

Shoppers are so passionate about their jobs that things can often become personal instead of objective. Scenarios and guidelines provide a framework to your interaction so that the client can focus on the data they are trying to measure. Objectivity and knowledge of the framework will keep your feedback accurate and be of more use to the client. This will help to capture the true essence of an interaction and make your feedback valuable.


3. Document All Steps Required

Most assignments have strict requirements such as keeping a receipt, recording any phone conversations, or visiting during a specified time. Be sure to keep all documentation required to prevent delays or incomplete submissions. Oftentimes, your payment is contingent upon submitting your records; delays can result when not submitting proper documentation.

In addition, be sure to keep backup copies and do not delete any files until you have been paid. This makes it easy to verify and reimburse you for any expenses correctly the first time! Cameras and cellphones make a great way to snap a record of the receipt and keep a digital copy.


4. Communication is Key, Especially When Issues Arise

Things do not always go as planned and sometimes issues come up. Whenever a problem arises, it is important to contact your scheduler as soon as possible. If a short timeframe is available to complete the shop and you are unable to complete the shop for any reason or need clarification, keep the communication lines open and call or email your contact to seek help.

Do not be afraid to raise your hand if you do not understand something or to let your MSP know you cannot complete things on time.

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Mystery shopping is one of the most valuable ways for CMOs and COOs to obtain feedback about their operations. While the anonymous customer surveys and focus groups of yore will provide a certain degree of insight into small portion of customer experience, mystery shopping allows organizations to gain insight into many facets of their business operations.

During a mystery shopping audit, a professional secret shopper will visit the appointed location and proceed to make a purchase or inquire about a product or service. In the process of the transaction, the mystery shopper will take note of environment, cleanliness, product offerings, and the employees’ product knowledge and level of customer service offered. Upon completion of the secret shop, the mystery shopper will complete a detailed survey regarding their entire experience with the organization.

One of the most valuable aspects of mystery shopping is the opportunity to garner unbiased, third party feedback. The data and feedback gained from a mystery shop are provided by unbiased, qualified individuals who approach each shop objectively and professionally. They are able to give expert, third party feedback from a customer’s perspective.

Surveys, on the other hand, tend to be poorly-written and skewed and have limited choices. Focus group participants often have a problem of putting too much thought into their ideas. Plus, focus groups are often too small to give an accurate depiction. They also tend to be made up of “professional” focus group participants — people who bounce from group to group — who are not necessarily regular users of the products.

Mystery shopping is also effective for loss prevention. Mystery shoppers typically record the amount of time it took for them to be served by an employee. As most organizations realize, attentive employees are a store’s strongest weapon against theft. The last thing shoplifters want is attention, because the longer they go unnoticed, the more opportunities they have to steal. So when they are given too much attention, a thief is more likely to move on to an easier target.

Mystery shopping audits can show where staff are not being quick enough to serve customers. This will also show where stores are losing customers who leave because they have not received the attention and service they needed.

Many organizations use mystery shopping as a means of checking out the competition. When it comes to competitive analysis and scoping out the market, mystery shopping is a valuable weapon.

In these kinds of shops, mystery shoppers are sent to collect information about the competition’s customer service tactics, product offerings and strengths and weaknesses. This not only allows organizations to compare and contrast their own offerings, it lets them to find out what is truly important to the customer and use it to their advantage.

Mystery shopping is a wise investment that offers benefits that traditional market research panels or customer surveys do not have.

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

We’ve all heard about big brands who get caught up in social media imbroglios: airlines scuffling with celebrities (Alec Baldwin and American, anyone? Kevin Smith and Southwest?) and laypeople alike, BP after the Gulf oil spill, Verizon’s recent $2 “convenience fee”…the list goes on. Mobile Feedback Big brands can generally recover fairly quickly in these situations; they often have staff dedicated to crisis communications, and unless the error is really grievous, they have so many customers that losing a few to a social media mess probably won’t affect the business on a large scale.

But what about smaller businesses? If you’re in any kind of business that provides customer service, it’s critical to be prepared for things like this, or even better, nip dissatisfaction in the bud before it even reaches critical mass in social media. Here are five ways to prevent a social media crisis:

Solicit mobile feedback. Give people an outlet to provide feedback on their experience to you directly. We’ve written all about text surveys on this blog before, for a number of different types of businesses. I’ve seen it happen before: An unhappy customer takes to Twitter, Facebook or even their Tumblr when trouble hits, before they’ve even left the business. What if you gave them somewhere to talk to you directly before they did that? Respond to it quickly.

I think we’ve made it clear that just asking for feedback isn’t enough. You need to actually pay attention and act on that feedback. If you’re offering a place for customers to give you instant feedback, they should be able to expect instant response from you.

Monitor social media channels.

It bears repeating: Listen to what people are saying about you online. Even the most vague murmurs of dissatisfaction can snowball pretty quickly if they strike a nerve with a group of people — social media mobilizes quickly!

Act on what you’ve read.

There’s an important word in “social media”: It’s social. That means listening isn’t enough; your business actually needs to interact with people to do it well. So no matter how you respond — with a reply, a direct message, an e-mail or a phone call — be sure you respond in some way.

Be transparent.

This could seem counterintuitive, but let people know — publicly — what’s happened and how you’re responding. Companies that are transparent get a lot of respect from the social media community, and putting yourself in the middle of the story about your brand gives you an important foothold in determining where that conversation goes.

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Have you ever gotten a customer complaint about a staff member that just didn’t make sense? “Oh, John?” you think. “But I’ve never seen him so much as frown at a patron, much less throw a spoon at one!”

Shhhh! Don't tell your staff a mystery shopper is coming. This is an emoji making a shhhh face.Well, right. Your workers put their best foot forward when you set foot in their presence. When their job is so visibly at stake, they’re going to give that extra effort to look good for you. What a bonus for your customers at that time…they’ll never have better customer service than when the owner is in the house!

Short of installing hidden cameras and creating a Big Brother police state, it can be tough to know how your employees act when you’re not around. There will be employees that really are on their best behavior all the time — lucky you! — and there will be problem employees. That’s where mystery shoppers come in, of course.

But just as your employees straighten their ties, smile a little brighter and compete harder than usual for Employee of the Month when you make your presence known at your place of business, so it goes when you say those two little words: mystery shopper. When you tell them they may encounter a mystery shopper anytime in the next X number of days, you can rest assured they’ll be on their best behavior for every shift during that period.

It’s fantastic for the mystery shopper — they’ll have the best, most painless experience to report on! And you’ll hand out gold stars all around to your employees for impressing that one person. But your customers will lose out in the end if you do, in fact, have trouble spots and customer service issues that your employees were covering up. So don’t tell them.

Keep your employees on their toes!

Yes, you should prepare your employees for the eventuality of having a mystery shopper come visit. But not in the way you think: You should do it by training them to be the best employees they can be at all times — because that’s what you expect, and how they should be acting all the time.

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

It happens all the time: a business owner falls into a comfort zone running their business. It can be tough to see the big picture if you yourself are inside the frame — and how you see things may be completely different from how a customer sees them. Here are five things a mystery shopper can spot that you might not notice:

1) Bathrooms.

Sure, you put your employees in charge of changing the toilet paper and checking on the facilities every few hours. You trust them to keep your business’ most private areas spick and span, but how often do your employees REALLY go in there?

And…what are they actually doing when they do?


2) Smiles.

I’ve said this before: You need to train your employees — anyone who interacts with your customers professionally — to smile. As a manager, you get used to seeing your employees in all their many varying moods.

But how do your customers see them? Are they truly following your policy of leaving their personal issues at home and keeping a sunny disposition at all times? It can be tough to try to look at them the way customers do — mystery shoppers won’t have a problem doing this, because just super-trained customers.

3) Timeliness.

You’re busy. Running a business means time moves differently for you than it does your customers. Do you really know how long a customer’s transaction takes? Yes, you know how many steps there are in fulfilling an order, providing telephone customer service, but the fact is — your customers don’t particularly care. Are you giving your customers the most efficient service possible?

4) Customer service.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Of course your employees will be on their best behavior when you’re around! But things can get lax when you aren’t on the premises…or even when you’re in the back and thye’re up front.

Mystery shoppers can be the eyes and ears to give you insight into your employees’ attitudes and customer service skills when their manager isn’t watching with those hiring-and-firing eagle eyes. (And, hey! Just the possibility of being shopped may encourage them to be on their best behavior…)

5) Merchandising.

If you run a retail operation, it’s safe to assume that you’ve spent many hours painstakingly organizing your shop, from the layout to the arrangement of your merchandise. But even if it makes perfect sense to you, is it intuitive enough for your customers to find what they need quickly and painlessly? Does it make sense to them?

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Your mystery shopping business spends every day helping clients be the best they can be for their customers. Your shoppers document every second of their interaction with a business; the reports you compile help keep up with their competition. How often do you take a cue from the services you provide your clients and assess your OWN business with a critical eye? Are you staying current with today’s trends and technology? Do you pay attention to your competition — to what they offer and how they treat their customers?

Let’s take a look at four things you could be missing:

1. Quick turnaround.

Your company should be able to provide results from a mystery shop within 36 hours. Everything happens faster these days; heck, a bad Yelp review or string of negative tweets can go viral in seconds and bring you to your knees before you can say, “What the Zuckerberg?”

It’s so important to get your clients results as quickly as possible; if there’s a behavior or procedure they need to change within their operation — especially if it can be changed almost immediately — then they need to know about it. Your mystery shop’s report may be essential to the future success of their business.

2. Audio and video capabilities.

Straight paper reports are so ’90s. Multimedia integration into your shops should be the norm — not an exception. These days, it’s much less expensive for your mystery shoppers to obtain basic recording equipment than it once was, and your clients likely expect these richer results. (Written reports and second-hand note taking can be subjective and unreliable no matter how good your shoppers are…but recordings are irrefutable!)

3. Thorough and up-to-date analytics.

You need to be asking the right questions and providing context to your shoppers’ reporting. That could mean comparing a client’s results to an industry standard, other, similar local businesses’ results, or even that client’s own past reports.

4. Ability to work around the country, not just a region.

In the days of brick and mortar and mom and pop, servicing a local or regional area was nice. It was acceptable. But these days, to keep up with demand, it’s an added bonus to be able to provide mystery-shopping services to clients all over the country. Whether that means you have extensive web capabilities — a full-featured website with online booking, reporting and payment — or feet on the ground in each region you want to service, you should be there.

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Good, old-fashioned customer service really goes a long way — especially for a harried mother, who can feel very isolated in their thankless, unpaid full-time jobs. Even if you’re just taking the time to ask how everything’s going for her while she’s shopping in your baby store.

Row of shelves inside a baby store. Use text surveys to solicit feedback from your customers.While nothing will ever take the place of eye contact sincere concern, asking for feedback in any way will give you a leg up over many other retailers. Consider using text message–based surveys to gauge your customers’ feedback on a day-to-day basis. Give your shoppers the opportunity to voice their opinions about their shopping experience in your baby store right away — before they’ve even left. If they’re dissatisfied with something during their shopping experience, this could be your opportunity to recover or make right whatever went wrong.

Do you have a loyalty program? In addition to placards offering text message surveys in your store, consider pushing messages to your program members inviting them to participate in a survey, in exchange for a token discount when they visit your shop — or an invite to a members-only Moms Night Out event, or a perk of your choosing. Make it special for them!

You’ll get their feedback instantly, pushed to your phone or e-mail. That gives you an opportunity to find them while they’re still in the store, if necessary, and correct anything that has gone wrong as soon as it’s happened. If a customer speaks especially highly of an employee, you can reward that employee instantaneously for their excellent survey. There’s a lot to be said for quick response.

These text surveys can be especially valuable because they get real-time feedback from people already shopping in your stores. They’re not like mystery shoppers because they’re already somewhat loyal to your store — they chose to visit you! All they’re worried about is having a satisfying experience.

Take the time to capture these shoppers’ contact information in your store; imagine having mothers’ permission to contact them whenever you need insight into their valuable demographic’s shopping habits!

Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported on the potentially nefarious industry of mystery shopping in a “consumer alert” entitled, “ The Secrets of Mystery Shopping…Revealed.”

It describes the basic gist of mystery shopping and “warns” that people who love to shop may be tempted to succumb to e-mails or ads claiming they can make money doing what they love in very little spare time. (Which is true!)

Seal of the United States Federal Trade Commis...

Image via Wikipedia

The alert goes on to describe a number of different scams common in the mystery shopping industry:

  • Some companies will require users to register for a site to “qualify” for a mystery shopping gig then pay a fee for to participate in a certification or training program to prepare for the jobs.
  • Others may guarantee work as a mystery shopper
  • Still others will try to sell a guide to companies who may offer mystery shopping jobs.

These warnings are helpful to have out there; with unemployment still running rampant throughout the United States and consumer debt still highly prevalent, the lure of “easy money” can make people quite susceptible to scams of all kinds, even if they seem ridiculous when you take a step back.

Consumer alerts like this can help weed out the bad and make room for reputable companies like MeasureCP to help other businesses ensure high quality service and performance through credible mystery shopping.

We’ll never pull a scam like the shady companies mentioned. MeasureCP is a member of both the Mystery Shopping Providers Association and Better Business Bureau, which provides a safeguard for our shoppers. Our clients include retail stores, restaurants, financial service providers, and companies in the housing and healthcare industries.

We’ll never make potential mystery shoppers pay to register for our site or get certified to do shops; as long as you can follow instructions and provide detailed reports of your experiences in a timely manner, that’s certification enough. We’re looking for honesty and reliability.

Interested in being a shopper with MeasureCP? You can sign up using this online form.

In the meantime, if you suspect you’ve been the victim of a fraudulent mystery shopping scheme, you should contact the FTC at (877) FTC-HELP or submit an online complaint.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

People who work in the field of dentistry know that the dentist office isn’t necessarily people’s favorite place to visit. We know what “bad” looks like: long waits, rude staff, a messy waiting room, pain. But we also know what “good” looks like: friendly smiles from staff, a calming atmosphere, and personable physicians. From something as routine as a semi-annual cleaning to something as complex as a root canal, the level of comfort a patient feels throughout his visit is imperative to his perception of that practice. Dentists know that patients have options and want to go somewhere that not only makes them feel better physically, but emotionally. Happy patients are the cheapest advertising a dental office can get — they create word-of-mouth buzz, which in turn creates new clients. But how do the dentists, hygienists, and office staff measure that patient satisfaction?

BERLIN - OCTOBER 12:  A dentist and her assist...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

One way to get a truly unbiased patient point of view is to hire secret shoppers to evaluate the level of customer service they receive during a visit. These trained mystery shoppers go into dentist offices for noninvasive procedures, second-opinions, dental cleanings, and consultations. They evaluate everything from the first phone call to set up an appointment to the actual visit itself. The mystery shoppers are not there to evaluate the dentist’s clinical skills, but rather the overall customer service and ambiance of the office. In this way, dentists can see how their practice is viewed through the patient’s eyes.

By analyzing the data that comes back from the secret shoppers, the staff can identify areas of weakness that might lead to the loss of a customer. They can then fine-tune a training program to address those issues. Mystery shoppers are not only trained to find what’s wrong; they’re also trained to find what’s right. In those cases, staff can be rewarded and those areas of strength can be highlighted. Dentists can even shop other dentists’ offices to gain a competitive edge.

You can find reputable mystery shopping companies by asking for referrals from others in your industry, or by checking with the Mystery Shopping Providers Associationa on their website, or at 847-375-4743.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

If you use a hearing aid and live in Scotland, there’s roughly a 25 percent chance you’re not getting the service you’re supposed to get. But it took a mystery shopping service to figure that out.

Start to sign    RNID
Image by Rhian vK via Flickr

The BBC recently reported that the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) — a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom that helps people identify whether they have a hearing loss, campaigns for change, provides services and training, and supports scientific and technological research — sent mystery shoppers to 500 stores in the Scottish cities of Dundee, Glasgow, Paisley, and Falkirk to investigate the use of hearing loops.

Of the 500 stores the mystery shoppers evaluated, only 132 of them, about 20 percent, had hearing loops available to customers. And 32 of the shops that displayed signs promoting the loops either hadn’t installed them, didn’t have them working properly or hadn’t trained staff members on using them.

The loops enable those with hearing aids — there are 168,000 living in Scotland — to use their devices as a direct line to an establishment’s internal sound system. While many hearing-impaired people can get by with just their hearing aids or lip reading in casual conversation, a loud retail environment can be especially challenging. And if deaf shoppers are planning to make a serious purchase, their ability to hear and communicate as well as possible is paramount.

The United Kingdom’s Equality Act of 2010 places mandates that retailers allow equal access to disabled and able-bodied shoppers — according to the story, the RNID is warning companies that they may be breaking the law by not having working loops.

According to the BBC’s story, many of the offending retailers thought they in full compliance and using the loops properly, but they weren’t. One store was quite proud to have the loop, but it had never made it out of the box.

In many cases, it was simply good intentions gone awry.

In an interesting twist, of all the stores mystery shoppers investigated, the BBC’s report found the biggest offenders were communications specialists, such as Carphone Warehouse and a T-Mobile store. In each case, the corporate entities responded with apologies and a promise to ensure the loops were in working order going forward.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Mystery shopping isn’t limited to only Fortune 500 companies in major metropolitan cities. Mystery shops are being assigned in cities across the country, in businesses of all sizes. We’ve heard that there’s a recent mystery shopping boom in Amarillo, Texas. Mystery shopping companies in the area are looking to hire hundreds of people to do the shops.

Official logo of City of Amarillo
Image via Wikipedia

Common places for assignments in Amarillo have been retail stores in the mall and local restaurants. Whatever the case may be, the major thread running through all the mystery shops is customer service. For example, in a restaurant, an unidentified, unannounced shopper might be looking to see if the drinks come in a certain time period, or if the food is hot. He or she might also report on the behavior of the server. The secret shopper then submits their findings to the mystery shopping company, who then compiles the information into a report for their client.

So how does mystery shopping benefit these businesses?

In step with the industry, these Amarillo mystery shopping companies are aiming to help their clients by showing them a “behind the scenes” look at how a customer experiences their business. Through this method, management can see where expectations are not being met, or where retraining may be necessary. But the mystery shop isn’t all about criticism. When an employee performs well on a mystery shop, management can acknowledge and reward that employee. In the end, the mystery shopping industry’s main goal is to provide data that will help clients develop better customer experiences.

This helps the local businesses of Amarillo grow in a variety of ways. The feedback businesses receive about the attentiveness and promptness of employees are two effective deterrents of of loss prevention — both of actual merchandise (people who are contacted immediately are less likely to steal) and customers (people will leave when they go unnoticed). Mystery shoppers give an accurate observation that is neutral compared employee behavior that might occur when “the boss is around.” Businesses can also mystery shop their competitors to collect data about their customer service.

We’re interested to see how the results of this recent mystery shopping boom will affect businesses in Amarillo. We’re also curious to see if similarly-sized cities will take the same approach in the near future.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

The mystery shopping industry tends to get pigeon-holed as useful for restaurants and retails stores only. Sometimes it’s easier to think of it this way: Mystery shopping can be beneficial to any business where customer service is essential to growth and success.

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
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Chances are, that’s every business you can think of. So why should we be surprised that health care professionals are hiring mystery shopping companies to understand the patient experience? After all, aren’t they in the business of making us feel better?

However, as we all know, the road to feeling better doesn’t always run smooth when it comes to doctors’ offices. Chances are, when you call in to your family practitioner to make an appointment, you’re on hold for an interminable amount of time. And two months later, when you arrive promptly at your appointment, you’re met with more waiting. After filling out a phonebook of paperwork, your name is called and you are led back into a room. . . for more waiting.

Most of us would agree that the experiences we have at the doctor’s office could be improved upon. Wouldn’t you like to know, then, that health care professionals are being proactive about bettering this process?

We’re seeing more and more hospitals and private practices hiring mystery shopping companies to fine-tune the patient experience and gain an advantage against their competitors. In a medical mystery shop, trained, secret shopper ‘patients’ provide feedback about physician performance in a clinical setting. Here are some of the things they might look for:

  • Impression of front desk employee (phone skills, ease of appointment scheduling, overall attitude and helpfulness)
  • Effectiveness of check-in procedures
  • Cleanliness of office
  • Efficiency of nurses
  • Bed-side manner of doctors
  • Adequacy of time spent with patient

Health care professionals can then analyze the results and start implementing some improvements to the practice. By getting insight into the patient’s point of view and how its employees perform, hospitals and private practices can proactively make the necessary changes to give their patients the best care they can.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

If you search the internet for information about mystery shopping, you’re bound to find some conflicting ideas. It’s important to educate yourself about the industry before you start signing up for secret shops in order to avoid getting scammed. Here are five myths about mystery shopping that we’d like to debunk.

Mystery shopping
Image by ilya_batikov via Flickr

Myth 1: You can get rich by mystery shopping.

I’ve read websites claiming that you can earn up to $50,000 a year working as a part-time mystery shopper. The truth is, you can’t. The mystery shopping industry is made mostly of people shopping part time or in their spare time, as a way to make some extra income. If you are shopping part time, you can earn at least a few hundred dollars a month in fees and reimbursements. The amount of money you can bring in by mystery shopping depends on a variety of factors:

  • Where you live (more opportunities are available in urban areas than in rural areas).
  • The types of shops you decide to do (pay varies based on the complexity of the shop).
  • How often you want to work (you are not required to do a certain number of shops, and the number of assignments you sign up for is up to you).

Myth 2: You get the best mystery shopping jobs by paying a fee to register at a mystery shopping web site.

If a mystery shopping company charges you to apply, it is not legitimate. You shouldn’t have to pay to shop — a sentiment backed by the Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association (MSPA). Always shop with mystery shopping companies that do not require a fee to register. A good idea is to verify the company is registered with the MSPA, who holds their network to a certain set of standards and ethics.

Myth 3: You must be certified before you work for a mystery shopping company.

Certification from the MSPA is not required to become a mystery shopper. You can do as many shops you like without any sort of certification whatsoever. However, it’s not a bad idea, especially if you find that mystery shopping has become an important part of your extra income. By getting certified, you’re showing the mystery shopping companies that you have taken the initiative to educate yourself about the industry, and you’re serious about being a secret shopper. Some companies give preference to shoppers who are certified, so it can be considered an investment in your business.

Myth 4: Being a mystery shopper isn’t much work.

Getting paid to shop does sound like a lot of fun. But it’s not as easy as you might think. Secret shopping not only involves prep work before the shop, but also submitting reports after it’s done. You may have to watch an instructional presentation, take a quiz to test your competence about a shop, or write in detail about your observation. It’s much more than “just shopping.”

Myth 5: You sign up once and wait for shops.

Oftentimes I hear from frustrated mystery shoppers who signed up with one company, waited to be given their first assignment, and never heard from the company. One of the secrets to being a successful mystery shopper is registering with several different companies. This will greatly increase your chances of getting scheduled and brings variety to your workload. Also, not all companies will contact you for shops, sometimes you need to check the job postings on the company’s website.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of the myths about mystery shopping. While it may be hard work, it is still an interesting and exciting industry to be in.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Shopper crossing sign
Image by turtlemom4bacon via Flickr

Let’s say you’re a business looking to get some quantitative and qualitative feedback about your customers’ experiences. You’re looking for feedback to find out if your products, pricing, and placement are appealing to customers. And how are your frontline employees doing? What about your competitors’ employees? You want to keep all the customers you can, especially in this day and age. A lot of businesses are not experiencing much growth, so many are simply trying to build market share and convert browsers to buyers. But in order to accomplish this, you need to get some research under your belt. Mystery shopping is a great tool to obtain that data.

However, in your search for the right mystery shopping company for your business, you might find yourself with a slew of options in front of you. All of these companies will claim to be the source for mystery shopping research. If this is your first go-round with mystery shopping, you might find this a little overwhelming. How do you decide what is legit, and what might be a scam? How do you know that the mystery shopping company has your best interests at heart? Luckily, there is one association that helps you cut through some of the riff raff and stands behind a network of tried and true mystery shopping services. It’s the Mystery Shoppers Providers Association (MSPA).

According to their website, the MSPA is “the largest professional trade association dedicated to improving service quality using anonymous resources.” It estimates that about 1.5 million mystery shoppers operate in the US. An overwhelming percentage of those shoppers work with one or more of the 250+ MSPA member companies worldwide. The MSPA has a diverse membership, including marketing research and merchandising companies, private investigation firms, training organizations, and companies that specialize in providing mystery shopping services. Member companies of the MSPA work with clients to establish procedures to measure and improve levels of service.

The MSPA aims to educate everyone who plays a part in the mystery shopping experience – from providers, to clients, to shoppers. Their belief is that this training will greatly improve the quality of service all around. The goal of the MSPA is to establish professional standards and ethics for mystery shopping, as well as boost the image of mystery shopping as an industry. They continue to grow by promoting the membership to other industry associations and prospective clients.

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Tips for Mystery Shoppers

Top Mystery Shopping Tips from the Pros

Top 10 Tips for Fast Food Shops

Reprinted with permission from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, MSPA Shopper Minute #4, December 2009 Newsletter

  1. Review complete guidelines thoroughly BEFORE you arrive to review purchase and time of shop requirements (often guidelines will change from the last time you completed same shop).
  2. Bring a watch or use a phone. Often you will be asked to time waiting periods. Focus on timing in line; gather other details while at the table or in the car.
  3. Keep your form and guidelines out of site due to cameras and employees onsite.
  4. Make sure if there is an order requirement, you are prepared to ask for it correctly. Stammering through your order could give you away.
  5. If recording is allowed, activate the recorder on your phone as this might help you remember events later when writing your report.
  6. Do not write your report on the premises or in the parking lot of establishment you are shopping
  7. If photos are required, be cautious. One shopper was documented on camera taking a photo of the menu board and thus recognized. Use your cell phone camera if you can (provided that it is at least 2.0 megapixels), as it looks like you are texting then and will not be as easily detected.
  8. Notes can be made in your phone as a text message to yourself or on a memo pad for easy recall.
  9. Some shops require a receipt. If the employee does not provide you with a receipt, when asking for one, you might explain you need it for keeping track for your family budget or that you need it for business purposes.
  10. If asked “Are you a mystery shopper?” Act as if you don’t know what that is. Simply respond, “What’s that?”

If you are shopping a route of fast food shops, leaving you with a trunk full of extra food, you might consider donating to a shelter or senior center, rather than throwing it away.