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What Does Undercover Boss Teach Us About Mystery Shopping?

As members of the mystery shopping industry, we have a soft spot for concepts like “Undercover Boss,” a primetime reality show based on the following premise: A senior executive of a company goes undercover in their own business to view it from the inside out. The goal is to see how the company really works, to identify how it can be improved, and to reward those who are performing well.

Undercover Boss logo
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In each episode, the high-ranking executive poses as an entry-level employee, altering his or her appearance and creating a fake background. Employees are told that the camera crew is simply a documentary on entry-level workers in that industry.

In their one week undercover, the “entry-level” executives typically work in various departments of the company, with a different job each day. Of course, they are met with challenges and amusing conundrums fit for primetime television. Most importantly, however, they have the opportunity to spend time with fellow employees, learning about their personal and professional lives.

At the end of their undercover stint, the executives reveal their true identities to the employees with whom they interacted. Hard-working employees are then rewarded through promotion or financial rewards. Employees who didn’t perform so well are given training or better working conditions.

As mystery shoppers, we love this show format because it illustrates that executives don’t always truly know how their businesses are run until they experience it from the inside out. The higher up you go in management, the more out of touch an executive is likely to be. While they may receive reports on employee performance, they might have an inflated view of how the business operates.

By “mystery shopping” their own employees, executives are able to get a more realistic view of customer service at the ground level. The takeaways they get from that experience will reveal more information than any report, seminar, or workshop ever could.

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