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Inside Mystery Shopping: The Workplace Whodunnit

Sep 16, 2008
If you have ever worked in the retail or customer service industries then the words mystery and shopper are ones with undertones of dread and humiliation. As if an anonymous report was not bad enough, now your run of the mill mystery shopper is armed with audio visual equipment. The battle lines have been drawn and this article is a guide to spotting that mystery shopper and how to gain top marks when you do.

Mystery shopping is a fad from the 1940s that well and truly stuck. The concept began as a way to measure employee integrity and developed into a popular market resource technique where a mystery shopper acts as a customer and makes notes on the service provided. These results are then analysed by a market research company who then feeds back to the management of the company in question.

The mystery shopper is a tool used in many venues, most popularly in retail stores, cinemas, banks, doctor surgeries, hotels, fitness clubs and anywhere that is customer service orientated. There is no profile for your average mystery shopper as it depends on the provider. One of the most effective ways of mystery shopping is using online mystery shopper services, as they employ random personnel from out of the local area.

Some local providers of customer service training use local people as the mystery shopper which can potentially cause a conflict of interests. This is an obvious way to spot a mystery shopper, if you find yourself staring at a formerly disgruntled regular customer with a defiant twinkle in their eye, there is a possibility it could be a mystery shopper. As this is not the best way to go about market research it is not too common, so a mystery shopper from a decent provider is harder to spot.

Mystery shoppers break down into three main categories, not taking into consideration seasoned professionals who will be undetectable. These categories include the nervous scripter, the angry actor and the perfect customer. The nervous scripter is generally someone who is new to the mystery shopper game and will desperately be thinking about what they have to say, fumbling around for their requirements and will have little or no eye contact.

The angry actor is someone who feels that they have mastered the art and have decided to get a bit more creative with the whole process. Much of the time they will have a disgruntled air about them with elaborate gestures and unnecessary emotional undertones. The perfect customer will seem a little too good to be true, a bit too up to speed on their expectations and rights as a customer, you might catch them every now and again stopping to take notes in their head.

These are general profiles and in all seriousness mystery shoppers are hard to spot without making assumptions about a prospective client or customer. Even if you do suspect a client as being a mystery shopper you should treat them with the same diligence as you would normally, applying your listening and interpersonal skills to deliver quality customer service. This is the best philosophy to follow to ensure your survival in the world of the mystery shopper.
About the Author
Dominic Donaldson is a mystery shopper and provides advice on all areas of market research.
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