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Narrative Writing: Make ‘Em Feel Like They Were With You January 5, 2010

Posted by Ann Michaels & Associates in Uncategorized.
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Writing mystery shopping reports can be demanding, and often times difficult. Because different mystery shopping companies have different requirements as far as what is expected in the report, and that may even vary from client to client within the same company, many shoppers find themselves unsure of what to include and how to write a narrative.

Of course, you will need to follow the company’s guidelines for the specific shop you are working on. However, there are some pieces of advice that will help you navigate your way through an outstanding narrative:

1. Note the style requirements: many companies require you to write in a chronological fashion, while others require you to outline your narrative in the order of the report questions. Be sure to review your guidelines to be certain you are following the style they are requesting.

2. Use the responses to the questions as your guide: the questions on a mystery shopping report will give you insight into what information is most valuable to the client. Using this information, you can make sure you are addressing all of the questions in the report. IMPORTANT: no matter what company you are working for, you need to document the reasons for any “no” responses or any questions that don’t score perfectly. I can guarantee the editor will contact you for this information if it is not provided.

3. Give ’em details: the point of mystery shopping is to document what was done well and what areas need improvement. Keeping that in mind, simply writing, “The restroom was not as clean as it could be” doesn’t help the client understand where to improve. It is much better to write, “The women’s restroom was generally neat and clean. However, the waste receptacle was overflowing and paper towels were noted on the floor. The hand soap and paper products were fully stocked.”

4. Employee interactions: we don’t expect you to provide direct quotes of your conversations with employees (and doing so would make an editor and/or client question your report), but offering a clear description of the interaction is a must. It is one thing to write, “The employee asked questions to determine my needs. He was knowledgeable and attempted to close the sale.” It is better to include more detail, such as, “The employee asked how old my current appliance was and inquired about the size of my family. He asked how many loads of laundry we do per week. After finding an appliance that would be suit my needs, he attempted to close the sale by saying that he could start the ordering process now and I could have my new appliance before the holidays. I asked for the dimensions of the item, and he indicated that it was a 30″ model. He followed up by asking if this was the same size as my current appliance.”

5. Watch negative language: I’m not referring to four-letter words (though please keep those out of mystery shopping reports!), but instead words that have negative connotations, especially if you have a less than stellar experience. This gives the impression that you are letting your opinions and feelings influence your overall findings. A good example of this was found in a recent report I reviewed, which said, “He never even bothered to make eye contact during our interaction and completed the transaction without saying one single word.” A better version of this same experience would be, “He did not make eye contact during our interaction. Additionally, he did not engage in conversation as he completed the transaction.” Same experience, but the second version is more objective and doesn’t put the client (or the employee) on the defense.

6. Remember, this is professional writing: I know that editors’ eyes glaze over after reviewing multiple shops for the same client; however, it is a good idea to stay away from humorous or flowery, poetic writing for a shop. While it might give an overworked editor a good chuckle, or may even entertain you as you’re completing the fifth report for the week, it cheapens the quality of the report and does not make a good, professional opinion.

These are just some ideas to give you guidance for preparing narratives. Your goal is to write objectively and make the client feel as though they were sitting right next to you as you completed the shop. Keeping this in mind will not only help you write an outstanding narrative, but it will also reduce the need for follow up, improve your ratings with companies, and keep the schedulers asking you to do more shops!

Until next time…happy shopping!

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