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Rose Colored Glasses? The Negative Shopping Report March 30, 2012

Posted by Ann Michaels & Associates in Uncategorized.

Mystery shopping reports are tricky to write sometimes – if the employees do well, it’s a joy to write the report. If they don’t do so well, then things can get uncomfortable. No one likes to write a narrative that may potentially get an employee in trouble, or worse, but there is so much value in our reports, good or bad, that it’s important to keep their uses in mind as you’re writing.

One thing I’ve heard and read about lately is an increase in shoppers thinking that as mystery shopping companies, we don’t want to submit negative shop reports to the client. This usually stems from editors sending clarification emails, calling for additional information, and at times making it seem like we’re interrogating shoppers or asking enough times that you may change your mind. Sometimes you’ll have a poor shop in terms of performance at the location, and after questioning and follow up, the shop is thrown out and you cannot be paid. These lead shoppers to believe that the company is trying not to use negative shops.

This couldn’t be further from the truth! Let me share some insight to give you a better idea of what is happening behind the scenes, and offer some tips on how to make your low performing shops (again, in terms of the shop, not your performance) the best they can be.

As you know, companies use the mystery shopping reports for a number of reasons. Many use them as part of the staff review process, they are used for training purposes, and they are also used as part of a bonus or incentive program for their staff. We have a responsibility to ensure that all reports that reach the client are accurate, objective, and complete with enough details to make the client feel as though they were sitting next to you on the shop, in essence allowing them to experience what you did so they have the full story.

Human nature dictates that when we see something negative about ourselves, we get defensive. It’s only natural, and is not different in the mystery shopping world. Many times when there is a low scoring shop, the employee may try to dispute it. “I didn’t say that” or “I would never do that in a million years; the shopper must be crazy” may be heard. By ensuring that the reports are fully detailed, it protects you as shoppers from being recognized and/or your shops being disputed. If we are asking you for more detail, we are only doing so to protect you (and make sure that the narrative supports the responses you provided in the question section of the report).

If full information is not addressed, and a shop is disputed, it will leave lingering questions. If we don’t follow up with you during the editing process and the client comes back later for clarification, imagine how they would feel if we followed up with the shopper who said, “I did rate it as no, but I think it did happen after all.” They will quickly lose trust in the program and the value will be out the window. They will be turned off from shopping, which means the mystery shopping provider loses the client, and shoppers lose work.

So, while it may seem like we’re being extra picky when you have less than great experiences, we’re just trying to make sure everything is completely explained so there are no questions from the client. Some things you can do to make this process easy and efficient:


1. Be objective – instead of using blanket statements that come across as judgemental or subjective, be objective in your statements. Instead of saying, “the employee was so rude I would never return” it’s better to detail what that person did, in an objective manner, that would cause you to think about not coming back. A better statement might be, “The employee I interacted with did not seem focused on our interaction. As I asked questions, he continued to glance at his watch and he did not make eye contact.  His answers were very short and his tone was mechanical. After the third question, he signed heavily and said that maybe I should think twice about buying the product, since I needed so much information from him. As I walked away and he returned to the counter, I overheard him tell a coworker that he “doesn’t get paid enough to deal with those kind” of people.” Okay, a little dramatic, but you get the point. It may take longer to write the second option over the first, but it will bring a lot more value to the client.


2. Don’t give opinions or suggest how to do their work – it’s fine to explain what they did and what you experienced, but to offer suggestions that start with “if I were the employee…” or “They should really think about…” is not part of your job description. Your job is to be objective and report the facts as they happened.


3. Make sure you document all “no” or less than “excellent’ ratings – as an example, if you see a question on a report that asks, “Was the dining area clean?” and you answer it as no without any narrative detail to back that up, what do you think the client will think? They will, of course, be very curious as to what was wrong. They have no way to talk to you, so they may never know. If they don’t know, they can’t make it better. Once you’ve written the narrative, go back and re-read it with the questions beside you so you can check off each item as it is mentioned. That will help ensure you’ve covered all your bases.


4. Don’t overcompensate – you may feel bad about writing a negative report, wondering if the employee will be fired. Rest assured that this will not happen mostly likely; instead, think of your report as a great training tool for the employee to improve. While you may feel bad, it is your job to report objectively. You may feel the need to offer positive information to try to offset the not so positive – filling the report with “in his defense, it was busy that day” or “she is a really, really sweet person, really she is!” is a bit much. Do include objective positive statements, by all means; just don’t gush about the employee or send out a plea to save his or her job. It’s okay, really.


If you follow these steps, the chances of getting requests for follow up should be minimal. It’s not easy when things don’t go smoothly, but remember the impact you’re making on companies all across the nation! Mystery shopping is valuable and we need to continue to ensure our clients get that value in each and every report.

Until next time…happy shopping!


1. Sharon Kaye Vona Mitcheltree - April 17, 2012

I always try, if it is at all possible, to make a “negative sandwich”, placing the negative comment between two positive comments. “He smiled and made good eye contact. He had his cell phone in his hand and glanced at the screen several times during our interaction. He was knowledgeable about the products I asked about.”

I had one company that would contact me to verify any negative information on the reports, even though I had documented in the narrative the reason for the yes or no. I would reply that the answers were correct. Then they would give me a lower score, a 7 or 8 because they had to contact me.

Then one time I had a really bad experience, almost everything was negative. I contacted the scheduler and told her the issues with previous negative issues. She read my report and agreed that I had addressed the issues. Then I got my clarification from the editor and then she gave me a 5. I contacted the scheduler and she contacted the editor, and it was changed to a 10. I have gotten mostly 10s with an occasional 9 from this company since.

I know these are only numbers, and if I have done the best report I can I accept the score. However, one of the things taken into account when scheduling us is the quality of our reports, and in this case I was being given lower grades, not for my report, but for the actions of the person I was evaluating.

Ann Michaels & Associates - April 17, 2012

Hi Sharon,

Thank you for your comments! I like the idea of a “negative sandwich” – it’s not easy to write a negative report sometimes!

Your experience with the negative report is interesting. I’m wondering what transpired between the scheduler and editor that changed your rating – maybe the editor had questions, but the scheduler, since he/she had talked to you, was able to clarify? Is it a company that provides feedback when shops are complete? We try to always give constructive feedback so shoppers know why they received the rating they did, along with steps to improve on future reports if necessary. Open communication is key to successful shoppers and editors.

Sometimes we, as schedulers, editors, or Account Managers may follow up with negative ratings or a negative report just to be sure we have all of the details, even though the detail may be included in the report. Sometimes we do hear additional details on follow up that might be helpful to the client. Sometimes we just get a little over the top too. =) There are also times when we have demanding or high maintenance clients where we make sure everything is checked and rechecked before sending a report.

I’m glad you are getting high ratings again though – that is important when applying for shops.

Negative reports can be difficult to write. As long as they are objective, address all of the aspects of the experience, and are not written in a negative tone (ie “She never once looked at me” vs. “the associate did not make eye contact during our interaction”), it should be okay.

Thanks again for your comments! They are greatly appreciated!

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