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I Guess We Make ‘Em A Little Paranoid…. April 14, 2012

Posted by Ann Michaels & Associates in Uncategorized.

Mystery shopping definitely keeps employees on their toes. Many shoppers have shared their stories of dealing with employees who are acting as though they know you’re the shopper, or actually come right out and ask, “Are you a mystery shopper?” Sometimes I think they worry too much about “spotting the shopper” – if they’d only do what they’re supposed to and treat each customer as though they could be the shopper, they’d probably always do a great job!

But, it’s human nature, and mystery shoppers make employees nervous. They don’t realize by doing this, they’re putting shoppers on the spot – and imagine how a customer who is NOT a mystery shopper must feel if they’re asked that question!

I wanted to share a funny story that recently happened to me. I was out and about, shopping with two of my children. We were at a popular grocery store in the area. I know they are shopped, but not by us, but I’ve never given it a second thought, until this day….

We’re waiting at the deli counter and I’m texting my oldest child as she was out with friends and I wanted to get an update from her. A young man was behind the counter, finishing a transaction for another customer. He said he’d be right with us, and I went back to my texting. I’m not sure if this triggered some post traumatic shopper experience for him, but he came right over and was over-the-top friendly. Still not thinking much about it, I made my requests. As he’s preparing the order, he smiles and says, “In case you need to know, my name is John. You may notice I’m not wearing a name tag. I usually am very good about this, but it was cold yesterday and I had my name tag on my jacket. Because it’s warmer out today, I didn’t need my jacket and forgot about the name tag. I’m really good about that usually though. But, in case you need to know, my name is John.”

I was a little slow on the uptake that day and it didn’t dawn on me right away what his motive might be. In my slowness, I was taken aback a bit and replied, “Oh. Okay. Did you want to know my name too?” He smiled and said, “No, just wanted to introduce myself.”

Um….okay. Then it dawned on me – he thought I was a mystery shopper!

I couldn’t help but smile at that point. Part of me (the not so nice part) wanted to hold my phone where he could see it and ask, “So, is that J-O-N or J-O-H-N” as I typed into my phone. The nicer part of me wanted to say, “Relax, honey, I’m not the shopper. It’s all good.” I ended up not saying anything, but watched in awe as he vigorously upsold and cross sold, made sure I had the receipt, and profusely thanked me at the end of our interaction. I often wonder if he waited eagerly for a report that never came, or waited until I left before telling his coworkers he was just shopped.

There are times where employees may put you on the spot and ask if you’re the shopper. It could be several reasons – maybe they know a shopper is scheduled for that day, or week, and are suspecting everyone. It may be that they have heard what a knowledge question will be for that time period, and suspect anyone who asks it. Or they must just be über suspicious of everyone.

A new shopper may completely freak out if asked this question and admit defeat. They may feel as though they’ve done something horribly wrong for the employee to identify them so easily and abort the shop. Like my experience, it is most likely you did nothing wrong – I racked my brain trying to figure out why he would think I’m a mystery shopper. The only thing I could figure is he thought I was texting notes to myself as I waited in line. I will never know for sure though, and it is likely you won’t either if you’re confronted about your mission.

There are some things you can do if you’re ever suspected and asked directly or just treated in a manner that makes you feel as though they’re on to you:

1. If the employees are acting suspicious and you think you’ve been identified, relax. Especially if you’re new to the industry, it’s likely that you’re just super sensitive and feel like everyone knows that you’re shopping them. I know I felt that way in the beginning of my career. Just act like you normally do when you’re out shopping and try not be nervous. You may be perceiving their actions and think they suspect you, but it’s not really the case.

2. If it’s blatant that they know who you are, but aren’t saying anything, just keep going about your business as usual. It’s a good idea to give your scheduler, editor, or Account Manager a heads up just in case. Again, it’s likely that they may have been suspicious, but as long as your report is accurate and you’ve done nothing to give them an idea that you were the shopper, it’s all good. You may want to avoid taking shops at that particular location for a while for good measure. Giving the mystery shopping company a heads up will help you decide if you need to stay away from that location too.

3. If you’re asked point blank if you’re the shopper, do not panic! I’ve talked to shoppers about this, and their favorite response is to act very excited and ask, “Mystery shopper? Does that mean I win something? Awesome!” Sometimes a confused look coupled with the question, “A mystery shopper? What is that?” will elicit some interesting conversation. One shopper told me that he asked what that meant, and the employee went on to tell him that shoppers were sent to their stores to “seek and destroy” and he’s so sick of them coming in and reporting that he has a negative attitude. He then went on to complain about how awful the story was to work for and how he hated every minute of his job. Alrighty then!

It’s human nature for employees to play guess the shopper – sometimes they make our lives difficult, but if you follow two guidelines  in the industry – roll with the punches as best you can if the unexpected happens, and if questioned, play dumb – you should be fine. It may freak you out the first time (or two) this happens, but once you have experience under your belt, it will become second nature to handle uncomfortable situations.

Until next time….happy shopping!


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