They already know you’re out there – but they’ll never see you coming!
The mighty hunter stalks his prey. He is not seen, and he is not heard. Not until he strikes – but by then it’s too late. He’s already paid for his purchase and is out of the store, writing his report.
Undercover mystery shopping is a lot like hunting. You’re there, not to be seen and heard, but to see and hear everything around you. You have to be attuned to your environment, notice everything that’s going on, and blend into the background. This is especially important since when you are doing a mystery shop, the employees know that you’re out there! They might even be on the lookout for a shop in the general timeframe that you’re going. Some clients may even decline to accept a mystery shop if their employees can easily spot you! This means that it’s exceptionally important to know how not to be spotted. If you follow these steps then you will remain under the radar…
Step 1. Get some camouflage
The first thing you want to do before going to a shop is to research what kind of client you are evaluating. Are you going to a quick service fast food restaurant? Great! A teeshirt and jeans is fine. Are you going to an upscale hotel? Make sure you’re wearing a nice blouse (for the ladies) or a sport coat (for the gents). This is especially important when you’re doing home purchase mystery shops, where the client’s usual customers may vary dramatically based on what kind of community is being shopped. If you’re goint to a community that only sells homes that are 500,000 and up, you don’t want to show up in beat-up sneakers and a hoodie, unless you’re in a trendy city where that’s perfectly normal attire for someone who can afford that kind of house! (But just to be on the safe side, dress up an put your best food forward.)
Step 2. Stay upwind
This may seem very obvious, but just as you don’t want to be noticeable by what you’re wearing, you don’t want to be noticeable by how you smell. This goes for both sides of the spectrum. Basic hygiene is a must, try to wait for your smoke break until after the shop, and make sure that you’re not wearing heavy perfume.
Step 3. Be vewy vewy quiet!
With a few exceptions, all undercover mystery shops will require some form of interaction with a front-line employee. And for those few exceptions, like audits, you may be forced to interact with an employee if one approaches you. If you’re doing an audit, you will of course want to have a reason prepared beforehand that will explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. But if you’re performing a shop, make sure that you’re prepared to blend into the background when it comes to what you say and how you say it.
For example, what are you more likely to remember – a normal experience with the sales associate who rang you up, or a bad experience with a loud, rude sales associate who ignored you? You’re more likely to remember the bad experience, of course! It’s just the same on the other end. If your interactions with the client’s front-line employees are normal, and if you are polite, speak at a normal tone of voice, and act just like any other customer, you won’t be recognized because you’re just one customer out of many.
However, if you submit too many complaints, speak at a high volume, or portray any behavior that the employee might consider rude, your visit will stay in the employee’s head. Either the employee could ask that your comments not be taken into consideration, or they will recognize you the next time you walk into their store.
Step 4. Patience and persistence
In the long run, not being recognized as a undercover mystery shopper is a skill just like any other. It takes practice, patience, and persistence. You may be nervous doing your first few one, and you might make some mistakes along the way, but eventually it’ll be a breeze. You might learn tricks like pretending to check your phone when you are actually taking a picture to upload to your report. You might learn how to casually ask a salesperson’s name in the course of conversation when you can’t read their name tag. Either way, eventually, you’ll know all there is to know about mystery shopping. The employees will know that you’re out there, but they’ll never see you coming. They’ll only see the results – your unbiased, expert report on their skills of sales and service.
Read our blog post on 6 Things to Avoid as an Undercover Mystery Shopper to learn more.
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