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Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

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Mystery shopping has been, well, a mystery to many who hear about it. A mystery shopper is a person who visits an establishment to observe and measure customer service, product quality, and the environment. By measuring the customer experience through mystery shopping, management can use the metrics as a training and developmental tool for coaching and feedback, positively impacting employees, guest experiences, and profitability.  Learn more about the different industries in which CSE performs mystery shops.

Founded in 1993, Customer Service Experts began providing mystery shopping, training, and consulting services to retail, food and beverage, and shopping center programs in major markets throughout the United States. Celebrating 25 years of success, CSE now has over 38,000 shoppers in the United States, and last year, executed over 24,000 mystery shops.  Greg Parmentier, nominated as CSE Shopper of the Year in both 2016 and 2017, sat down with us to reveal some truths and encouragement for anyone considering becoming a mystery shopper. 

How and why did you first become a mystery shopper?

I began to work less hours at my full-time job several years back and found myself with some extra time.  I felt that my 25 years’ experience in retail management made me well suited for mystery shopping.  I started off slowly, with one or two shops a week, but have been progressively completing more varied and complex shops.

Is this your full-time job?

Almost – I’m currently self-employed, doing consulting work with small independent retailers, and mystery shopping has become a great way to fill in gaps in my schedule and to supplement my income during traditionally slower retail periods.

How many times per week do you shop?

It varies, but recently I’ve been doing mostly full-day projects at airports.  I probably average working 10 -12 days per month completing those projects.

Can you explain what a typical shop is like, including what kind of post-shop work is involved?

There are three phases to conducting a shop.  First, is the preparation, which includes carefully reviewing the guidelines, understanding exactly how the scenario needs to proceed, and making sure of the exact time constraints and location of the shop.  If it is a circuit of multiple shops, I like to have a “plan of attack” to complete the shops as efficiently as possible.

Second, is the completion of the shop itself.  This includes following the client guidelines that I have reviewed as part of the preparation.  Also, in this phase, I need to remember and retain all the pertinent details of the interactions, and if exact quotes are necessary, must make sure that they are accurately reported.  It is important that the shop proceeds as logically as possible through the assigned scenario so that my documenting is not only accurate, but can be used as a valuable tool to evaluate, coach, and ultimately improve customer service in that establishment.  Collecting any documentation, including receipts, business cards, or other media also happens during this phase. Note-taking is part of this phase as well, but that is done just after leaving the location and in an area where my role as a shopper will not be revealed.

The last phase is the actual reporting of the shop.  This is done through reviewing all notes and answering questions accurately and completely.  Most shops require a narrative, which needs to be well written, proofread, and logically move the reader through the shop as it happened, creating an accurate portrait of the experience.

How do you remember all the details of your shops to write a narrative of the experience?

This is one of the biggest challenges of mystery shopping. Prioritizing is key. I try not to get bogged down with too many details as much of the shop is about impressions of the experience, which are easy to remember and relate back in the report.  As soon as I am finished with the shop and in an area that is secure so that my identity is not in jeopardy of being revealed, I enter my notes into my phone.  I do this primarily in bullet form, so I can work quickly, transcribing the important information when it is fresh in my mind.  Again, the first thing I record are the quotes I received and employee names.

What types of establishment do you most frequently shop and which type do you like best (electronics, clothing, food, etc.)?

Shops include retail establishments, service companies (currency exchanges, SIM card sales, etc.), and restaurants.  Recently, I’ve also been involved in evaluating the overall customer experience of a traveler going through an airport, touching on all the individuals the traveler might interact with in the course of a normal trip.

What has been your favorite shop experience?

I’ve now completed thousands of shops, and it is hard to choose one favorite.  In general, I enjoy shops where the associate is obviously engaged and focused on customer service.  I know that my feedback is valuable to helping the employee and business grow and succeed.

What are most impactful results of your mystery shops for the businesses you visit?

When I think about the impact I have had on the businesses I have evaluated, I look to shops I’ve done repeatedly over the last few years.  It’s very satisfying when I notice significant improvements over time.  I can honestly say that I’ve seen an increase in the level of service in many of these locations.  Sometimes there are small steps in the right direction, like customers being greeted more quickly, or being thanked, or associates wearing their name tags.  But I’ve also observed improvement in advanced selling skills, like upselling, suggestive selling, and associates being able to better explain the features and benefits of merchandise they are selling.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about becoming a shopper?

My best advice would be to start slowly.  Choose shops that you are comfortable with, if possible with types of businesses that you may already frequent, so that the shop is natural and organic.  As you become comfortable, you can take on shops that challenge you more, and soon you will be able to work in scenarios outside of your comfort zone.

HOW DO I BECOME A MYSTERY SHOPPER FOR CSE?

New shoppers are encouraged to apply HERE.  You will be asked to submit a writing sample of a recent shopping experience and asked to sign our Independent Contractor Agreement (ICA). Once your application has been reviewed and accepted, you can begin to apply to specific shops in your area.