My first week on the job, our company president Mike took me on a practice mystery shop. That day we went to lunch, and while we were there, I was supposed to act like a mystery shopper evaluating the restaurant. We went over the guidelines and the evaluation form before we left, and I asked all the questions I could think of. Pen in hand, I felt nervous but reasonably ready to tackle the world of mystery shopping.

Not long into lunch, the challenges of performing a shop became apparent and I found it wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. There was a lot to observe and remember, and in the weeks since, I’ve heard similar observations from new shoppers. So, for my first blog as a Customer Impact editor, I thought it would be useful to talk about the lessons I learned on my crash course in mystery shopping. If you’ve yet to do a shop and don’t know what to expect, here’s your chance to learn what I learned the hard way!

  • So much happens during the first few minutes of a shop! The initial impression of the location, the hostess’s greeting, the seating process, meeting the server –  a lot went on before I got settled and started taking notes. After the initial information overload, I was grateful to have someone with me who knew what to look for. An extra pair of eyes and ears can make performing a shop much easier, and luckily, many of our shops are for more than one person. If you bring a guest, let them in on what to look for ahead of time so they can help you out!A Crash Course in Mystery Shopping
  • Note-taking is crucial, and trickier than I thought. Remember that pen I said I had? I quickly realized how hard it was to take discreet notes on paper. If I could do it over, I would take notes on my phone under the guise of text messaging. Mike also gave me some good advice regarding note-taking at the restaurant. As soon as we got settled, he suggested going to the restroom to take notes. There, I could jot down everything on my mind without being seen, and also take the opportunity to evaluate the restrooms. Two birds, one stone.
  • When it comes to writing evaluations, the sooner the better. As soon as we got back to work, Mike had me compile my notes into a practice evaluation. The details of lunch still felt fresh in my mind as I sat down to write, but as I got going I found that little things had slipped my memory (just how many times had the server refilled my water?). As he read over my survey, he pointed out that I’d completely misremembered which person seated us! Admittedly, my notes weren’t the greatest, but even the most complete notes can’t account for everything. Writing out your thoughts as soon as possible can save you some brain-wracking later.

I definitely feel that this exercise helped prepare me for my job as an editor. Being on the other side of an evaluation showed me what sorts of things I should be looking for in a survey, but it also gave me an appreciation for what it takes to perform a good mystery shop. It would take me a lot more practice to hone my skills into those of an experienced mystery shopper, but just that one trip opened my eyes to the patterns and pitfalls of a shop.

So, shoppers, whether you’re new to shopping or a seasoned veteran, we’d love to hear from you! What are your concerns before shopping a new location? Do you have any memories or impressions of your first foray into mystery shopping that you’d like to share? Leave us a comment below!