Mystery Shoppers Revealed

 

Mystery shoppers are supposed to remain anonymous while they are evaluating businesses. However, some companies will choose a slightly different route for their shops, which are typically called “reveal shops.”

 

These are typically shorter evaluations that are not traditional in the sense that they are evaluating the entire shopping experience; often times, they will be looking for one or two key behaviors – perhaps asking for identification from a customer purchasing liquor or tobacco, or a cashier mentioning a specific promotion.

 

Once the shopper completes their task, they are then to “reveal” themselves to the staff. Most times if the staff does well and meets the criteria, the shopper rewards them with an on the spot bonus, gift card, or other incentive as provided by the client.

 

This is a good (and fun) way to spot check specific performance points, especially when done well. I’ve seen this done several ways – sometimes the shopper only reveals him or herself if the employee does well and is to get an incentive; other times I’ve seen where the shopper is revealed no matter the outcome, which can be a little trickier. Years ago, Chuck E Cheese had an internal program in which the “shopper” was given red and green cards and were told what to evaluate. When they saw an employee doing what was expected, the “shopper” was to hand out a green card, and when they saw something that didn’t meet standards, they were to hand out a red card. The staff was then responsible for turning them into their manager. This was probably the one method I really didn’t like – it’s an awkward situation for both the shopper and the receiver of the red card, and I often times wondered how often the “red” employees were turning in their cards! Because it was an internal program and not handled through a mystery shopping provider, I wondered how well managed it was.

 

There are some things to consider if you want to try a reveal program:

 

1. Don’t replace your current program: reveals shops are meant to look for one or two specific things. It should not replace your full blow program because you won’t get the same detailed data.

 

2. Decide how to implement the reveal: some companies prefer to keep it truly positive, only doing the reveal when the employee does well and receives an incentive. I like this approach best because it’s more positive, is more comfortable for both the shopper and the employee, and employees will be more “on their toes” waiting for their opportunity. When employees don’t meet the standard, calling them out publicly in front of coworkers and the shopper, who is a stranger to them, can create a negative vibe for the program.

 

It’s also necessary to decide how the reveal will happen and if the shopper will reveal themselves to the employee they interacted with or the manager. It may depend on if you choose to reveal both positive and negative, or just focus on the positive. After all, it would be great fun for the employee to be rewarded on the spot – it could make their day!

 

3. Think through the effects of not being rewarded: this is especially true if you choose to have the shopper be revealed no matter the outcome. A few years back a shopper had to visit the bar in a restaurant to see if she was carded. She was then to reveal herself to the manager at the end of the visit no matter the outcome. Unfortunately, the bartender did not card her and she had to let the manager know. Instead of waiting for the shopper to leave, the manager confronted the bartender in front of the shopper and other customers. The bartender became visibly angry and got confrontational with the shopper to the point that she asked for an escort out of the restaurant.

 

This situation was handled poorly on many levels, but it’s good to learn from. Especially in cases where the staff doesn’t meet standards, it’s good to not only wait for the shopper to leave the building, but to handle it in a more private setting, perhaps after the shift is over.

 

I’ve also seen a case where a negative reveal was handled in a positive manner. A quick serve restaurant wanted to implement a reveal program in which the shopper would reveal his or her presence to the employee at the end of the shop no matter the outcome. However, they wanted the staff to know that not meeting the standards was not the end of the world, but it was something to be aware of and make better in the future.

 

To alleviate embarrassment and negativity, they provided the shopper with a very small trophy that depicted a plate of nachos with an inscription that read something along the lines of “it’s just ‘nacho’ day” (say that out loud and you’ll get it). It’s a fun way to turn a negative into a learning experience.

 

Reveal shops can be a quick way to check specific aspects of the experience and get the staff pumped up and excited to do well for you. If you’ve ever used a reveal shop, please share – we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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