Taking the Mystery out of Mystery Shopper’s Reports

A month or so ago, I wrote the following article for the IAAPA Family Entertainment Center newsletter FunExtra.  A few people have asked me about the topic of mystery shopping lately (especially given my new partnership with Amusement Advantage) so I thought I would run the article here as well.  Enjoy!


Secret shopper reports do not want to end up living in a drawer.  Unfortunately, that’s where many spend their dying days, mostly because we could be too busy to squeeze all the great information out of them, or we just don’t know how.  On behalf of all of the secret shopper reports out there, that stops today.

In this article we will discuss the report itself, what to look for and what to do with all that information.  We’ll also focus mostly on the employee side of the coin.  If a shopper says there is missing paint, there is missing paint – not a lot to discuss.  It’s the far more complicated world of employee behavior that I think trips most of us up.

The Report

For a manager or leader, the heart of the secret shopping experience is the report.  That’s what you signed up for – to get this unbiased account of how your facility and employees are performing.  You now have a tangible representation of how your business is seen by someone you don’t know.  If you care at all about your guests’ experience, this is powerful information, and it should be taken with a few considerations.

The report is a snapshot. Each report covers the events of one day, and individual reports should be viewed as a starting point for determining the best actions to take based on the needs of your company and employees.  You and your staff still need to observe on your own, using the shoppers report to supplement what you’ve seen.

Also consider that as objective as secret shoppers are, they are still human beings.  They still have opinions, feelings, and previous experiences that guide their assessment of your facility.  This is not to say that we should discount them for this reason at all.  If anything, this support the role of the report as a snapshot.  All of your guests are different, too.  So a non-shopper guest might interpret a situation differently than the shopper, but you will only get one piece of data.  That’s why you still need to do your own homework.

What To Look For

So you’ve got your report in front of you, now what?  Later we will focus on actions you should and shouldn’t take based on a report, but even before that you have to know what data you have and what it means.

One word I will ask you to keep in mind is trends.  What are the trends telling you?  You may see on one report that Suzie was rude.  She wasn’t smiling and she never said thank you.  This is surprising, since most of time when you see Suzie, she is smiling and making great conversation with the guests.  That “trend” (or break in the trend, in this case) should tell you that you need more data.  Here are some questions you could ask to gather more concrete information:

  1. Was this an isolated incident? Is this the first time anyone has mentioned Suzie being rude?
  2. Was there something going on that day that would have caused Suzie to be acting differently?
  3. Who was she working with?  Were they people she got along with or not?

This is just a small sampling of the kinds of information you would need to have to know what to do next.

Other trends to look for on the report include:

  • Policies – are there multiple people not following rules, or is it just one or two?
  • Areas/departments – are there certain areas or departments that are performing consistently well (or poorly)?
  • Comments – is there anything similar (in tone or content) in the verbatim comments that can give you more insight?

What Do You Do Now?

To this point, you have probably seen that it takes more than just a quick read-through to pull out all of the pertinent information.  But that is a necessary component of the process, in order to be able to take the right actions.

Looking at the situations above, what do we do about Suzie?  I think we discuss the report with her and ask her about her side of the story.  It’s very dangerous to reprimand based on the comments from the shoppers report.  Since this is not going to be immediate feedback (given the time it takes to compile the report), it’s best to look at it as a learning opportunity, not a disciplinary action. On the other side of the coin, it would be appropriate to praise or recognize an employee’s performance based on the shoppers report.  They still made a good impression, and the more that is acknowledged, the more likely it is to happen again.

What if you notice that all the employees mentioned were not following a particular rule or procedure?  That might be an indication that there has been a miscommunication about the procedure, maybe it just recently changed, or it’s something the employees don’t like doing.  In all of these cases, it would take some investigation to find out what’s going on and why.

One of the most important things you can do with the information in this report is to share it.  Share it with your management teams, with your employees (as appropriate; be careful of negative or damaging comments) and get their perspective on the best way to either make things better or continue doing the good things you are already doing.

Delegating or getting assistance with looking over the reports will not only ensure that you get the most out of them, it will also save the reports from living out their days in a dark and dreary desk drawer.  No one wants that.

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