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Learn How to Become a Mystery Shopper.

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It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and, instead of cooking, you decide to order a pizza for delivery from your local pizza joint.
An employee answers the phone, takes your order, and estimates delivery to be within 30 minutes.

You hang up, only to realize you have no idea how much cash to have on hand because the pizza joint employee didn’t give you a total and you didn’t think to ask.

Had you been conducting a telephone mystery shop, you would evaluate your experience based on a set of instructions, which might include whether or not you were given a total without asking and whether the food was delivered on time as promised.

Many people instinctively associate mystery shopping with going to stores, restaurants, and other businesses to evaluate customer service, cleanliness of the establishment, and sometimes to make a purchase.

The majority of mystery shops are just like that: You go into an assigned business, follow the shop’s instructions, return home and complete the shop form, submit receipts for reimbursement, if applicable, and wait to receive payment.

However, mystery shopping isn’t confined to traditional mystery shops anymore. Video, web, and telephone mystery shops have all become popular in recent years. Many different types of companies engage the services of mystery shopping companies to perform telephone mystery shops, including automobile dealerships, apartment complexes, call centers, and any business that deals with customers over the phone.

A telephone mystery shop can help businesses answer several questions including:

• Are employees following company policies?
• Do employees need further training?
• Are employees missing opportunities to make or to close sales?
• How long did the mystery shopper (and presumably other customers) have to wait for an employee to answer the phone? Was the phone answered in a reasonable time?
• Are wait times acceptable or so long that customers or prospective customers are hanging up?
• Is the employee personable, creating conversation rather than just shooting questions at the customer or prospective customer, pressuring him to make a decision?

You may be asked to keep track of several of these issues, including noting how many times the phone rang before the employee answered; whether you were put on hold and, if you were, how long you had to wait; and whether the employee tried to close the sale.

But, businesses don’t just use telephone mystery shoppers to evaluate their businesses. Some business owners want to determine how well their competition is doing. For example, perhaps an automobile company wants to determine how quickly customers can receive an appointment for an oil change with their biggest competitor.

Equipment
Telephone mystery shops may or may not be recorded, depending on the mystery shopping company and, more specifically, on the particular needs of the business that has hired the mystery shopping company. Unlike video mystery shopping, which requires you to wear video recording equipment, you do not need to borrow or to purchase equipment to successfully complete a telephone mystery shop.

One mystery shopping company, for example, simply requires mystery shoppers to call a toll free number which automatically calls the number of the business being evaluated. At the same time the system dials the phone number of the target business, it automatically begins recording the phone call. When the phone call ends, the system stops recording and the file is automatically uploaded for the mystery shopping company.

Other mystery shops may require mystery shoppers to download software onto their computers that will then allow them to record their mystery shops.

Because expensive equipment is not required and the requirements of a telephone mystery shop generally aren’t as strenuous as those of a video mystery shop, you probably aren’t going to enjoy the same high rate of pay. In fact, payment for telephone mystery shops may start as low as five dollars.

However, telephone mystery shops are popular with many mystery shoppers because they are fairly simple, do not take as much time as a video mystery shop, and the work is completed from home.

Common Mistakes
Telephone mystery shops are fairly straightforward and easy, especially since you do not have to worry about working with equipment. Be sure you complete the mystery shop on the assigned date and, if specified, at the assigned time. Otherwise, you risk not getting paid.
In addition, always take notes, even if your shop is being recorded. The last thing you want is to have a phone call from an editor asking for clarification you cannot provide.

Sample Telephone Mystery Shop
Perhaps you have been assigned a telephone mystery shop that requires you to evaluable the service of a leasing agent with a local apartment community. Let’s imagine you do not have to record your call for this particular mystery shop. You first read through the instructions of the mystery shop. You are to pretend you are looking for a new apartment, and the goal is to see whether the leasing agent attempts to set up an appointment with you to see the apartment. If he or she does, you will then miss that appointment to determine if the leasing agent follows up with you. However, when the leasing agent calls you back, you are instructed to allow the phone call to go directly to voicemail.

Because the phone call is not being recorded, it is your responsibility to take notes during the conversation. Even if the phone call is being recorded, you may still want to take notes, so you can easily answer any questions on the shop report. You will still be required to fill out a shop report, in which accuracy is essential.

Note taking is particularly important if the phone call is not being recorded, especially if you do quite a bit of mystery shopping. In addition, if an editor contacts you with a question about your mystery shop, you can quickly and easily look over your notes and provide the editor with an accurate answer.

Telephone mystery shopping can be an enjoyable and an easy way to make extra money from home. To find telephone mystery shops, check out the Mystery Shopping Providers Association Job Board at http://mspa.jobslinger.com/exec/sfs/jobboard.

A rapid snow storm strikes the Midwest, stranding hundreds of motorists, struggling to keep warm in frigid temperatures on deadlocked highways, and transforming normally vibrant towns into ghost towns.

Have that image in your head?

Now, which would be more powerful – the written version of the sudden snowstorm or an actual video of the line of motorists stranded in their cars, desperately trying to stay warm?

Words can be powerful and can stir emotions just as video can and does. However, video offers an even deeper picture, especially with mystery shopping, than a written or a telephone account of a shopping experience. No matter how detailed and thorough a mystery shopping report is, you cannot convey everything in words – tone of voice and demeanor, for example.

Video mystery shopping has become increasingly popular in recent years because it provides an even clearer picture to business owners of how their business is being run. It allows business owners to see an entire shop from start to finish.

All types of companies use video mystery shops, particularly those who sell high end products, such as new homes and cars. A video mystery shop allows a business owner to determine whether employees are following company policy, if employees require further training, and what customers are seeing when they interact with the employees.

Most companies require that video mystery shoppers first gain mystery shopping experience before moving into video mystery shopping. Gold certification through the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) may also be a requirement for some video mystery shopping companies. In fact, some mystery shopping companies may require you to have proven video mystery shopping experience before you are considered for an assignment.

How It Works
Video mystery shopping is essentially the same as a traditional mystery shop. The biggest differences are higher pay for the mystery shopper, increased responsibility, and the use of video equipment. You will be given instructions for your video mystery shop and will be expected to follow them exactly, just as for any other mystery shop. You will record the shop then you will typically upload the video or send the video to the mystery shopping company within a specific period of time.

Mystery shopping companies generally provide mystery shoppers with video equipment to complete assignments, which means you will accept a video assignment and wait for the company to send you the equipment. Video mystery shopping equipment is generally very small – a tiny video camera connected to a wire that is hidden in a purse, a button, or a tie. You will be trained on how to use the equipment and, if you have questions, you should contact the scheduler or the video mystery shopping company directly.

However, shoppers who do a lot of video mystery shops with different companies may opt to purchase their own equipment, which could cost between $400 and $700 or more. Because video equipment is a significant expense, your best bet is not to purchase it until you are certain that you want to continue to pursue video mystery shopping assignments. Get at least half a dozen or more video mystery shops under your belt before you invest in video equipment. One of the best reasons for investing in video equipment, if you decide that video mystery shopping is for you, is the fact that you can accept assignments and complete them without having to worry about the lag time necessary for receiving the video equipment from the mystery shopping company.

Higher pay = more responsibility
Even if the mystery shopping company provides you with video equipment, it is your responsibility to properly take care of the equipment and to make sure it works. Before you ever head to a mystery shopping assignment, test out your equipment. Are the batteries fully charged (a common mistake among novice video mystery shoppers)? If not, charge them before heading out to your assignment. If your batteries die in the middle of an assignment, you’re out of luck. You’ll either be docked in pay or receive no pay at all.

You should also do a test run using the video equipment. Equipment is so tiny you can conceal it in a purse, a buttonhole, or a tie. Once you decide where to hide the video camera, you must make sure it works. Test it out. The last thing you want is to complete a shop, only to later discover that all you recorded were images of the floor or of the ceiling (another common mistake with novice video mystery shoppers). Business owners want to see their employees’ faces and their facial expressions, not the top of their shoes.

Practice is essential with video mystery shopping, which you will get plenty of when you accept assignments. However, consider accepting a traditional mystery shop, wiring yourself with the video equipment, and going for a test run. That will allow you to assess whether you have the video recorder hidden in a good spot and will give you an idea of what to expect for your video mystery shops.

Another common mistake is either directly or indirectly trying to get the employee to do what he’s supposed to do by asking leading questions. For example, you may be conducting a new car shop in which the employee is being evaluated on whether or not he tries to upsell you a custom package that includes a subscription radio service. Avoid asking questions or making inferences to a sound system, which leads the employee and jeopardizes the integrity of the shop, which can be seen on video.

Legal Implications
You may already be aware that some states do not allow video recording of a conversation unless both parties are notified that they are being filmed. In fact, 12 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington) require that both parties consent to being videotaped. You can still complete video mystery shops if you live in one of those states provided employees have signed an agreement, in their employment contract or upon reading their employee handbook, in which they consent to being recorded.

Get started!
If you already have some mystery shopping experience, start signing up for companies that hire video mystery shoppers. A good resource at which to start is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (http://mspa.jobslinger.com/exec/sfs/jobboard). You can also learn more from such groups as the Video Shopping Network (http://www.videoshoppingnetwork.org/), which offers information and a forum for video mystery shoppers.

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