Friday, January 30, 2009

Serious Stuff

If you stick with mystery shopping long enough, one day it will happen. It's disconcerting at best, downright dangerous at worst, and leaves you with a seriously uncomfortable feeling. It could be two employees roughhousing next to the fryer. Perhaps you see a supervisor shove an employee or use foul or demeaning language. Maybe you catch sight of a cashier's hand going from till to pocket. Or worse.

Most undercover assignments come with very clear instructions about not identifying yourself—ever. But what about when the serious stuff happens right there in front of you? How will you handle yourself and the situation?

First, let's think through some scenarios. If there is a serious danger to life or limb and you feel action must be taken, take it. You don't need to identify yourself as a mystery shopper to alert the manager to an unsafe condition or action. It's a good idea to keep the phone number of the assigning mystery shopping company somewhere close by. If it's during business hours, you can excuse yourself to your car, call the company and explain what happened. They will advise you on whether you should proceed with your shop. If the company cannot be reached by phone, continue on with your shop, detailing the condition or action very precisely in your report.

If you see abuse, physical or verbal, a phone call to your assigning agency (outside of earshot of the store, please) is a good idea. Again, they may wish to cancel your shop immediately, or they might have you continue. As long as the situation doesn't degrade to fisticuffs or handguns, it's a disciplinary issue but not dangerous.

In the case of till-to-pocket, the situation might not be what you think you saw. As a trained observer, you will need to describe the incident as clearly as possible in your written report. Did you actually see the money go into the employee's pocket, or was she reaching for a tissue? Exact times here are crucial as many stores will have security video they can check. Your very best, honest reporting of the occurrence without personal commentary, is essential.

It is very hard to avoid personal commentary in these situations. It seems natural to attribute blame to one party, but that is not your call.

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