Mystery Shopping Magazine is pleased to present the third in a series of mystery shopping scheduler interviews.
MSM talks turkey with Erika Wooton, ACE Mystery Shopping Scheduler:
MSM: Please give us an overview of your life before you entered the world of mystery shopping and tell us what led you to the job of scheduler for Ace Mystery Shopping?
Erika: After serving eight years in the Air Force, I decided it was time to take advantage of the time I had with my little ones by becoming a home daycare provider, so that is what I did. My son, Jesse, was six and my daughter, Emily, was two, so I became a licensed daycare provider through the Air Force. I offered home daycare services to military families, and I opened our home 24/7 for about seven years. My family was supportive throughout this time and I loved knowing that my home became home to many other little ones, too. I built a lot of relationships during that time and I still keep in touch with many of these families today. This journey took us from California to Montana and I enjoyed every minute of it!
In July 2011, the Air Force moved us to the place we now call home, Warrensburg, Missouri. I decided that it was time for me to try something new and with different challenges. It just happened that ACE Mystery Shopping was looking for in-office staff, so I decided to check it out.
I began as an editor with ACE in October 2012 and in January 2013, Julie Simbro and Tiffany Blankenship, the owners of ACE, asked me to take over the scheduling department. I hit the ground running and found that I loved the challenges associated with scheduling shops—deadlines, reschedules, hard-to-fill locations, etc. My favorite part was getting to reach out to new people and building relationships with them!
Although the challenges can be stressful at times, I still have a sense of accomplishment when all is said and done…who am I kidding?? A scheduler’s job is NEVER done! LOL! So, I guess this is me, in a nutshell, and how I got to where I am today at ACE.
MSM: It is evident by your enthusiastic and fun emails that you thoroughly enjoy your job. What are the positive aspects of being a scheduler that far outweigh the frustration and stress inherent to the job?
Erika: Why, thank you! I have found that being a scheduler is more than shops, deadlines, shopper ID’s, etc. It is about relationships and working hard to build them. This is why I try to add a personal touch to most of my emails. I think it is important to get to know the people you interact with on a regular basis—granted it may not be daily—but it is still a connection that must be taken care of. I have found that offering to share little tidbits about my life—family, vacations, feelings and anything else I can think of, helps shoppers see me as a person. I find that by injecting humor, whenever I can, and when appropriate, helps lighten the mood and makes it more than just a “shop we have to offer”. I would hope it encourages shoppers to “want” to help when they can and not feel pressured to do so.
Overall, scheduling has been one of the most rewarding jobs (outside of being a wife and mother, of course!) and I look forward to improving and growing with more and more experience. There is always room for improvement, so my goal for next year is to find new ways to reach the shoppers. That’s what makes this job so interesting and satisfying!
MSM: What is your strategy for getting all of the shops assigned and completed each month and what are the consequences if you don’t achieve a 100% completion rate?
Erika: My strategy can change depending on the type of shop and client deadlines. I have found that emailing about twice each week, until the last 10 days of the month, is more than enough to garner attention from shoppers. I do not feel it is necessary to bombard shoppers, who are busy with families and life, with multiple emails every single day. In fact, rather than encouraging them to log in and request shops, it can land you in their spam mail box!. It is important to respect the fact that shoppers have others things going on and they do not have the time or the desire to see my cute smiley faces popping into their email every couple of hours.
Making phone calls is also something I do, but not as frequently. I know for some schedulers, this method is preferred, but frankly I would rather allow shoppers the opportunity to log in at their convenience as opposed to interrupting their day. Phone calls are reserved for those shops with extremely tight deadline—in other words, true emergencies.
As for repercussions for me not reaching “100%” completion, the punishment is quite brutal here at ACE…JUST KIDDING! When the end of the month is near, the rest of the ACE staff pitches in to help me out. I always have some shops each and every month that give me fits, so I appreciate the assistance I receive from my fellow coworkers and, without them, I would be a complete basket case, by the last day of the month! A special THANK YOU to Mary Brown from Disbursements, John Mark from Sales and of course, Julie Simbro and Tiffany Blankenship! They all jump in at a moment’s notice to help and I love them for that!
MSM: As a scheduler, what are the top three things that make you want to bang your head against the wall and how could these be avoided?
Erika: First and foremost, would have to be when I remove an overdue shop and an hour later I receive an email accusing me of removing it “suddenly”. I schedule over 2,000 shops each month, so for me to be able to do repeated “follow-ups” for each and every shop is just not possible. I completely understand that sometimes things crop up. I have a husband, two kiddos, pets, a house, and so on and so forth, so I totally get it. Emailing me after an overdue shop is removed, to point the finger at me for being “cruel and mean” does not help the situation, whereas taking ownership and responsibility does. I am always willing to help come up with a solution that works for everyone. I encourage shoppers to email me prior to their shop becoming overdue to request an extension and, in most cases, I am able to comply.
The next one goes hand-in-hand with the one above—waiting until the last minute to complete a shop. Typically, we release a large number of shops the last few days of the month and into the first few days of the next month, all with due dates that are farther out than normal. The purpose of this is to allow shoppers plenty of time to add them to their calendars. The “due date” listed in the survey is the date by which the shop needs to be submitted, not the date the shop must be completed. We encourage shoppers to complete shops as soon as possible after requesting them, instead of waiting until the very last minute and having something come up that prevents them from completing the shop at all. Uncompleted shops result in a lot of lost time, so unless it is a situation where the shopper will not be in a specific area until a certain date, taking care of the shop right away is the best option.
Finally, not reading the client details and survey questions prior to each and every shop can result in the shop not being accepted. There is nothing worse than doing a sandwich shop that requires a photo of the receipt and the sandwich and not realizing this until after the sandwich has been eaten. Quite the quandary! Clients can and do make changes to the requirements for a shop, and although the changes may be small, they can make a big difference when it comes to the shop being accepted and the disbursement being authorized.
Overall, I would like to say that my frustration levels are usually kept to a minimum due to the large number of great shoppers helping out each month and I am so grateful for them! A HUGE THANK YOU to all of the ACE shoppers out there-keep up the great work and know that I appreciate you more than you know!
MSM: What advice would you like to give to new shoppers?
Erika: Words of Wisdom…stay organized and stay on task! I have found that many of the best shoppers out there keep track of everything they do, from storing log-in information for each of the MSC’s, to the MSC’s payment dates and to specific information about the shops they accept. Staying organized is key.
I briefly check out the Mystery Shop Forum, from time to time, and have found that there is a plethora of helpful information for new shoppers from experienced shoppers. Take the time to check out what they have to say. Based on the length of time many of the contributors have been shopping, there is a good chance they have encountered similar situations/scenarios and can help.
Of course, I am available for anyone who has questions about the shops ACE has to offer, so shoppers should not hesitate to contact me at Erika@acemysteryshopping.com. They can also call me at 866.240.7324 Monday through Friday, 7:00am to 4:30pm (CST). We all have a common goal—to make the world a better place, not just for businesses, but as a whole. MSC’s and shoppers do this one shop at a time, so Happy Shopping Everyone, and Stay Positive!
MSM: Erika, we know this is a particularly busy time of year for schedulers and we really appreciate the time you have spent responding to our interview questions! Thank you so much!