StormCloud

Business Evaluation Services (Mystery Shopper Services)

Company Overview: Business Evaluation Services (BES) and Mystery Shopper Services (MSS) were previously reviewed here as separate entities, but in fact, they aren’t… really. Sort of. You’ll see. 😉

BES is not really, in and of itself, a mystery shopping company. Even though they say they are. A Google search for “Business Evaluation Services” only leads you to the Mystery Shopper Services website, and no distinct website was found for BES. Also, when a prospective shopper goes to register with BES? They’re really registering with MSS — always referred to as “a division of BES”.

On the MSS website, BES defines themselves as a “full service market, guest satisfaction and compliance audit company. We specialize in mystery shopping and guest satisfaction measurement services for nearly every industry.” Apparently, MSS is BES’s division specializing in the mystery shopping side of things.

Both BES and MSS are founded and headed up by Charles Stiles, of the “Mystery Diners” TV show fame; and both companies are members of the MSPA since 2001. In fact, according to the website, Mr. Stiles sits on the board of directors of the MSPA, serving as a director for the membership benefits committee; and BES “supports a number of MSPA initiatives including the Gold and Silver Certification courses for shopper training.”

Charles Stiles founded BES in 1996, after eight years of owning a number of retail gift stores in various malls around the country. He quickly came to realize the importance of a “consistent service culture” and created a process to measure the success of the training he’d implemented. This led to his founding of BES.

Two other mystery shopping companies are also “a division of BES”, as of their acquisition in 2014: Customer 1st, a charter member of the MSPA, with Founder/CEO Carl Phillips; and Best Market Audits, with Founder Peter Thorwarth. Each of these individuals is also a part of the BES Leadership Team. Each of these two companies maintains their individual identity, while being “a division of BES”. 

The MSS (a division of BES) website is here: http://www.mysteryshopperservices.com/. The company is physically located in California — but in one of a few examples of outdated content, depending on which page one is looking at, the headquarters are said to be in Arroyo Grande or Bakersfield, with a second office in Bakersfield or Pismo Beach..

Locations and Types of Shops/Clients:

The MSS website informs us that BES, and therefore one would presume not only MSS but their other two MSC’s, serve “all points of the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico.”

They continue: “We currently partner with many national companies and manufacturers, as well as smaller independent retailers. The clients we serve range from globally recognized brands… to smaller independent companies with single locations.” Yes, where the dots are, and in other places on their site; they do name names of brands/clients.

According to the website, BES works with a variety of industries, including restaurants, hotels and timeshares, travel services, theme parks, parking facilities, banks and other financial institutions, manufacturing, home furnishings and flooring, apartments, automotive services, consumer electronics and wireless services, software, health centers, pet services, and general retail including convenience stores.

Along with the standard on-site and phone shops, BES also does web-based mystery shops, price and market audits, and compliance audits. I would figure that these types of assignments are also available to registered shoppers.

On their website is a button proclaiming, “Order Instant Shops Today!” so I clicked to check that out. (http://instantsecretshops.com/?msp=7) This is a way for clients to order “spot checks” rather than setting up an in-depth, regular-basis, mystery shopping program. Shops use pre-made forms targeted to specific industries, and I get the idea they’re a briefer and perhaps less-specific than a traditional shop form. Currently the industries this is available for are: casual, “convenience”, and fine dining; retail (non-specific), and theaters. There’s a link on the page for shoppers to register, but it’s the same registration link as for regular shops.

BES also offers clients things like guest satisfaction surveys and digital comment cards (in-store, smartphone, email, or web based); and incentives for customers to participate, such as digital coupons. There’s been some discussion from time to time on the forum about the impact of these things on the business of mystery shopping. Apparently, BES holds the belief that these things work in conjunction with mystery shopping, rather than competing with or replacing it.

Again, it would seem likely that this information, presented as being about BES; encompasses not only MSS but Customer 1st and Best Market Audits.

Platform, Getting Paid, and Shopper Support:

MSS (a division of BES) uses the iSecretShop (iSS) platform (or portal) to list, assign, and report shops. There doesn’t seem to be a way to track completed shops, however, that I could find.

iSS does seem to be one of the lesser-used platforms out there, with 22 MSC’s currently participating — including the three “divisions of BES”. iSS is a little different compared to the more widely-used platforms; but after a little looking around to get used to the place, it’s really pretty nifty. Although I don’t think iSS’s “Agent Ranking Program” is entirely fair. Anyway, If you’re not already registered with the iSS portal for another MSC, check out the general feel here: (https://isecretshop.com/)

MSS pays shoppers exclusively via PayPal. Despite extensive looking around, not one thing is stated on the MSS website regarding the timing of shopper payments. In the previous MSM review of MSS, from April 2013, (http://www.mysteryshoppermagazine.com/mystery-shopping-companies/mystery-shopper-services/) it was reported that the company’s stated policy was: “Payments are made 45 business days from date of approval of the assignment”. The vagueness of that policy was briefly discussed.

When I checked MSS’s Independent Contract Agreement (ICA), available on the iSS portal, (https://isecretshop.com/agent/contracts/7/) it does indeed state, “Company pays for all properly completed shops within 45 Days from the approved/edited date of said shop {unless otherwise noted in shop notes}”. (Note the word “business” is no longer part of the verbiage.)

Shopper support seems minimal, beyond fairly generic MS’ing 101-type info. For instance, there’s no company-specific “FAQ” page. The MSS website does have a “Shopper Support” page (http://www.mysteryshopperservices.com/shopper-support/) that lists business hours, along with contact names, emails, phone numbers for schedulers, “quality control” (editors?), and payroll. I’ve always wondered about their long-time choice of photo for the page header, though — is it supposed to represent their opinion of shoppers, or their own staff? (:

Getting and Completing Assignments:

The job board for MSS (a division of BES) is via the iSS portal. When you look for available assignments, you put in your zip code and a mileage radius. All available assignments from every MSC you’re registered with — via the iSS portal anyway — show up on the results page.

You can click to view shop details (location, date/time parameters, pay/reimbursement) and a basic shop description, but the full guidelines and questionnaire aren’t available for review until after you accept the shop — which is typical of most MSC’s (although some will provide them on request, but it doesn’t seem that MSS is one of those).

Many of MSS’s shops are self-assign… but if I recall, you have to earn a certain “Agent Ranking” through iSS to achieve self-assign status. Although, even after that point, some available shops continue to require “applying” rather than just “assigning”.

Job availability emails arrive from iSS, rather than the individual MSC’s using the platform; and MSS is no exception. In my experience, the frequency of these emails is not excessive, and the emails give basic info with links to click for further explanation.

In my experience, MSS is NOT amenable to requests for rescheduling shops, even with 72 hours notice. (more about that, later)

When I first signed up with MSS, along with accepting my first shop, I received a document titled, “Mandatory General Information”. Among other things, this document stated that reports for ALL shops were due by no later than 11:59 PM, the same day the shop was performed, with no exceptions. Shops not submitted by that time would be automatically unassigned from the shopper, and the shopper’s rating would be lowered — meaning few or no future shops. Other shops assigned to the shopper for future dates would also be pulled.

In my area, MSS has only ever had one client — a regional farm store. I found the guidelines to be straight-forward and easy to follow, but not particularly detailed — with just a‘bare-bone’ premise of a scenario given; and the rest is up to you. But, nothing out-of-the-ordinary is expected, either — and no specific weird “shopper giveaway” questions or statements were required, at least not for this client.

The questionnaire was all standard and expected questions, divided into sections (i.e., phone call, associate interaction, cashier) with an “overview” narrative box per section; along with a couple of “explanation” narrative boxes. Plus, of course, explanations for any negative answers. But nothing redundant.

There’s the capability to save .pdf copies of your reports via the iSS website. I highly recommend that, just in case of future inquiries from MSS; as iSS does not provide a way to access completed shops/reports on their platform.

The shopper fee is pretty low for these shops, but the reimbursement is fairly high compared to many shops. So, if you really needed something from this client (not difficult if you have a yard/garden or pet) the reimbursement could easily be considered useful compensation. Checking the job board for out-of-state zip codes revealed other quite reasonably compensated shops for a variety of clients.

Individual shop reports aren’t graded in the standard manner of many MSC’s; but iSS uses its “Agent Ranking System” across all participating MSC’s and considering all assigned and completed shops. This process uses “complex measurement algorithms” that are proprietary — so in other words, “Don’t ask.” (https://isecretshop.com/agent/toolkit/)

Personal Experience:

For the most part, I enjoyed contracting for MSS (a division of BES). You’ll notice that’s past tense, as I haven’t taken any shops for them in the last couple of years.

I’d scheduled two shops (different locations for that one client) for the same day. Three days before the shops were to be performed, I discovered a serious date conflict. When I’d taken the shops, the available date range to choose from spanned two weeks. I emailed the scheduler and explained, adding that I’d be happy to reschedule to any of the other originally available dates.

The scheduler replied tersely, along the lines of ‘Thanks for letting us know, the shops have been removed from your current assignments.” What?? In a couple hours, I got a standard job availability email from iSS, listing those two shops as available for their original date range. So I re-applied for an alternate date. I got an email advising I had not been assigned.

When the next round of shops came out the next month, I tried to apply… and got an error message that I was no longer eligible to complete shops for this client. That seems a little harsh, given that I’d requested the reschedule with 72 hours’ notice, offering to reschedule for any other available date — and the shop was obviously still open for any of those dates.

When I looked for a “higher-up” to email with my issue, there weren’t any listed on the MSS website. Emails to the scheduling team were fruitless, without any reply whatsoever.

My other complaint about this company would be the many typos and errors of spelling, grammar, and consistency throughout their website and guidelines. This is a pet peeve of mine — MSC’s should put out the same quality of writing they expect from their shoppers.

What Other Shoppers Have to Say:

Recent discussions indicate that confusion continues to abound, even after a few years, regarding the affiliation between MSS (a division of BES) and iSS. Many shoppers remain unaware that iSS is merely a platform and NOT an MSC, NOT who they’ve contracted with or shopped for, and NOT responsible for payments. Even when the nature of the relationship between the two entities is easily and clearly explained, many shoppers remain unable to grasp the concept that iSS is merely the platform — or portal — that MSS uses, along with many other MSC’s.

Another previously often-discussed topic is how long it takes to be paid. Most of these discussions also involve the above misunderstanding. However, most complaining shoppers knew, when they applied for and accepted the shops, what the terms of payment were — including the (previous) vagueness of them. It doesn’t seem fair to complain if you knew what you were getting into. However, there’s a few reports — granted, over a year old — from shoppers reporting payments taking 90+ days, AND not getting any response, let alone resolution, until after multiple emails or posting to the MSS’s facebook page.

My personal experience was that shops were consistently paid 45 to 60 calendar days after completion — same as was stated in the previous MSM review of BES, from January 2014: (http://www.mysteryshoppermagazine.com/mystery-shopping-companies/business-evaluation-services/)

A few shoppers also have had issues with a particular scheduler, very similar to what I explained above. It’s also been reported how difficult it can be to get anyone at MSS to respond to shopper emails — another issue I’ve experienced — particularly when the email involves a complaint-type inquiry. Maybe MSS should mystery shop themselves. 😉

Getting Signed Up:

Sign up is relatively simple, quick, and painless. No writing samples required! Shoppers interested in working with MSS (a division of BES) simply need to go here: (http://www.mysteryshopperservices.com/become-shopper/)

This page gives an overview of Mystery Shopping 101, and includes the link from which you register. Clicking the link takes you to the iSS registration page — and you actually register via iSS, if you’re not already. You enter all the typical registration information. Later you can fill out your extended profile. This information is provided not only to MSS, but also to any of the other iSS-participating MSC’s you choose to work for, once you view and accept their ICA’s.

By the way, the relationship between MSS and iSS is explicitly explained right at the top of the iSS registration page. (: Once you’ve registered and accepted iSS’s Terms of Service, you click to view and accept MSS’s contract with an electronic signature. You’re then good to go, and can begin looking and applying for shops.

If you’re already registered with iSS because of another MSC, all you need to do to shop for MSS, is log into your iSS account, go to “Contracts”, scroll down to MSS, and click to view and accept their ICA.

If MSS is your first MSC with iSS, by all means, check out the other 21 MSC’s participating in this nifty platform/portal. Getting started with any of them is pretty quick and easy once you’re registered with iSS.

Conclusion:

After my experience, I doubt I’d shop for this MSC again, even if they got a new client in my area or offered me shops again. However, I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone else — the shops themselves were great, fairly compensated, and paid as promised.

Your Comments:

  1. Kathyrin Chen says:

    Looking for a business valuation services – I am real estate broker, I have a client is buying farmland with trees and shrubs business,The farmland is located at 3130 State Route 530 NE, Arlington, WA and the seller is Clark’s Native Trees and Shrubs. The business to be purchased includes 113.1 acres land and improvements, equipment, two residential houses, and ongoing nursery business. Annual profit is about 600k. The client will have a 60 days feasibility period upon mutual.

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