Handling Newbies

Editor’s note: Mystery Shop Forum [] is a website of mystery shoppers with varying degrees of experience. The members attempt to assist new shoppers who have legitimate questions, while at the same time explaining why some questions can’t be answered because to do so would violate the Independent Contractor’s Agreement [ICA] that shoppers sign when they agree to shop for various MSCs.

Give Them a Fish:

We get newbies all the time who think this is one big free fish market. They come here thinking, “This is where I can learn all the secrets and become a mystery shopper for fun and profit! All these people here, just waiting to help me succeed! I think the first thing I’m going to ask is what are the highest paying shops in (name of town), what are the best companies to work for, and do I really have to follow all the instructions or can I make up my own scenarios?”

So they come and ask, and often get shot down, sometimes not very politely. “Why should we tell you where all the plum jobs are so you can take them from us? We’re trying to pay our own bills. Why would we steer you to our own source of income? Do your own homework.”

But there’s always someone who then berates those people (sometimes it’s the newbie OP doing the berating) for not being helpful. Why won’t we just answer their questions? Sometimes someone will, saying, “Well, they’re not shopping in my area so I don’t mind telling them how they can take work from someone else.” So some people are willing to hand them a fish, not realizing (or not caring) that the fish they hand the newbie is coming out of someone’s creole, not out of the lake.

Teach Them to Fish:

Some newbies have been stumbling around for a bit on their own, doing their best, but are a little lost. Their approach is more likely to be, “I’ve been shopping for a while for ‘ReallyBig MSC’ but there isn’t much in my area. How can I find out about other shops in my area?” or maybe, “Will schedulers hate me if I ask for travel pay? Some shops I would like to do are too far away to do for what they’re offering” or “Does anyone have some hints for keeping photos organized on gas station shops when you do more than one station in a day?”

These people are more likely to be met with helpful suggestions, such as the location of the List of Mystery Shopping Companies link at the bottom of every page in the forum. Or for more specific requests, they will be told how to do a Search in the forum for other threads on that topic. Some questions will spark a lively debate on the thread, with different people offering opposing suggestions. If they’re having trouble with a job or don’t understand the shop instructions, usually someone will help them. They’re already a shopper. They’re already doing jobs. And they’re trying to learn, not have their new career handed to them on a silver platter. So they will find people who are happy to teach them to fish.

Tell Them to Jump in the Lake:

And then there are the trolls — often drive-by, hit-and-run trolls — who start a thread just to rant about something, give no details, and expect support and sympathy without bothering to give both sides of the story. (Sometimes they’re not even newbies.) They will usually be met with some astute forum member seeing right through to the other side of the story without needing to be told.

Dogpiles generally ensue. But they learn in no uncertain terms that this group will not have the wool pulled over its collective eyes by someone with an axe to grind. Rants should have a purpose. They should be instructive, or be seeking information about “How would you have handled this?” or “What could I have done differently?” Complaining that MSC “X” is “the worst company ever” without explaining what happened helps nobody.

But sometimes people get told to jump in the lake who should instead have been simply taught how to fish.

Yes, we all know it’s a violation to “reveal the clients of MSCs” but it might take a small amount of explanation to help a newbie know just what that means. Nobody ever comes here and says, “Tell me who Market Force shops,” which obviously would be “revealing the clients of an MSC.” Nobody needs to ask that, because it’s easily discovered simply by signing up with Market Force and looking at the job board.

It’s a little harder for a newbie to read “do not reveal the clients of the MSC” as meaning the same thing as “never ask which MSC shops a certain client.” One is “revealing the client of the MSC,” the other is “revealing the MSC of a client.” It takes a moment of thought to realize that revealing the latter accomplishes the same thing as revealing the former. It’s like saying, “I didn’t say you were having an affair with him. I said he was having an affair with you.” Either way, the relationship has been revealed.

Once it’s been pointed out, newbies generally “get” it. But until it’s been explained to them, it’s not that obvious to enthusiastic newbies who just want to get up and running quickly.

So maybe when the question comes up, we can refrain from pouncing on the poor confused newbie who didn’t grasp the fact that this is a state secret when they innocently (and without any nefarious intent — only an enthusiasm to start mystery shopping for fun and profit) ask, “Who shops my favorite restaurant?” Maybe instead of ripping them a new orifice for trying to trick us into violating our ICAs, we can just politely say, “I know it’s frustrating to hear this, but we’re not allowed to tell you that. It’s a condition of the agreements we all signed that we will not tell anyone who shops which clients. Just keep signing up for more companies and you’ll run onto it eventually.”

But if they get in a snit, accuse us of not being helpful, whine and cry that the purpose of the forum should be to spoon-feed them the fish instead of teaching them to bait their own hooks, then they become trolls. And maybe it’s okay then to tell them to go jump in the lake.

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