How to Negotiate with Mystery Shopping Companies

Sometimes a mystery shopping company will accidentally pay a mystery shopper less than they’re owed. Other times you will have an opportunity to ask for a bonus. Very rarely a company will simply not pay a mystery shopper, or pay them quite late.

Here is some advice for getting the best outcome possible in each of these situations.

All of which requires a little “negotiation.”

Negotiation by definition means, “Communication aimed at reaching agreement”.   Unfortunately, negotiation is frequently interpreted as “I disagree with you.  Fix it my way.”  A strong negotiator is able to discuss a situation, reach agreement AND get it their way.

One of the main challenges to negotiation is communication via email.  The difficulty is that the customer cannot see or read facial/body language when it is via email.  This is important because facial/body language often signify intent.  Take for example the words “where is my paycheck”.  I can type it to mean different things:

WHERE IS MY PAYCHECK! – Capital letters represent screaming when typed.  The exclamation point means urgency.

Where is my paycheck? – The question mark at the end of the sentence means that it is just a question.  However, it does not communicate the tone of voice.   A soft and warm tone would indicate an earnest attempt to find out the answer to the question, making the receiver want to help.  An angry face and gruff tone of voice would put the receiver on the defensive, making the receiver less likely to want to help, whereby making the sender angrier, whereby making the receiver even less likely to want to help, whereby…… you get the picture.

The problem is that we cannot tell tone of voice nor can we see facial expressions with written word.  And it applies to both the sender and the receiver.  So how do we go about getting to a positive resolution in a difficult situation?  I learned long ago in a negotiation class, to start with a “BATANS”.

  • BATANS – Best Alternative To A Negative S In other words, what is the least that will be acceptable and what will done if you get less than that.  Sometimes just thinking through this softens our position.  Not wanting to exercise the alternative tends to make us strive more towards a healthier resolution.  Example:  I did a shop for a customer but when I received payment, it was $1.30 short.  I like my payments on target or I like to know why they are not.  My BATANS was to do without the $1.30 and depending on the response, stop doing business with the customer.  BUT a BATANS does not mean “accept” the alternative as your first negotiating point.  It should be your last negotiating point.  So I emailed the customer and said “My records show that the fee was $25.00 however I received a payment of $23.70.  I may have missed something, so could you tell me why there is a difference in the payment?”  This happened to me in three similar situations recently.  One resulted in immediate payment and an apology.  One resulted in a slow correction.  The third customer I no longer do business with based on my BATANS.  I will add that this was not the first nor the only misstep for the third customer.
  • Always, always, always use “SOFT” Even soft words may be misinterpreted.  However, make the attempt to ALWAYS USE SOFT WORDS.  It takes a willingness and practice to soften words.  However, in the long run, the payout (read bonus!) is higher.
  • Combine soft words and with your gut feelings in the form of a question. Some people say play dumb.  (I wonder why that has always been so easy for me to do?)    Example 1:  I have a problem with the way these guidelines spell out how I am to get the information.  Rephrased:  I have a problem.  I don’t understand how I am to get the information.  Can you put it another way for me?  Example 2:  I had a customer email me three times pointing to three different questions in a report that asked the same thing (to me).  When did I leave, when did the associate finish with me and what happened when the session was finished.  I answered all three questions by stating, “The associate finished with me, ending the session, and so I left.  The time was XX:XX” There were indeed multiple comments that could be made regarding redundancy; fortunately, I kept them to myself.  What I shared with the editor was this “I am confused as to what the differences are between these questions.  Could you explain the differences so that I can give you more complete answers?”   It may sound syrupy, but it got me a “polite” answer.
  • Provide succinct details in your communication. As mystery shoppers, we want details before we accept or go into a shop.  Saves us time.  Our customers want the same from us, details.  They are busy as we are.  Do not make them have to dig for information when they question you.
  • Use a thesaurus. The thesaurus will provide alternative words, maybe softer words.  We are looking for soft words.  Example:  You gave me a 4.  Is you gonna tell me why?  (accusatory – never good, poor and incorrect grammar – not good)  Rephrased:  I was awarded a 4.  I want to improve so could you help by telling me how I could have improved on the 4
  • Walk away. Sometimes communication requires letting it go.  My favorite method of walking away is to type a synopsis of how I feel.  In this synopsis, I disregard typos and incorrect grammar.  It is a place where I type exactly how I feel with total disregard for anyone else’s feelings.  After I am finished, I read it to make sure that I got it all down.  Then I take a deep breath and hit the delete button.  Find your satisfying method of walking away.


This article would not be complete without one final bit of advice.  That advice is to use The Mystery Shopping Forum as a tool to help improve your communication.  Understand that not all forum members follow the guideline that is not to judge, but most do.  You can find valuable information there as how to handle a situation.  If you have a situation that no one on the forum has ever experienced, then pat yourself on the back as a first.  Then sort thru the sometimes-creative solutions from a group always willing to share our thoughts.


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