Know Your Backstory.

Someone on the forum recently mentioned having returned to a restaurant they had shopped previously because they had enjoyed the food and being asked, “How did you hear about us?” and was wondering how to answer and whether it would be okay to say that they had mystery shopped the location in the past.

Of course, that person was quickly put right about the fact that we must never admit to being a mystery shopper, even long after the fact. But that thread got me to thinking: are there shoppers who don’t think about their back story before going into a place they wouldn’t normally frequent? Because that’s a real common question; I was asked it at a bank the other day where I wasn’t shopping and didn’t really have an answer other than, “My bank was sold (true story) and I don’t want to go with the bank that bought them.” I was actually there to open an account that would be used later for mystery shopping at other branches, but I certainly couldn’t tell them that! Saying a friend had recommended them would have been bad, because they wanted to know so they could send out a thank you card for the referral – so don’t fall into that trap!

Maybe I’m a bit paranoid about this, but when I’m driving to a shop, I’m rehearsing my back story – even if there’s no reason for me to think I need one. I’m just a lot more confident if I mentally rehearse the role I’m playing, and develop enough details to be plausible when answering questions that might pop up.

Your goal should be to shut down further personal questions, not to spin out a yarn that might make you memorable.

Think about it – on a bank shop, why are you thinking of getting a new account? What bank should you say you bank at that you wouldn’t mind speaking ill of? “Bank X has ridiculous fees” shouldn’t come out of your mouth unless you know Bank X and know that they have fees higher than the bank you’re shopping. Keep it real. I’ve quit a bank and a credit union since I started mystery shopping, and I’ve shopped some that I wouldn’t consider banking with so I use one of them. Go with what you know.

And be specific; “I just don’t like my current bank,” is going to elicit a request for details, so they can tell you how much better they are than your current bank. So give them one specific detail (“I hate their online system”) because you don’t want them going through every policy in the brochure, pointing out how great they are. Even “I used to date one of the tellers and it’s really uncomfortable when I go in there now” would work, and not invite further inquiry.

“Someone on Facebook mentioned it” is a good enough answer for any scenario where you’re being asked, “How did you hear about us?” or “What brings you here?”

If you might get busted taking pictures of a menu, be ready to explain, “My office often has someone pick up food for our Friday lunch meeting and they need the menu so people can decide what they want.” If you get caught snapping that picture of the sundae, “I’m tormenting my sister on Facebook because she just started a diet.”

In cases where you are away from home and may have to give your real address, have a reason why you are there. “Thinking of moving here,” isn’t as good as “My mother lives over on Oak street” because “Thinking of moving here” may encourage other questions about why you picked that town, whether you have a job, and what part of town you’re looking at.

I did a Harley shop over 100 miles from home and the guy asked me where I lived (so he could look up a shipping cost for the part I was not really buying) and without thinking I gave my real town. That forced me to invent on the spot that I was a sales person with accounts in Las Vegas and drove past that Harley shop every week – and luckily I was able to add the truthful detail that my town doesn’t have a Harley store. That was one of the first mystery shops I ever did, and it taught me to have a back story ready.

I had to do apartment shops in a town that happened to be a college town. “I got a job at the (blue) bank on (nearby street) and wanted to be near the college because I’m thinking of getting a master’s degree.” This was important to address because I am clearly not of “college age” and why would an old fogey like me want to live in an apartment building full of 20 year olds?

So think of how you might answer common questions, and then think about what they might ask in response to your answer. Be three-dimensional in your back story.

Think about your back story before you get to the shop because you never know what questions might come at you. Much of what you get asked you can just tell the truth about, but questions that have to do with why you are in a place where maybe you might not normally go could tip you as a shopper if you have to think about the answer that you should just be able to answer off the top of your head.

And consider lying if asked about kids or pets, especially if you have any – it could turn into an exchange of anecdotes that will make you very memorable.

I was actually asked, “What brings you here?” as I walked into a grocery store in a place where I was not of the local ethnicity and I was “Doing a survey on the location of 24 hour gas stations for a travel guide.” It was a plausible reason why I was walking into the local market to get some travel snacks and boring enough not to invite further inquiry.

So think of your back story before someone asks a casual question that makes you flush and stammer while you think of how to answer.

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