Paying the Tutition.

One unique thing about mystery shopping is there is nobody to train us. We have to teach ourselves how to do this. Oh, sure, there is the forum, and conferences with seminars that will help us with the rules, the how-tos, the techniques for using apps or equipment.

But the real tools of our trade are our own brains, eyes, ears, and memories. And those tools have to be used until it becomes second nature. In the meantime, sometimes our memories will let us down and we’ll forget something. Maybe lots of somethings.

You can go to school to learn to write, to do math, to do accounting, to do architecture, or to take out an appendix. There is no school of mystery shopping.

So mistakes will be made. And how you handle your mistakes says a lot more about you than the mistake itself does.

Mistakes happen to newbies, sure. The forgotten receipt, the forgotten name, was her hair red or brown, did she really say thank you or did I just think she did, the wrong address, the wrong kiosk in the mall, the mixed up report whenyou did two shops of the same type and reported them on each other’s forms – all these things can happen, yes, sometimes even to experienced shoppers.

Often we don’t know we’ve made the mistake until it’s too late to step back inside the store and take another peek or ask for a reprint on the receipt. And then comes that sinking, desperate feeling that you have blown it. And you know you won’t be paid.

It’s a sick feeling. And usually the lost pay is only a small part of it; we’re also upset that we let the scheduler down, that we drove a long way for nothing, that this might affect our ability to get jobs from that MSC in the future. That one teeny-tiny error suddenly looms like King Kong over our entire mystery shopping career. And we won’t be paid. And if it was a reimbursed shop, we not only won’t be paid, we just laid out money for a meal we really didn’t need or want and could only afford because it was being reimbursed. We not only won’t be paid, we’re actually out money and gas and time and it just isn’t fair!

How do we get past it? How do we stop trying to blame someone else for our brain letting us down and making us forget a detail, or our GPS for leading us to the wrong branch, or the client for asking such pointless questions in the first place? How can we own the mistake, and somehow turn it into a positive?

The best suggestion I have heard is to consider it “tuition.” You are paying your tuition in the school of mystery shopping. When you look at it that way, that $20 loss or even $50 loss is pretty cheap tuition that will help your possibly multi-thousand dollars a year mystery shopping career.

For further consolation, you’ll likely never make that mistake again. Sure, you might make others. But the more you mystery shop, the better you’ll get. I can walk into a post office now and in five seconds evaluate the posters, the display, the forms, the cleanliness, the condition, and the length of the line – because my brain has been trained to notice the exceptions – the mess, the dirt, the clutter, the form slots that are empty – and I only need to remember that “everything was fine except there were no forms for insurance over $200.” I don’t need to remember that the Priority display was orderly and stocked, the Ready post items were orderly and stocked, the signature, certified, insurance under $200, the customs declaration (and whatever else should be there) forms were present, the continuity boards were in good condition and in proper place, the promotional boards were in good condition and in proper place. I’ll see that “yes” the clerk was in proper uniform without having to remember, “Name tag, proper shirt, proper pants, proper neckwear.” My brain has been trained through repetition to notice these things and record only the exceptions.

But it took a few times of having to go back inside on the pretext of getting a Priority box for me to remember to look at those darn posters. It took a few times of having to drive back a couple blocks to remember to look to see if the zip code was actually on the building and matched the zip code I was supposed to be visiting.

It took a few times of having to call gas stations to ask their hours before I started remembering to ask while I was there. It took forgetting a name on a shop and worrying about whether I had just blown it for me to teach myself tricks to help me remember the name long enough to get someplace where I could say it into a recorder or write it down. It took a dead battery to teach me not to rely 100% on my recorder to “remember” the name I muttered into it.

So don’t beat yourself up too much over a missed observation; we all miss things now and then. And if you can’t remedy it somehow (great advice on saving blown shops can be found in the Forum) and have to face the reality that you will not be paid – chalk it up to the tuition, consider it a cheap education, apologize, resolve to never do that again, and go on to the next shop. But be sure the apology is an apology. Own the error. “I’m sorry, scheduler, but I blew this shop. I completely forgot that we were required to note how many dressing room stalls were available and what color was the floor tile and whether the manager had dandruff or not. I’ll be sure to remember those details next time and I won’t blame you if you can’t pay me for this shop” will take you a lot further than ranting, “I don’t know who comes up with these ridiculous requirements; how can they expect us to remember all these details? I spent half an hour driving there and twenty minutes listening to that clerk go on and on about paint quality and you better pay me anyway or I’ll report you to the BBB and never work for you again. What difference does it make if the floor was red or blue?”

Tuition. That’s all it is. Tuition in the school of mystery shopping.   Now study a little harder (read the instructions just before you walk in the door) next time and pretty soon you’ll find yourself at the head of the class and will consider the cost of that blown shop to be tuition money well-spent.

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