Most people think that I’m simply a stay at home mom. An above board, standard operating procedure, preschool mom. Ah, but most people are wrong.

Sometimes the nature of this double life weighs on me. I rarely talk about it, and I don’t know anyone else who participates in these under the table activities. Who do you vent to when no one understands? I’ve had to take my children into this other world where they don’t belong. They sit quietly while they watch me transform into someone who doesn’t seem to make sense at times.

I can tell you, but I’d have to kill you. Eh, I’m really too tired to kill anyone.

I’m a mystery shopper.

I have evaluated hamburgers, parking lots, customer service, schools, wait times, dressing rooms, merchandise, car washes and banks. Almost every chain store that you can think of has some form of standardized evaluation procedure that is carried out by one of hundreds of 3rd party mystery shopping companies.

As long as I can remember, complaining about customer service has been a hobby of mine. Ok, maybe since I worked retail to put myself through college. When I first started mystery shopping with any frequency, I lived in a community with few chain stores, except for fast food restaurants and gas stations, so that’s where I started.

Being a professional tattletale mystery shopper makes me pay attention to every little detail in my transactions. Some examples from the trenches:

Pita Pit corporate offices are not satisfied with their chains unless you leave feeling WOWED and that their restaurant was ONE OF THE TOP ESTABLISHMENTS YOU HAVE EVER BEEN TO IN YOUR LIFE. Um. That’s tough to do, Pita Pit! When I mystery shop a Pita Pit, I have to document how I was or was not wowed (their word). Is there food good? Yes! Is it consistent? Yes! Is it a good value? Yes! But, to feel wowed by a healthy fast food chain is difficult. I’m wowed by Nobel prize winners. I’m wowed by first generation college students. I’m wowed by science. I am not wowed by pitas, no matter how fresh and tasty.

McDonald’s is the most precise corporation I can imagine. I don’t love fast food, and I have never willingly eaten at a McDonald’s in my life when I wasn’t mystery shopping. However, witnessing their methods and standards is truly fascinating. You order a hamburger (or whatever they tell you to order in your pre-shop paperwork) and in the privacy of your car or home you take that hamburger apart and evaluate the components. They want to know if the patty was centered on the bun. They ask if the cheese was centered on the patty. They want to know the temperature of their food. They also have the most rigid timing standards I have seen. If your wait at the drive thru is longer than three minutes, that restaurant had better have a damn good reason.

I have mystery shopped a parking lot. The company was evaluating their signage and how pleasant the parking attendants/cashiers were. I was asked if I would choose this lot again and to discuss the things that I liked best about my experience in the parking lot. Well, I was pretty happy that no one had left nails in the parking stalls to pop my tires! Really, it’s a parking lot. It’s the ONLY parking lot within miles of the airport. People don’t really have a choice, but it certainly is nice that they are still trying to win over their customers. I had to list things that the cashier could have done to improve my experience. She gave me my total, took my money, and gave me my change in record time. I can’t think of anything else I need from a parking lot cashier. Please, don’t try to make small talk with me, let’s just do this!!

Clothing stores want me to browse their racks and see if there are any items that are in the wrong spot. If they have too many larges mixed in with the mediums, all hell breaks loose!

What’s interesting to me is that most companies are truly invested in the customer experience. Not surprisingly, the companies that have the best service, products, and procedures are the ones who hold themselves and their employees to a high standard. If you are detail oriented, discreet, can communicate well in written reports, got a high from being selected as the hall monitor in 4th grade, and have failed dreams of being a CIA officer, dabbling in the mystery shopping arts might be right up your alley.

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Kriste Colley

Kriste Colley

Kriste has degrees in counseling and child development and still has no clue when it comes to her own two children. She is sarcastic, thinks she's funny, and her house frequently looks like it's been robbed. She is currently a stay at home mom in Kennewick, Washington.

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  • Jergrif73

    I think that I have found my calling. This sounds like the best job ever! Thanks for sharing.

  • Cari McGann McGee

    I used to do apartment shops. I’d pretend to be interested in renting a unit and had to evaluate EVERYTHING about the experience. It’s fascinating what corporate entities want you to look at!
    I HATE sandwiches and wraps, so the Pita Pit would NEVER get a WOW from me! Better you than me!

  • Kriste Colley

    Apartment shops would take a long time!!!! I like to get in and get out! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Kriste Colley

    It really is pretty great 🙂 Thanks for your comment!