THE Creativity Chronicles

A journal of creative thoughts, content commissions I'm working on and where I'm at right now. The life of a creative copywriter.

"Creativity takes courage" - Henri Matisse

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The Magic Art of Mystery Shopping

October 19, 2020

Once upon a time I worked in retail and so I have been on the receiving end of mystery shopping but the way that I do it is a little differently from the retail world.  In the shop I used to work there were clear points we would get from performing well when we were shopped – there were also certain things the shopper was marking us on and to be honest, mystery shoppers were always pretty blatant – we could spot them a mile off.

So of course, we knew the drill and surprise, surprise, we would get top points every time.  Years later I worked in the hotel industry and we would be “mystery shopped” by the AA Inspector – he who puts the fear of God into every General Manager alive.  Yet they were again, pretty easy to spot (solo traveller on Table Nine eating dinner making notes in a notebook?).  I learned a handy tip from this experience – whenever I eat in a hotel I put a notebook next to me and occasionally jot something down – the service I receive is exemplary! 

Not only this but also the hotel circuit is pretty close knit and so once the inspector was known, their name was passed around in preparation (plus when someone asks about your sustainability policy upon check-in, it’s a pretty sure sign that they might be up to something that involves a star or five).  In my life now, things are a little different – I’m the mystery shopper and I go about it a different way.  Firstly, clients don’t know they are being mystery shopped – I’m smart about how I do it and I am adept at slipping into the role of their prospective client, seamlessly and effortlessly.

The trick is to keep it really low key – no notebooks, no asking about the sustainability policy, staying under the radar and keeping it real so that, even if they know you MIGHT be mystery shopping them, they aren’t sure if you are or which enquiry you are (and I usually don’t tell them until afterwards, if at all).  See, I’m not mystery shopping them to check that they offered me a basket (pointless thing to score us on to be honest, Claire’s Accessories), I’m checking how they speak and what they say – usually finding the pitfalls where they sound like everybody else and addressing this in my writing for them.

Is mystery shopping dead?  Well, in retail I think it’s pretty pointless – any remotely savvy shop assistant can beat the system.  But for me, mystery shopping is how I uncover your pitch.  In my work I get to know my clients intimately – we talk at length, they fill out questionnaires and they share their deepest fears and greatest dreams over coffee with me.  But what I don’t see is how they speak to their audience.  So in order to experience it authentically I have to step into that role.  Sure, I can look at their social media but who does the brand become when they are one on one with their prospect?  That’s what I’m after.  The only way to find out is to reposition myself – changing from their copywriter to their customer.  I always uncover something.

A good copywriter knows their client from all angles – I know how they speak in public and who they are in private, I see the way that they sell and the way that they speak – all of this is essential for their story.  This involves a lot of stalking on my part but it’s worth it to build that holistic picture of what I’m working with.

The most fun bit?  Sometimes I mystery shop again, months after the job has completed, especially with my coaching clients – just to check in and see what has changed.  It’s always amazing to see the difference in their pitch and their position. Then I slip away again, heard but not seen – that is the life of a copywriter.

And I do love a bit of mystery….

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