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Get paid to shop.

Secret shoppers enjoy freebies and impact customer service

For the past nine years, Kirkland Johnson has spent life like most African American consumers. He has eaten at fast-food restaurants like Chick-fil-A, Burger King, and McDonald's, and dined at the Olive Garden. He has shopped at Best Buy for computer software or microwave ovens, and lodged at inns like Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts. And, like many consumers, he has studiously observed the type of customer service he received, analyzed the type of product he purchased, and scrutinized the cleanliness of his surroundings.

But unlike the majority of consumers, Johnson gets paid for doing all of these things. In addition, all of the services and products he receives are free. Why? Johnson is a part-time professional mystery shopper. He is hired by corporations or mystery-shopper companies to go into businesses as a customer to make purchases. As part of his job, he fills out evaluation forms recounting the type of service he received. In return, he gets paid more than $10,000 per year in cash and services.

How many times have you gone to the management of an establishment to voice your concerns about customer service and wondered if you were really heard? The truth of the matter is business owners really want to hear from you. Your voice counts regarding extraordinary customer service, superior product quality, and the exceptional cleanliness of an establishment. You can be heard and get paid for helping to ensure that future customers get great service when they patronize companies.

"I became a mystery shopper because my clients wanted to know how their businesses were run when they were not there," says Johnson, a full-time restaurant consultant who works as a liaison between franchise and corporate restaurants. "How many times have you gotten dissatisfactory service and felt that no one cares? I'm delighted to be a part of companies that take customer service as seriously as I do. I absolutely love it. It's easy money. I get all sorts of free stuff, and there is the element of being a private eye."

Employees do not know who mystery shoppers are. They blend in with the regular customers. Mystery shopping jobs can be in department stores, fastfood restaurants, the post office, hair salons, doctor's offices, movie theaters, gas stations, grocery stores, and car dealerships, to name a few places.

"Any business that deals with customers has a need for mystery shoppers," says Cathy Stucker, author of The Mystery Shopper's Manual ($19.95, plus $5 shipping, available online at Idea Lady.com, from Special Interests Publishing at 888-265-5888, or from Amazon.com). "There is a special need for African American mystery shoppers at banks and apartments because of fair housing and fair lending compliance. The organizations themselves or the government may hire the mystery shoppers in these areas." Although the exact number of African American mystery shoppers is unknown, Green and Associates, a mystery shopper firm, has a database of 100,000 mystery shoppers and fewer than 5% are African American.

The pay that mystery shoppers receive depends upon the assignment and can equate to $20 to $50 or more per hour. Because of the flexibility of this job, just about anyone can do it--male, female, retired, employed, self-employed, semiemployed, at-home mom, full-time or part-time, but it is recommended that you have a computer with Internet access and good writing skills. "It is a lot of fun. But you have a professional obligation. Do your report completely, accurately, and on time," says Stucker, who has been a mystery shopper for more than five years and hosts seminars in the Houston area.

To become a mystery shopper, contact a mystery shoppers company. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association lists more than 50 companies on its Website (www.mysteryshop.org), such as the U.S. Postal Service, Kmart, Office Depot, and Hilton Hotels, that employ mystery shoppers. "Mystery shopping is an unbiased evaluation that improves customer service and helps employees to perform at their peak," says Mike Green, president of Green and Associates, a mystery shopping company in College Station, Texas, that has clients in 40 states. "It should be a necessity. You can't be successful in your business without good customer service, and if there isn't a program in place, employees usually don't perform well."

To find out more about becoming a professional mystery shopper, sign on to Stucker's Website at www.idealady .com. To order her new booklet, Get Paid to Shop and Eat!, send $5 to The Idea Lady, P.O. Box 2125, Dept. S501, Stafford, TX 77497-2125.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:secret shoppers
Author:Royal, Leslie E.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Words:761
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