Answering yes/no questions and noting arrival and departure times on RBG secret shopping reports are the easy sections to complete. When it comes to narratives, however, shoppers are often challenged to properly describe employees, their behavior and attitudes, and store conditions, without being offensive.

Secret shopping report guidelines normally stress the importance of being honest and descriptive. The challenge for shoppers is to adhere to those directives without using language that is unpleasant or blatantly judgmental. A good rule of thumb is to remember secret shopping reports are business communications, not personal interactions with close friends in which you can use slang and off-putting language without fear of offending sensibilities.

Human Descriptions

Picture yourself as a store clerk or food server and imagine how a shopper would describe you. Unless you’re among the elite and tiny part of the population once referred to as “the beautiful people”, the description could be hurtful and insensitive.

There are many words available that paint a picture of someone without being mean – and observations that can be omitted. And keep in mind this is a description used to identify who served you, not a narrative for a police sketch.

Wrong: The cashier was short and fat, anywhere from 16 to 20. All the makeup made it hard to tell her age. Her hair was a mess of blue, green and pink colors all mixed together. She had a huge ugly tattoo on her right upper arm that looked like a dragon or monster. Her ear gauges made her earlobes droop. Her teeth could have used some whitening because they looked yellow, like she was a heavy cigarette smoker.

Right: The cashier was between 5’2″ and 5’4″ tall, in her teens or early 20s. She had multi-colored hair and a tattoo on her upper right arm. She wore ear gauges.

Simple and concise, with enough information to distinguish her from other staff members. Avoid subjective words like fat, husky, chubby, skinny, emaciated, pretty, ugly, cute, handsome, pimples, acne, greasy, oily, and scaly. Also, the majority of clients don’t want race or ethnicity included in employee descriptions, so avoid words like Asian, Hispanic, African American, Caucasian, etc.

Site Observations

Noting site conditions is important to clients; they need to know their standards of cleanliness are being met. While it’s important to note any problems you encounter, including graphic details is not encouraged, as they are edited out before the report is submitted to the client for review.

Wrong: The bathroom was disgusting. One toilet had feces on the seat and I counted 23 pubic hairs on the lid of another commode. There was a puddle of urine in one stall and a strong odor of urine in the entire restroom. Someone had left a full baby diaper on the changing station.

Right: The bathroom needed cleaning. The toilet bowls were dirty, there was a puddle of liquid on the floor, the changing station needed attention, and the room had a foul odor.

Wrong: When I walked through the store, I could tell no one had cleaned it in a long time. The housewares aisle had about 20 blank price tags on the floor, and in the toy department, in front of the display of kids’ games like checkers and Yahtzee, I counted four pieces of what looked like notebook paper. The fitting room had a pair of men’s casual jeans on the floor and five blouses someone had tried on and left behind.

Right: There was paper debris on the floor of several aisles in the store. The fitting room had several items of clothing in it.

Wrong: On the right side of the sidewalk, there were 14 cigarette butts even though there was an ashtray outside. In the parking lot, I saw a McDonald’s drink cup, a Snickers wrapper, and an empty motor oil can.

Right: There were many cigarette butts near the sidewalk and several pieces of trash and debris in the parking lot.

Behavioral Comments

The attitudes and dispositions of the employees you encounter are key parts of your shopping experience. Clients know their customers typically base their satisfaction levels on how they are treated, so it’s important to accurately portray your experience in an unbiased manner.

Wrong: Susie was obviously having a bad day. She had a hang-dog expression on her face and she was sashaying around the place like she owned it. When she approached our table, I immediately didn’t like her. Susie acted like she was doing me a favor by taking my order and didn’t even ask if I wanted ketchup for my fries (I didn’t see any ketchup on the table) or maybe a salad.

Right: Susie did not smile or have a friendly demeanor. She did not make me feel welcome. When I ordered fries, she didn’t offer condiments or ask if wanted anything else.

Wrong: Bob was not very bright. When I asked which aisle had claw hammers, he started wandering from aisle to aisle, looking at the overhead signs like he’d never been there before. I could have done that myself. Everyone at this store seemed stupid every time I asked a question.

Right: Bob seemed unfamiliar with the store layout. When I asked for the location of hammers, he hesitated as he tried to find the right aisle. I noticed some other employees who seemed to be having difficultfi4es helping customers find things.

General Remarks

A handful of RBG clients require that race and ethnicity be included in employee descriptions to make identification easier. One of the most common mistakes on these reports is the hair color of African Americans, which most shoppers claim is black. In reality, most African Americans have naturally brown hair. Natural black hair is more prevalent in Asian and East Indian races. Another item of note on this topic is clothing descriptions. If associates are required to wear uniforms, it’s important to include in your secret shopping report if he uniform met the standards described in the report. However, if employees wear street clothes, describing shirts, blouses, slacks, etc. is often pointless as most people wear different clothes every day, so those types of details are irrelevant. It’s best to concentrate on physical details, which usually remain fairly constant.

Learning how to describe people and scenarios concisely and without offensive words will not only make your secret shopping reports better, it will help you express yourself in other situations that demand finesse. It never hurts to come off as articulate and poised in both social and business circumstances.

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