Interpreting shopper report instructions can be tricky, especially when it comes to narratives. When the directions state, “Describe in detail your shopping experience,” that leaves the word “detail” up to interpretation.

Many shoppers fall into one of two categories when writing narratives: Too little detail or too much detail. The former write statements such as, “Service was great. Food was good.” Since no details whatsoever are provided, that’s not a narrative that can be passed off to the client.

The latter group’s statements are similar to: “When I entered the restaurant, there were 12 patrons sitting at the bar, 8 men and 4 women. Some were drinking beer, some had wine, a few had mixed drinks I couldn’t identify, and others were consuming soft drinks.” Whoa! That’s 39 words and there wasn’t one question in the report asking how many people were at the bar, their genders, or what anyone was drinking. That’s way too much detail and we have to edit it all out for the sake of clarity and precision for the client.

To write a good narrative, refer back to the questions in that section and use them as a guideline. Commenting on them in chronological order ensures you won’t miss any points.

Here are some pointers that will keep your narratives informative and helpful to the client.

Be Objective

There are plenty of outlets in life where you can express your opinions: family reunions, social media, your neighborhood coffee house, etc.. Unfortunately, mystery shopping reports are not among the list. You may be a renowned interior decorator but suggestions on how a place could improve their ambience with new décor are not exactly what our clients are paying us to provide. Same goes for food and drinks. You may be asked to comment on taste and presentation but recommending changes in recipes is not exactly what we are looking for. Again, simply commenting as asked is the preferred approach.

Remain Focused

While your Aunt Lois might want to hear the details of your shopping trip, your mystery shopping report is not the best venue for the details. These are professional reports that clients rely on to evaluate products and services to improve their businesses. With that in mind, don’t include lengthy comments such as, “The exterior of the building was clean and nicely landscaped. They had a lot of those cute little pink flowers like my neighbor grows that I’ve never had any luck with. I’m going to plant some again this spring because if they grow here, I should be able to grow them because I don’t live very far away…” The comments about the exterior should have ended after the first sentence.

Another common mistake is simply not following directions. For instance, if a report asks you to comment in a text box only if answer to a question is No (or Yes), don’t comment if that was not the case. Afterall, we don’t want you to waste your time or energy writing this out.

(More: Explaining Your No Answers )

Stay Positive

Many mystery shopping reports have directives that read something like, “Comment in detail on any “No” responses that you had. You may also comment on positive interactions.” Avoid writing comments such as, “I had no “No” answers” or “Nothing was negative about my visit.” Those points are obvious in your Y/N answers. Many shoppers ignore the suggestion and provide positive comments instead; please don’t.

Avoid Repetition

Many reports start off by asking for the name and/or physical description of the person you interacted with. When you write your narrative, please don’t repeat that information with statements like, “The associate’s name was Anna. She was 5’2″ tall with short blonde hair and wore glasses.” The same rule applies for information in text boxes: It should not be restated in the narrative. For instance, if you wrote jalapeno poppers in the text box asking what appetizer you ordered, don’t write in your narrative, “I ordered jalapeno poppers as an appetizer.” As we appreciate your attention to writing a complete thought, it is our main focus to provide precise and useful reports to our clients.

Details are crucial in writing most mystery shopping reports. Please use good judgment in deciding the amount of detail provided.

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