Shop Report Ethics Re: Forgetfulness & Estimating Times

Hello,

I have a question regarding the ethics of job reports as it relates to forgetfulness and time estimates. Let me explain.

As a new mystery shopper, I've noticed that sometimes I have forgotten details (or more frequently am just not 100% sure - as in I seem to remember something as more likely than not, but can't confidently recall after a few hours after the shop) or have had to estimate timings when I had forgotten to press my stopwatch's stop button fast enough (for example, a server might have delivered a pasta dish to me and I was so caught up talking with her and then inspecting my dish that I forgot to push the stop button anywhere from 15 sec. to a minute or two later).

Out of complete honesty, I have noted these things in my shop reports. So, for example, I'll note that I thought something was the case, but wasn't 100% sure (because the details may have been fuzzy or the situation itself made it hard to fully view something/someone, etc.), or I'll write into the comments section that I had to estimate a timing, due to a distraction of sorts. I always write into my report these issues and I've never had a report rejected.

But that leads me to several questions/issues:

1.) Do editors and/or the clients accept that these things happen and are okay with occasional slip-ups (assuming they don't happen too frequently and/or don't occur too many times within the same report)?

2.) Is there some industry or company-specific margin of error that is just accepted and understood (for example, no one expects you to get the timing down to the exact second literally, so 5 seconds give or take should be fine)?

3.) Do editors ever "cheat" or doctor your reports to make them more acceptable with or without your knowledge? (I suppose this is more of a rhetorical or speculative question, unless anyone has personal experience/knowledge of things like this.)

In regards to 3.), I had an ethically blurry situation before where the editor mentioned that they would remove portions where I said I had to estimate timings and/or wasn't sure of details 100% in my memory. He/She said that it was so the client wouldn't think I was unsure of things. But, I remember thinking: "Wait, I WAS unsure! And that was my point of writing that in!." I didn't say that to the editor, but that was what I thought. I merely accepted his/her comments without replying back (but have been thinking about this recently, since it was not too long ago it took place).

Could he/she have been "cheating" a report? Or, is there some acceptable level of uncertainty that is allowed with some clients and/or companies that we shoppers may not be aware of and editors are allowed to accept and/or "edit/fix" reports with these uncertainties?

Thank you for your feedback and thoughts everyone!

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 02/02/2017 09:21PM by shoptastic.

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One place I shop, the corporate standard is you are to be greeted within 19 seconds.

In that case, it is imperative that I get the timing correct to the second, else the client will not know if the location is meeting/exceeding corporate standards.

Not to be harsh, but you sound like you need to work on this. Often we do not know what corporate standards are; we are not to guess at them. If your water glass is to be refilled (or at least offered a refill) before it becomes half empty, you MUST note that in your report.

Frankly, what I do -- even in fine dining -- is I have a tiny notebook I carry with me everywhere.

When I realize I have missed a marker, I get my little notebook out and write a note to myself: Note: on timing marker 6, she brought my refill 60 seconds BEFORE I hit the marker. (my actual note might be "drnk - 60 sec."
which would mean to me "subtract 60 seconds from the stated time). Then when I'm doing the report, I'm SURE to subtract 60 seconds.

Furthermore, immediately after the shop, I pull over -- like in the next available parking lot, somewhere out of sight of the location -- and make notes on my printed out survey form. Then, if I forget/can't recall something several hours later while filling in the report, I'll have hard copy notes to refresh my memory.

Frankly, I think you've been lucky so far.

And I think your willingness to ask questions is a good sign!

Best of luck.
This doesn't address all of the OP's questions, but one trick I've learned is to wait 10 seconds after the the thing I'm supposed to be timing starts to hit the timer. I count the ten seconds in my head. So for example, if I need to know exactly how much time passed from when I got my receipt to when I received my completed order, I take my receipt, note any parting remark from the cashier and look again at their nametag, then start counting in my head. When I get to 10 mississippi, I start my timer, usually after I've moved away from the counter, placed my cup on the table, and am getting ready to fold up my receipt and put it in my wallet. Then, when they call my number to tell me that it's ready, I walk over, note the things about the pick-up person I'm looking for, and when all of that is done, I'm almost at 10 mississippi again, so it's time to turn the timer off.

This works well for me, and I've found that 10 seconds is the sweet spot. It doesn't seem like a long time, but you can do quite a few things in 10 seconds, but it's not so long that it's hard for me to count in my head while doing other things or making other observations. Also, once you get the hang of it, starting your count in your head is all the reminder that I need to start or stop the timer.

Shopper in California's Bay Area
Please take my response as meant, constructive criticism. Stop taking assignments that you can not handle.

The editor was not cheating, the removed your comments that you were estimating the requirements. You should say APPROXIMATELY in your narratives and if there is a section for notes to the MSC explain your reason for estimating. Let them determine if you met the requirements.

The system weeds out the unethical shoppers.

My posts are solely based on my opinions and for my entertainment, contact a professional if you need real advice.

When you get in debt you become a slave. - Andrew Jackson
To answer point by point:

1. Yes. It has been my experience that missing something here and there isn't a big deal. Police detectives will tell you they get very suspicious of any witness who does not get a detail wrong. Yes we're supposed to be better than a witness to a crime, but it's still true. We miss things. You can't always get every single thing right and everyone knows it.

2. It depends but normally on timings close is good enough. Notice I said normally and not always. For instance, the old McDonald's shops and the current Five Guys shops are very "time sensitive" in that they want exact. If you're a second off because the timer changed between when they called your number and you looked down that's ok, but they are very interested in timing. The more casual places normally (again NORMALLY) are just interested in if they were under 10 minutes or whatever their standard is. They probably won't see a lot of difference between 8:28 and 8:34. Or whatever. They don't care for the most part.

3. I'm sure it happens. I doubt it happens as much as people think it does.

In your particular instance with #3 the editor was absolutely correct. If you are a company owner and you get a report that says "I think the meal was delivered in 7:45 seconds but I'm not sure because I forgot to stop my watch until a minute later but I think it was about a minute and the server was super nice but she didn't ask if I wanted dessert and I don't think she had on a name tag but I'm not positive" and then your server comes back and says "I absolutely asked if they wanted dessert" what are you going to think? That report just became completely useless. The details you're absolutely sure of can now be questioned because there were things that you weren't sure of.

For me, I always give the benefit of the doubt. Depending on how big it is I might add a note, I might not. If I'm checking into a 2.5* hotel and I can't remember if they used my name or not, meh, it's not a big deal they get credit. If I'm checking into a 5* hotel where it's a much bigger deal I might include a note to the editor that I don't believe they did but I wasn't absolutely sure, and let them decided if it should be changed.

There are reasons that a body stays in motion
At the moment only demons come to mind


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/02/2017 11:53PM by bgriffin.
Maybe you need to take a step back and focus on some reports that don't require timings? I don't do any shops that I know require hard timings. I haven't done a fine dining or hotel shop yet. I plan to master other types first.
I'm not going to address the ethics. Just remember when you shop, you are there to work. You have a job to do and when you signed your ICA it almost assuredly said something about honesty and accuracy.
Dining shops are sometimes the most difficult to remember you are there to do a job simply because dining out is a natural thing, and and you are hopefully about to enjoy a free meal. Many retail/wireless/car, etc it's not as hard because you know going in you don't have to make a purchase, or you are buying something you don't care about anyway.
If you can legally, use a voice recorder app on timing shops and every time a timing event happens make a comment. (Some will be obvious, like when a waitress brings you a hot plate of food as they will almost always comment). I use a voice recorder almost every shop I do.
But I agree with the other posters who say for now maybe you should take a step back, or at least be able to enter your results right away.
Voice record on your phone. Listen to details while writing the report. The recording also counts down the minutes and seconds so you only need to know the time you began recording.

sestrahelena
I don't do restaurant and/or hotel shops for this very reason-getting the timings right.

Something that another poster mentioned on a different thread (can't remember who or I would give them a hat tip) was that they keep their camera in a pocket and take a picture to mark the timings. The pictures are time-stamped. I used this trick on a FF shop and it worked well. I had 3 timings and it was easy to tell when i joined the line, when I ordered, when I received the food. (I forgot to ask for a receipt, so I didn't get paid, but my timings were perfect! smiling smiley)
Cali girl wrote "but one trick I've learned is to wait 10 seconds after the the thing I'm supposed to be timing to hit the timer. I count the ten seconds in my head.This works well for me, and I've found that 10 seconds is the sweet spot. It doesn't seem like a long time, but you can do quite a few things in 10 seconds, but it's not so long that it's hard for me to count in my head while doing other things or making other observations. Also, once you get the hang of it, starting your count in your head is all the reminder that I need to start or stop the timer."
I think this ten second pause is an excellent technique and I will be using that in the future.
I also appreciate the recording and picture taking advice.
By waiting Ten seconds before you touch your phone or do whatever to mark the time, it helps to appear natureal , in this way you do not raise suspicion. I'm pretty sure the cashier marked me once as a shopper once as I hit my timer button on my phone as she said hi and welcomed me, I noted that she looked at my phone and service was excellent from that point on. I too struggle with the timing and I do text myself or email myself as well but wait until the interaction is over.
I am pretty good at timing now but in the beginning it was a struggle. I used a voice recorder AND timed it in the usual way with my app on my phone. Then if I forgot or messed up somehow I had the voice recording to fall back on, but I still got practice doing it the way it should be done. Now I don't worry about it, I do it almost automatically. I recommend the "Shop it" app, it makes timing very easy as all you have to do is touch your screen and it marks the time, and it looks like you are texting.
IF you live in a state or municipality that recordings are illegal unless both parties agree to them. you can use the Shop-It App, available in the app store for android or apple for free. it looks like a text message, you type in what you want and hit enter, if you're just marking time you touch the screen and it marks the time. I usually start it in the car, hit the screen to mark time when I enter a store, and hit it again when someone greets me. Folks assume you're texting, it looks like text messages, all of the messages you type are time stamped also. You can describe things, people, take all kinds of notes and unless they are reading over your shoulder, they think you're just texting.

I should also tell you that it can voice record and take pictures in app, but there are better apps for recording and your phone's camera works much better without the app. lol My worst complaint with Shop-It is that you can't go back and edit what you have already entered. you just have to make additional notes to correct your mistakes.

There are other mystery shopping apps available also, most are free. But this is the one that works best for me. I've tried a bunch of them, some just don't work at all, or are far too complicated to be practical.
There is a shop I have done that serves pasta, the guidelines state that time is imperative because the restaurant gets bonuses and reviews based on that timing. When I started doing more detailed shops and would be with someone who's imput is going to be required in my report, I would ask them to be attentive to the servers and the timing. In fact there is a shop I have done that requires a guest to come along and confirm, names, descriptions, etc.

Most of the shops I conduct require recording the times. As a new shopper, you may want to practice at home. Timing, and recalling details can be challenging at first, but you will develop a system. This site is very informative and there are man shoppers willing to help, just ask! Happy Shopping!

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/05/2017 04:08AM by dmp777.
I know for a fact editors change reports. Otherwise they wouldnt have a job. Also they dont just edit grammar. Im not for or against editors...so editor fan boi's can relax smiling smiley
As an editor, I would change grammar. Make reports read better. See what is omitted from the report and add it from the other parts. The reason to change content is if there was a contradiction. Otherwise who knows what happened? You just have to presume they are being honest and accurate.

As for your other questions, I feel the same way. I am often not sure. I forget, did not time, etc... I try to record my shops but going over them is time consuming especially when a shop hourly pay is already poor and sometimes the recording is too poor to get the right details. I usually make my best guess and lie but I avoid this at all costs. I seldom do it. I am just worried that weak answers wont be accepted, future shops refused and I wont be paid. And not being paid after spending money and hours into a shop is upsetting.
In my experience a lot of those times can't be "stopwatched" at least not covertly. If you have a digital watch with a seconds readout, that can help. If I'm afraid it would look too obvious on ones like the 19 second greeting time question, I mentally estimate and unless it's obviously over I would give the benefit of the doubt if it's a yes/no question (which it often is). That said if the report wants the time to the second, I will do my best to get a time to the nearest second without blowing my cover.
@DrSquash wrote:

In my experience a lot of those times can't be "stopwatched" at least not covertly. If you have a digital watch with a seconds readout, that can help. If I'm afraid it would look too obvious on ones like the 19 second greeting time question, I mentally estimate and unless it's obviously over I would give the benefit of the doubt if it's a yes/no question (which it often is). That said if the report wants the time to the second, I will do my best to get a time to the nearest second without blowing my cover.

I can still stopwatch everything, b/c at worst, I can stare down quickly at my wrist watch's running clock and memorize the time.

The employee, who might be in front of me may take a few minutes to leave, but as long as I look at my watch quickly and memorize the time he or she delivered my soda (or pasta, etc.), then I'm all set!

At worst, I might have to memorize two times (the start and stop) and then subtract the start time from the stop time to get the exact timing I need. I developed the idea of having a running stopwatch and to look down at it and memorize the time(s) when I had shops where it would seem hard to press buttons on my stopwatch out of view of the employee.

Also, my wrist stop watch makes a beep when I press the start and stop buttons! ...Possible dead giveaways!! grinning smiley
@shoptastic wrote:

Hello,

I have a question regarding the ethics of job reports as it relates to forgetfulness and time estimates. Let me explain.



1.) Do editors and/or the clients accept that these things happen and are okay with occasional slip-ups (assuming they don't happen too frequently and/or don't occur too many times within the same report)?
3.) Do editors ever "cheat" or doctor your reports to make them more acceptable with or without your knowledge? (I suppose this is more of a rhetorical or speculative question, unless anyone has personal experience/knowledge of things like this.)


I had an editor demand I rewrite the narrative stating she would be afraid to offend the client. The amended narrative the editor substituted was pure fiction that, If I had written it, could have been rejected by the client. and used as reason to terminate me for offering a false report.

The editor sent me her amended narrative so that I might use it as a guide for the next shop. .

2.) Is there some industry or company-specific margin of error that is just accepted and understood (for example, no one expects you to get the timing down to the exact second literally, so 5 seconds give or take should be fine)?

The Timing is done by clicking on my recorder IN THE CAR. It hears everything. I have a conversation with my guest Here comes the salad, the bowls are chilled, I can listen at home without writing a word of notes. If I do not have a guest I talk to the counter person or server or grunt and groan at the appropriate time mark.

I did amend my narratives and I am sure the editor amended those narratives when I wrote "I am not privy to the employees handbook and standard that are acceptable in performing but if (this, that and the other thing inserting the observations I made) are acceptable, the performance was OUTSTANDING.

The editor could not write that I was negativeas I marked the questions "excellent".

PS the location went out of business at the location I shopped while similar casual restaurants in the mall flourished The owner never had the opportunity to be aware of the issues and make adjustments. I could not write to the franchisee owner to tell them the MSC was altering my report because of confidentiality. The owner could not pay me to testify. I would have been called as a witness in a law suit, for a "free meal"?


I believe editors are fearful that the client would terminate the MSC's contract if I offered the truth, the client can not handle the truth, they think. I believe the owner of the business wants the truth. They suspect something is wrong, they want a shopper to report BOTH the negative and positive and NOT explain or make excuses like "the server was taking care o five tables at rush hour" and the server was overwhelmed.

Thank you for your feedback and thoughts everyone!

You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want ..Zig Zigler


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/09/2017 11:27PM by Piled Hip Deep.
"3.) Do editors ever "cheat" or doctor your reports to make them more acceptable with or without your knowledge? (I suppose this is more of a rhetorical or speculative question, unless anyone has personal experience/knowledge of things like this.) "

Abso-friggin-lutely! This has happened to me on several occasions, and I have not always been informed. I have had shops rejected for incomplete or inaccurate information, then had my narrative quoted back to me, with it being nowhere near what I wrote. I've had editors completely delete the "detailed account of your visit," leaving only four sentences addressing the no answers. I've been challenged regarding my timings, checked and reiterated them, and found that the report had been manipulated. I was even told that my report was changed because there was no way that my timing could be correct, even though it was. And, more than once, I was inadvertently copied on emails between editors and schedulers regarding this. So a definite yes on this one.

Always, always, always keep a copy of your narratives!
I'm not sure exactly why you care or think that can't make changes?

Once you turn a report in it is the MSCs, not yours. They can do what they want with it. They can change"she spit at me" to "she smiled and gave a friendly greeting" if they want. You are giving a report to your client, not their client. Once I hit submit I no longer care what the report says.

There are reasons that a body stays in motion
At the moment only demons come to mind
@redazure wrote:

As for your other questions, I feel the same way. I am often not sure. I forget, did not time, etc... I try to record my shops but going over them is time consuming especially when a shop hourly pay is already poor and sometimes the recording is too poor to get the right details. I usually make my best guess and lie but I avoid this at all costs. I seldom do it. I am just worried that weak answers wont be accepted, future shops refused and I wont be paid. And not being paid after spending money and hours into a shop is upsetting.
" I usually make my best guess and lie" is some of the worst "advice" that I have read in this forum. Talk about ethics. If you think listening to your recording is time consuming or the shop pay is poor, don't take the shop. It really baffles the mind that people complain about low-paying shops while as ICs, we have free will over which shops we accept and which shops we turn down.
I care when it comes back to me that I did not perform or report the shop as requested. And when my report is changed only to be more favorable, while my standing with the MSC is adversely affected because "the editor made a change." And when a shop is denied because my required information was edited out. And when, on occasion, I am directed to change my report to reflect different (incorrect) information. Other than that, if I'm getting paid and it doesn't bite me later, I'm good. Edits that don't affect my rating/standing, my ethics, or my pay don't bother me. Legitimate edits are certainly understandable. (What? Who? Me?)
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