What Kind of Reputation Does Sentry Have

Just had a very disappointing experience with this company on my first shop for them.

It was a restaurant shop. The report was eight pages, and required 100-200 specific observations. It took me between three and four hours to complete, as I was extremely meticulous on every point. I'm skeptical it's humanly possible to have remembered more than I did (given that one is not videotaping the meal, and the company even specifies you are not to take notes during the meal).

But I was also totally honest on it. There were times I wrote "probably" this or "approximately" that, because it would simply be false to pretend to know 100-200 details with 100% certainty.

So they rejected the report, on the grounds that my wording in places indicated uncertainty.

I'm curious if that means I'm just not up on how the game is played, and shoppers know they are supposed to pretend to remember everything perfectly and the companies go along with it in wink, wink fashion, or is Sentry an out-and-out scam that creates impossible requirements so they can get the reports for free for their clients and not have to pay for them.

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I have never had an issue with Sentry or their requirements. Their guidelines and expectations are in line with most other MSC. The shopper knows what is required when they agree to take on the job. To answer your question, Sentry is not an out and out scam and the shopper is not supposed to pretend to remember. The shopper is supposed to remember. A lot of shoppers text notes to themselves discretely during the shop.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/17/2017 07:15PM by gigishopper.
@CRG wrote:

I'm curious if that means I'm just not up on how the game is played, and shoppers know they are supposed to pretend to remember everything perfectly and the companies go along with it in wink, wink fashion, or is Sentry an out-and-out scam that creates impossible requirements so they can get the reports for free for their clients and not have to pay for them.

I think you are not up on how MSing works. Take better notes and be sure of the information you provide. Read gigishopper's post. She is right If you are guessing an associate's age or height, saying "approximately" is appropriate. If you are guessing a time or a definite observation, saying "probably" or "approximately" is not acceptable.

I do not work for Sentry Marketing, and I never have worked for them. I am familiar with Dave Agius, Sentry's owner, from participation on this forum. Sentry is definitely not a scam, and, as gigi correctly posted, their guidelines and expectations are in line with most other MSCs. Sentry's writing requirements might be greater than some other companies. You did not say how long you have been mystery shopping. Perhaps you should start with a company that demands less writing ability. Market Force is a good starter company. Their reports are short and easy with almost no narrative.
@CRG wrote:

I'm curious if that means I'm just not up on how the game is played, and shoppers know they are supposed to pretend to remember everything perfectly...

Shopping is not a game. It is a profession. And while sometimes everyone forget some observation, forgetting any aspect of the shop guidelines is just sloppy.

Sentry is an excellent MSC. I only wish they paid more and had more shops near me.
Thank you for the feedback.

I don't think it's a matter of "writing ability."

If there is a list of, say, 150 details from one meal that one is supposed to report on, then it simply isn't possible to get 150 out of 150 correct. By reading the list multiple times in advance, being extremely attentive throughout the meal, writing it all down immediately afterward while it was freshest in my memory, and asking my companion for anything he might remember to help me with any gaps, I was certain or nearly certain of about 100 of the details, and could say with reasonable probability on about 47-48 others, and had lesser recall of about 2-3.

Frankly I think that's extraordinarily good. Eyewitness testimony is very, very unreliable, certainly more so than most people realize. Knowing that going in, I was very diligent about this, because I know how much harder it is to remember details than it seems.

If I made a "mistake" it was in being honest about my degree of confidence. I only stated things in an unqualified way when I was sure. If I was only 90% sure of this or that, I said "probably." That's what they objected to.

Another, savvier, shopper might well have known to just state all 150 as if they were certain of them. That's what I mean when I say maybe that's how the game is played.

But if you say that as professional mystery shoppers you have 100% confident recall of 100% of 150 details in a meal, so be it. I don't believe you, but I doubt anything either of us says on that point is going to convince the other, so there's no point in getting into a conflict about it.

I've honestly stated my experience with this company, so that people researching whether to work for them will have that information, along with all the other positive and negative experiences they will find that other people have posted about. Then they can come to their own conclusion, as I've come to mine.
When you say 150 details just what do they all encompass? I can't even imagine that many unique things about most mystery shops. Are you referring to details such as each part of a server's description as an individual item?

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
CRG, if you haven't used the Search function of the forum, try it. Be sure to select all dates. There has been substantial discussion regarding this MSC for your review. There has also been substantial discussion regarding the amount of detail and narrative they require.

If you are so inclined, you may find it helpful to use a digital voice recorder, or the recording feature on your cell phone. Playback can help with observations and timings on shops. Just check shop guidelines to make sure it is not prohibited.
Yes Lisa. For example, just on the server's initial visit to the table, they want to know if the visit occurred within two minutes of being seated, if the server's greeting was friendly, if the server asked if this was our first time dining there, if the server explained x, y, and z, if the server offered a wine menu, if the server suggested specific drinks and if so which ones, if the server filled the water, if the server held a napkin a certain way when filling the water to serve as a splash guard, and so on. And of course the server's name, what they looked like, approximate age, etc.

That's something like a dozen for just that one aspect of the meal. So you can see how it can get into the hundreds.

Because I was so diligent about studying it all in advance, I caught most of those details with high confidence, but for some I--in being honest--had to say, "I believe he did such-and-such" or "It was definitely less than three minutes and probably less than two" or "He filled the water glasses in the manner described, and it was probably on that initial visit but there's a small chance he did it on his second visit to the table a minute or so later," and so on. In retrospect I suppose I could have not been so meticulous about conveying my degree of confidence and just said flat out "He did this, this, and this, and said this, this, and this." I mean, maybe that's the custom with mystery shoppers and mystery shopping companies. You don't ever acknowledge uncertainty.

But I was wary of doing that, especially when it comes to negative things. If I'm 95% sure that the server didn't mention that they have a loyalty club, say, and I simply write that he failed to mention it, then there's a 5% chance I just made a false accusation against this gentleman. So I'd rather give some sense of the degree of probability of my observations, since, again, I contend that no human being is going to be 100% certain of 150 out of 150.

That's the only objection the company had to my report, that I expressed some entries as probabilities rather than certainties. Thus I'm undeserving of the pay and undeserving of reimbursement for the three figures I shelled out in expenses.
Thank you Mert. I tried to do what I could surreptitiously like that, but of course I had to be careful about having the shop notes in front of me, speaking into a phone or recording device, writing things down during the meal, etc. I did what I could that wouldn't risk revealing I was a mystery shopper, and it helped me in getting as much as I got, but I'm afraid to be a hundred percent certain of every single required detail would take a video recording of the whole experience, or probably multiple recordings from different angles.
For starters, you should ALWAYS know what timings are required for any mystery shop. That's the number 1 priority. Most of the other things are items which most people would normally remember. Many of the things you mentioned I personally would remember even if I wasn't mystery shopping. Not filling water glasses on the first table visit would be odd, that would stand out in my brain. Descriptions are also something that would just be in my brain and I wouldn't have to remember. The same with a loyalty club. Those would all be things that I would remember if I were on a shop or not.

It all started at the border. And that's still where it is today. Someone killed Ramon Casiano. And the killer got away.
Bartender: Female, 30-35 yrs old, 5'6"-5'8", average build, name tag, no glasses, wavy blond hair worn below the shoulders, black pants, white shirt, black vest, name tag. That is a description containing eight items of a bartender who served me approximately two years ago. Sorry, I cannot remember her name or specific quotes. However, I do recall she greeted me and put a napkin in front of me. She then asked for my drink order and if I needed a menu. To be perfectly honest, this bartender has waited on me twice. Once in August 2014 and again in August 2015.

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
"Bartender: Female, 30-35 yrs old, 5'6"-5'8", average build, name tag, no glasses, wavy blond hair worn below the shoulders, black pants, white shirt, black vest, name tag. That is a description containing eight items of a bartender who served me approximately two years ago. Sorry, I cannot remember her name or specific quotes. However, I do recall she greeted me and put a napkin in front of me. She then asked for my drink order and if I needed a menu. To be perfectly honest, this bartender has waited on me twice. Once in August 2014 and again in August 2015."

You might be surprised how much of that is inaccurate. Studies of memory consistently show that people grossly overrate the accuracy of their memories, even very important memories, let alone random observations like that. People swear up and down that so-and-so was wearing this, and said that, and then you look at the secret tape that was made of the experiment and it turns out they're wrong on a significant number of these "facts."

Thus a certain amount of humility is called for. I might have similarly vivid memories of some experience like that, but knowing what I know about memory, I would probably acknowledge more uncertainty on one or more of those points if I were recounting what I remembered to someone.

It may be that mystery shopping requires not only an exceptional memory and attention to detail and such, but a lack of such humility.

Obviously I don't mean that accuracy requires saying "I don't know" to every question. That kind of report would be of zero value to a client. But if I can tell a restaurant owner that because I was listening closely for it (along with 100-200 other things), I'm confident enough to say there is a 95% chance Carlos at no point mentioned a loyalty club, that is not of zero value.
Actually, I am certain each of those observations was correct. Those are basic observations which should be second nature to all of us after we have been mystery shopping for a while. It stands out because she was excellent at her job making for a pleasant experience. Even if one item is incorrect now, it has been almost two years and I don't have to be able to pick the woman out of a line up.

Really the point is you need to have a system in place. Counting a description of one employee as eight to ten separate observations is making it harder than it needs to be. If you are interested in learning how others manage to accurately record details of a shop, there is plenty of advice to be had.

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/18/2017 12:52AM by LisaSTL.
Ummm, the problem with this, is that you are dealing with a group of professional mystery shoppers who obviously do this for a living.
Probably true. A conviction of certainty, however delusional, does seem to be an advantage, and perhaps a requirement, for mystery shopping.
The comments in this thread have largely been intended constructively, even those I find unpersuasive. I do acknowledge and appreciate that.
Is there a full moon?

Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it really annoys the pig.
Certainly seems like it.

It all started at the border. And that's still where it is today. Someone killed Ramon Casiano. And the killer got away.
CRG,
If you are relatively new to MS (50 shops or fewer) and have not done many dining shops before, you may want to hone your skills on dining shops from other sources.

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
@CRG, I would just write it without the "probably" in the future. If you wrote that an interaction was at 8:51 and the videotape shows it at 8:53, doubtful that's going to raise a red flag. As for Sentry, I think they've gotten better in the last year or so. Before that, Dave had some problems with what I'd call defensiveness. The pay is better elsewhere, but it's not as bad as, say, Intellishop. For that many observations, you might as well do a high end dining shop for Coyle. Which is better? A dinner shop whose report takes 4 hrs to finish and pays you $50 or 4 postal shops that take 10 mins each and pay the same?

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” — Clarence Thomas
@iShop123 wrote:

@CRG, I would just write it without the "probably" in the future. If you wrote that an interaction was at 8:51 and the videotape shows it at 8:53, doubtful that's going to raise a red flag. As for Sentry, I think they've gotten better in the last year or so. Before that, Dave had some problems with what I'd call defensiveness. The pay is better elsewhere, but it's not as bad as, say, Intellishop. For that many observations, you might as well do a high end dining shop for Coyle. Which is better? A dinner shop whose report takes 4 hrs to finish and pays you $50 or 4 postal shops that take 10 mins each and pay the same?
I'll take the PO any day!
CRJ if it is legal in your state, buy a digital voice recorder, and record the shop. That will solve 99% of your problems. In spite of what you are being told, some shops are virtually impossible to recall all of the required data. I record all my shops, it is a lifesaver.
Or take 4 parking shops at $20- $25 each, use the time parked to do 4 bank shops, a stop at a Starbucks or McD's to input reports, and to cover the parking near a really good restaurant where you pay for your meal and have no dining report to submit. Parking surveys take 12-15 minutes tops and can be done along the way. Bank shops pay $12 - $200, with $12 to $25 ones thick on the ground within walking distance of most center city parking garages. A nice day's work, with cash to spare.

The graduate course includes meeting another shopper at that nice meal and writing off part of it as a business expense because you, of course, talked about how to get more shops.

This is NOT a game; but it can be fun!

Based in MD, near DC
Shopping from the Carolinas to New York
Have video cam; will travel

Poor customer service? Don't get mad; get video.
@CRG, let me offer some perspective...

Most of us drive to our assignments. In order to do that, there are way more than 150 items you are required to know for that to happen. You study those items, memorize them, repeat them ad nauseam, and after a while it becomes second nature and does not seem like a chore. I can say with 100% confidence that I yielded to all pedestrians on the way home from my last assignment.

The good thing about mystery shopping is that most employees get 80-90%of the things they are supposed to do right, so you are only really responsible to remember with exacting detail possibly 15-30 items out of 150 items they might be required to do. In the course of a 2-hour dinner, that might be an average of 1 item every four minutes.

I learn the required standards for each assignment so that outside of timings, I only need to notate the items that are scored negative. If it's not in my notes, then I know with certainty the standard was met. If it was not met, I will have exacting details and feel 100% secure in reporting that it did not happen.

Is this easy?...no way. It took me years to become good at it. I have recorded my interactions in the past when allowed by law and found that my note taking was 100% accurate when compared to the recording, so I feel confident relying on my notes alone these days.

If dining assignments seem like too much to remember, start with lighter assignments and work your way up. My first assignment was a retail inquiry with probably 25 questions and I was terrified, and struggled to remember everything. Now I don't bat an eye at 1,500 questions on a hotel report.
CRG,

Let me start by saying, when I did one particular fast food mystery shop my first time (an easy shop), I almost stopped doing this, thinking there are just too many things to remember. The second time I did that same shop, it was much easier. I got to the point, I could do them in my sleep, so to speak. The repetitive nature of some similar shops really helps.

I did many sit down dining shops where there were at least 8-15 timings that had to be tracked, as well as MANY other observations, like you mention. I would take a cheat sheet with me, a small piece of paper noting each timing and have a separate timing device going as soon as I entered the restaurant. I use an old cell phone, using the stop watch feature, where you could hit a button ( I could do it by feel) to record a time. I would then mark my timings, as well as take other notes, when I could do so discreetly or when I went to the rest room. If I would have started out with a shop like this, I would have given up.

My point is, at first it seems like there is a LOT to remember and it seems impossible. As time goes on, you get better and better and come up with ways to remember or notate things. Don't give up just yet, but don't start out with a heavily detailed shop, like a sit down dining shop. I think if you try a shop like this, again, down the line, you will be surprised how much easier it is and how much you remember.
My very first shop ever was a BWW. I didnt almost quit but I was super worried about how hard it wpuld be to make money doing this because that shop was just so difficult. I laugh at that now.

It all started at the border. And that's still where it is today. Someone killed Ramon Casiano. And the killer got away.
Yeah, those BWWs are killer! smiling smiley

Among my first shops was a Harley Davidson dealership. Those shops used to be a dime a dozen. I am not a biker, know absolutely nothing about them. I had to go to the parts department and ask about a specific replacement part. I had no clue what the part did or where it went. It didn't matter, as it wasn't required. I was comfortable enough, even as a newbie shopper, to accept and complete the assignment.

However, a reimbursement only shop (even if there is a nominal fee) is a different matter. Shoppers risk losing money. I worked my way up, so to speak, before taking my first fine dining assignment. You need to be comfortable and confident that you can get the job done.
I don't even know if it was fine dining. It's Sentry, and I know they have some sit-down barbecue restaurants in my area and some burger restaurants that pay a pretty low fee that includes the reimbursement (that I won't do so I don't know how much detail is required).

Edited to add that if they have a wine menu they might be a tad more upscale but still not necessarily fine dining. And I thought the report for the place that sells kitchen and bath things asked for a lot of detail for the amount paid.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/18/2017 06:52PM by JASFLALMT.
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