The Haught guide to mystery shoppers

Many mystery shoppers wear hoods

Is mystery shopping a handy tool for monitoring and improving a company’s customer service or an insidious program aimed at scaring workers into decorous behaviour?

Have you ever been mystery shopped? That’s when someone interacts with you in your place of work either over the phone or in person, pretending to be a customer or potential client. They’re usually acting on behalf of your employer, in most cases through a specialist firm. They report back on things like your phone voice, whether you had Vegemite in the corners of your mouth, your odour and your overall manner.

What’s the point? Well, they’ll tell you it’s all about “optimising customer service cultures” or “developing enhanced customer journey solutions”. Now, there may well be great benefits to some cheeky self-espionage, but whenever I see euphemistic twaddle, I have to wonder what’s hiding behind it.   

In this case, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I wonder whether mystery shopping is really religion for workers. Without the promise of an afterlife.

It’s a lingering threat, an invisible, omnipresent guardian of propriety and corporate correctness. Like a god, we can’t be certain it’s there, but… but what if it is? What if the next person we speak with on the phone or in the shop is an institutionally legitimised imposter?

When I asked at the start of this article have you ever been mystery shopped, there was only one possible answer you could have given – “I don’t know”.

Maybe you have been. Maybe you haven’t, but will be tomorrow. Maybe you’ll never be, but how can you be sure? That’s the point.

As long as you live in a state of uncertainty, they’ve got you where they want you.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You used to be able read the column – Benign to Five – in those papers every Saturday. Now you can look old ones up online.

They’re in the Workplace section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times.  

Oh, but you can read my new column, Work Therapy, in the same places. (I play the role of an agony aunt and you can send me questions about work if you like.)  

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