In pursuit of poor service

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 12:00am

Take a peek over the top of your newspaper.

Do you know who that person is? Look over there by the window on your right, do you know who that is? Chances are they are not who they seem.

Head down to your local supermarket and wander around near the fresh veggies, ducking quickly behind a courgette every time someone walks by.

Go to the pharmacy and lurk suspiciously behind the foot-care section pretending to peruse their impressive display of nail-clippers.

Are those real shoppers around you or are they just playing out a pathetic charade designed to lure unsuspecting shop assistants into their web of deceit? In fact, are they now staring at you while a member of staff calls for security? Sound Machiavellian? Well, the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA) is employing these clever but immoral methods with their Mystery Shopper Programme.

The mystery shoppers wander Hong Kong's highways and byways pretending to shop.

They wander miles of aisles in their relentless pursuit of the purveyors of poor service.

They check on store housekeeping, availability of products, and prices.

They check to see if that spotty deli-assistant who has just picked his nose is going to wash his hands before he picks up those . . . YEEEUUUGGGGHH.

We called up the HKRMA to find out what you need to become a mystery shopper.

An old Mac and dark sunglasses perhaps? Do shoppers have to supply their own trolleys or do they come as part of the job? Asked Lai See: 'How old are they?' 'I don't know, I've never met them,' was the reply.

Wow, they are mysterious.

Mystery shoppers also assess attributes and stuff such as staff greetings to customers, attitude, product knowledge and till service.

This sounded boring, so Lai See asked if he could be a mystery shoplifter and assess staff's alertness, fleet-footedness and Rugby tackling skills.

'Are you sure you have the right number?' But the idea is worth developing. Hong Kong is a service economy, and what we need is more mystery people mysteriously testing SAR services and the like.

So Lai See, in his infinite wisdom, compiled a short list of the mystery pundits he'd like to see on Hong Kong's mean-streets.

The Mystery Mini-Bus Passenger: To assess the driver's ability to understand simple instructions such as; 'Slow down for God's sake, you're going to kill us all.' Lane-changing ability, such as how many in the quickest possible time.

Horn use and its effectiveness in making the mini-bus go faster when it's painfully obvious nobody is going anywhere.

Bucket facilities, especially for that rough journey from Wan Chai to Stanley after a heavy meal and a night on the sauce.

The Mystery Bank Customer: Time lapse indicators. Those small signs telling customers how long it will be before they reach the counter. Duh. The same time from the same point any day of the week at any branch? I don't think so.

To assess counter-staff's ability to subdue an irate customer after they have stood for half-a-bloody-hour at the five-minutes-to-go sign.

Also, the ability of staff to prevent the aforementioned punter from wrenching the pole off its stand and battering a smiling customer-service representative with it.


Let's move on Mystery Maid: To assess an employer's ability to understand the difference between 'yes' and 'no'.

Mystery GI: If GIs miss the boat, is it true they're handed over to those nice PLA chaps who serve them tea and biscuits, try on their baseball cap and show them piccies of their relatives in Delaware, before waving them off at the airport? We need to know.

Mystery Patient: Volunteers for the position are warned they may wake up to find the wrong leg missing.

Mystery Patients will also be required to sit in their flats for long periods while they wait for the ambulance to arrive.

Patients will award points to surgeons who are able to answer their mobile phones within three rings. Points will be deducted if the transaction is not completed after the first call.

Applicants wishing to be Mystery Patients will be required to remove all their clothes during the selection process for no particular reason.