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Taking the Mystery out of Mystery Shopping

Get a Consumer's-Eye View of Your Bank or Credit Union

Imagine being able to view your financial institution through the objective eyes of your accountholders. Imagine having at your fingertips their candid and unbiased assessment of your branch, your telephone customer service line, and your website. And then imagine that you are privy to any change in their opinions over the coming weeks, months or even years-all without asking them a single survey question.

No, you do not need to hire a psychic with a crystal ball. Harland Clarke offers a comprehensive Mystery Shopping service, and the way it works is anything but mysterious.

In a nutshell, it utilizes professionally trained staff -mystery shoppers-who evaluate a financial institution's customer service, whether in person, by phone or online. The key is that they are unknown to your staff, who treat them as they would any other potential or current accountholder.

"Mystery shopping is a rapidly growing service that's easy to implement and offers banks and credit unions a wealth of information they couldn't get any other way," says Linda Schrock, Harland Clarke's Mystery Shopping manager. "Yet it's amazingly underutilized."

One reason for this is that financial institutions are not necessarily aware that, when done right, Mystery Shopping is highly structured and highly measurable, and offers a great return-on-investment. Bankers may assume that they have a handle on customer satisfaction because, for example, they know the teller wait time is two minutes, or because they listen in on random customer service phone calls. But while such knowledge is an important first step, it is neither objective nor measurable over the long haul, nor is it likely to result in any significant long-term changes.

Mystery shopping is implemented in seven consecutive steps:

  1. Customize - We work with you to decide what to measure, based on your strategic initiatives. (See sidebar below: "One Size Does Not Fit All.") Using this information, we create appropriate shopping scenarios.

  2. Train - We assign knowledgeable professional shoppers to your institution who are fully trained on the scenario to be used.

  3. Shop - You determine the extent and frequency of the shops, which might include in-person evaluations of the facility and its employees; telephone evaluations of the call center or branch; or website evaluations of online banking.

  4. Benchmark - We conduct an initial shop to establish a baseline, to which all future shops are compared, and from which historical analyses can be generated.

  5. Report - We gather data from our shopper evaluations, analyze it and report to you within 30 days of the last shop. To see a sample report, go to and click "Mystery Shopping" on the menu bar.

  6. Feedback - We help you use your shopping results to identify areas in which your employees can improve, and to implement staff training, as needed. This ensures that Mystery Shopping is not an end in itself, but that it results in the long-term changes you desire.

  7. Repeat - In order to demonstrate your return-on-investment, results must be measured over time. This will provide you with consistent ongoing measurement and historical perspective.

Schrock says it is important to note that, while there are other companies that offer mystery shopping services, they are generally retail-based. "Because they don't focus exclusively on the financial services market, they can't offer the same level of customization, reporting and feedback," she says.

Also, there is a difference in how a large bank with hundreds of branches would utilize Mystery Shopping, versus a local credit union or community bank. "It's easier to implement a solution across ten branches versus a thousand," says Schrock. Therefore, large banks considering Mystery Shopping should focus on regional implementation.

Mystery Shopping: One Size Does Not Fit All

There are myriad reasons to consider Mystery Shopping, and each will require different shopping scenarios. Put a check next to those objectives that match the goals of your financial institution. Then contact Linda Schrock at or 702.293.4446, Ext. 2024, to see how Mystery Shopping will work for your financial institution.

  • Establish a sales/service culture
  • Enhance service levels and accountholder satisfaction
  • Gauge effectiveness of promotional campaigns or marketing efforts
  • Compete more effectively
  • Analyze cultural strategies
  • Evaluate employee training
  • Streamline operating procedures
  • Acquire new accountholders
  • Assess the competition