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2008 Pool: 2,804 Mystery Shops
This Report: 20 Random Shops
Type: New Account Opening
FI Type: 10 Banks, 10 CUs
States: CO, ID, UT, TX, NY, MS, AL, FL, MO, NJ
Avg Score: 89%
Avg Wait: 1.29 minutes

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Mystery Shop Report
By Ed Shoppe

The following is extracted from actual shops made by the Harland Clarke mystery shopping team.

August 18, 2008. For this report, I zeroed in on 20 random new account opening shops from 2008, half from banks and half from credit unions. States included Colorado, Idaho, New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Utah and Missouri. With gas prices this year, why didn't I stick to Rhode Island and Maryland?

Year-to-date, your new accounts employees have talked to people like me hundreds if not thousands of times. Only not exactly like me. I'm a mystery shopper. I've done this hundreds of times this year, too. But you know what? They typically act like I'm their first visitor of the day. Your people are positive, welcoming, knowledgeable, and professional. I typically have zero wait time and never more than five minutes. And they give me all the time I need.

I wish the cable company treated us the way your people do.

Ed ShoppeI can tell times are competitive, and you've been working with your new accounts personnel because our observation scores are higher than ever. For this set, 89% is the norm. I'd round it up to an A. Rarely does anyone in new accounts score under 80%. They are strong. Your branch managers are extraordinary.

That's the good news-- and the bad news. In today's competitive landscape, it turns out all of this is table stakes. But at least you are at the table.

By the way, the most common adjective in my shops is "free." Your people like to say it. I counted it 24 times with 9 "no fees" and 4 "waives." Minimum balances are tiny or zero. Checks are free. Online banking is free. Debit cards are free. Accounts have names like "Really Free Checking" and "Super Free Checking." What is "Super Free"? Liz, a branch manager, offered to buy my existing supply of checks from the competitor's account for $25. That's more than just free! (Or is it less?)

So you are all competing with the same price message: free. (Wish the cable guy did that.) So how do you win at the new accounts desk? Getting them in the door is key, of course, but what happens next matters. Our scoring method doesn't tabulate scores above 100%, but those employees who are beating the competition are doing it with 110% effort.

Friendly isn't good enough. Your best front-liners start building rapport right away by asking genuinely probing questions that get me talking about me. Not just my circumstances, but my needs. One of my favorites was Judy who heard me say, "I'm thinking about buying CDs for my children." She explained the CD offerings, but asked a couple of probing questions, realized my aspirations, and said I should consider an Education IRA and explained why. Three pointer. Offering to follow up is nice. Almost everyone in this set of 20 offered, but only the best actually did it. Hannah and Fernando reached out with a phone call, leaving a message. Brady sent me an e-mail after asking, "I'll follow up with an e-mail if that would be cool." Extra points for all three.

Many in this report touted their advantage of personal service. John even said up front. "This is all about starting a relationship." He's right, and the best rapport builders in this report came from both banks and credit unions.

I'll have to tell you, I like these competitive times when my clients are fighting for my shops. It almost guarantees I'm going to have a pleasant day. For you, that's the good news and the bad news. Your people are doing a good job. It's just that today, good may not be enough.

"Mr. E. Shoppe" personifies Harland Clarke's mystery shopping team. If you would like to find out how your financial institution stacks up against industry standard observations with your own tailored inquiries, please contact your Harland Clarke account executive or vist us at