A Mystery Shopping Program Can Help Your Employees Transition To A Sales Culture

Expert Offers Advice On How To Design Your Program

A common error that financial institutions make when designing a mystery shopping program is to assume that customer service and product sales require the same skill set, says Jack Geiger, Senior Marketing Research Consultant at Seattle-based Informa Research Services, Inc.

“In a service-oriented culture, all you have to do is provide good service basically, get the person whatever they ask for as quickly as possible and then get them out of the branch,” he says.

A sales-oriented culture, on the other hand, requires employees to keep customers in the branch for longer periods of time in order to develop a relationship, he says.

As a financial institution transitions from a service-based to a sales-based culture, “mystery shopping is one of the best ways to gauge if sales training is sinking in or not,” says Geiger.

Geiger addresses five common questions that financial institutions have about mystery shopping programs:

1) How do we find a quality vendor?

Implementing a quality mystery shopping program can be a daunting task, he says.

Geiger recommends that financial institutions hire a mystery shopping vendor with extensive experience in the financial services industry.

“Some vendors are great at mystery shopping restaurants and other businesses, but when it comes to financial institutions, they fall flat,” he says.

“A more generalist mystery shopping company may be cheaper, but what I’ve found is that six months down the road, the client is not very satisfied. To run a typical ïshop’ for a financial institution, you need deep industry knowledge.”

One way to ensure that an organization has the kind of experience that you require is to ask if it is a member of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (www.mspa.org) and/or financial industry associations such as the American Bankers Association or the Consumer Bankers Association, says Geiger.

A vendor’s membership in marketing research associations is also another indicator that they are specialized enough to handle your needs, says Geiger.

2) Should we use existing customers for our mystery shops?

Geiger notes that there has been a trend in the last few years for financial institutions to recruit existing customers to conduct mystery shops for them, as it is oftentimes less expensive than hiring a mystery shopping vendor.

But a mystery shopping program that utilizes existing customers has considerable drawbacks, says Geiger.

For example, it is awkward if not impossible for customers to evaluate bank employees on their sales skills, as customers are not privy to information about how or why bank employees are trained to sell certain products in various situations.

It is also difficult to compare service and sales techniques across a bank’s branches when real bank customers are utilized to conduct mystery shops, says Geiger.

This is because, in order to make fair comparisons, customers with identical financial profiles and ïquestion sets’ must be sent into each of the bank’s branches„a scenario that is difficult to achieve when real customers with individualized needs rate the bank’s performance, says Geiger.

3) How should we design our mystery shopping program?

In addition to finding a qualified vendor, the design of a mystery shopping program is also crucial to its success. A good program should be customized to fit your bank’s needs and culture, says Geiger.

This requires good communication between the financial institution and the vendor so that the questionnaires that mystery shoppers utilize to evaluate financial institution employees reflect the institution’s objectives, he says.

For example, if your institution plans on running a promotion on home equity loans, a good vendor will design a scenario in which a mystery shopper is a prime candidate for home financing. The mystery shopper can then evaluate the financial institution’s employees based on their ability to promote the loan special, says Geiger.

In addition, if a financial institution’s main objective is to determine its level of compliance with federal or state financial regulations, the successful mystery shopping program will gear itself around this goal, he says.

For example, employees can be evaluated to determine whether they are disclosing the risks associated with certain products and/or whether they are recommending suitable products to customers.

Employees can also be evaluated to ensure that they do not discriminate against customers based on race or gender.

This is often done through “matched pair” or “matched triad” testing, in which the products and services offered to a control group (of average white men, for example) are compared against those offered to a members of minority groups with identical financial profiles.

4) How do we incorporate employee training?

The design phase of any mystery shopping program should include a training period for bank employees during which the program is explained and expectations clarified, says Geiger.

Geiger suggests that financial institutions show their employees the questionnaire that mystery shoppers will use to evaluate them.

Employees should also receive specific instructions on how to meet the criteria for a good evaluation, so that no one is surprised when the results are issued, he says.

It is also important that branch managers take the program seriously, as the attitude of the financial institution’s leadership tends to trickle down to frontline employees, says Geiger.

5) Should we offer employees rewards for exhibiting good service and sales skills?

A good mystery shopping program should motivate employees toward better service and salesmanship, says Geiger. One way to do this is through rewards. “Rewards do not have to be monetary or high-dollar,” says Geiger, “recognition goes a long way.”

It is oftentimes best to reward employees as a group, he adds, as this fosters teamwork and unity.

Likewise, if an employee receives a poor rating, it is best to confront the individual in private, so that he or she has a chance to learn from the results of the mystery shop and change behaviors, says Geiger.

“Employees should always listen for opportunities to bring their sales pitch in line with the [mystery shopping] questionnaire and refer people on to the right sales person,” he adds.

“We train our mystery shoppers to drop hints that bank employees can pick up on to make a sale,” says Geiger, “If bank employees know that they’re going to be mystery-shopped, that’s motivation for them to follow up on those cues.”


As mystery shopping gains steam in the financial services industry, pay attention to at least three key trends, says Jack Geiger, Senior Marketing Research Consultant at Informa Research Services, Inc.

First, expect online mystery shopping to become increasingly important as more customers access financial products and services via the Internet, he says.

A good financial institution’s Web site is secure and easy to navigate.

It should also provide full descriptions of an institution’s products and services and offer avenues for potential customers to interact with bank representatives in a timely manner, says Geiger.

Second, be prepared for the “unintended” benefits of mystery shopping, says Geiger.

For example, sometimes mystery shoppers sent to ensure that a financial institution is compliant with laws against discrimination find that a bank has problems in other areas such as sales or customer service, regardless of customers’ race or gender, says Geiger.

In this way, financial institutions whose compliance departments utilize mystery shopping programs often find that their sales and marketing departments also gain from the experience.

“Compliance testing is a great opportunity for banks to get other sales-related issues taken care of,” says Geiger.

Third, expect an increase in the number and variety of organizations that conduct mystery shopping programs, says Geiger.

Growth in the mystery shopping industry is being fueled in part by institutions that want to ensure their compliance with a host of new financial industry regulations, says Geiger.

However, institutions evaluating employees’ performance are not the only ones conducting mystery shopping programs, he says.

In addition, he’s found that:

  • Financial institutions are using mystery shopping to gather intelligence about competitors’ rates and services
  • Federal regulators, watchdog groups and third-party suppliers are using mystery shopping to attempt to verify that their financial products are being sold properly at bank branches.

“What’s the old story about the two campers out in the woods who see the bear coming?” Geiger asks rhetorically.

“The first camper starts to put on his shoes and the other camper asks him why he is even attempting to outrun the bear.

“The first camper replies, ïI don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you!’

“Just because a bank isn’t mystery shopping doesn’t mean that mystery shoppers aren’t coming into its branches,” Geiger says.

Call Toll Free 800-CPSHOPS, to find out how Customer Perspectives’ mystery shopping programs can improve your bottom line!