Misusing Mystery Shopping Means Money's Misspent

Although mystery shopping is prevalent in credit unions today, it is typically misused, representing money misspent. Such services do have a place; it's just that they are asked to serve a purpose they do not serve well. And better solutions exist.

Most CUs use mystery shoppers to gauge service quality and the member experience. Consider the typical process: the mystery shopper calls or comes in, and takes note of a representatives' behavior, if they used the member's name, if they made eye contact, if they smiled, how knowledgeable they were, etc. Now there's nothing wrong with these questions per se. In fact, as a training validation tool, mystery shopping fits the bill. But as a barometer of true service quality, shopping falls flat.

Think about it. Which is a better way to assess your members' experience: to have a surrogate, "pretend" to be a member and ask what he thinks the members' experience is, or ask real members about their actual experiences? Asking you what you think another person feels or thinks is problematic in itself. Making it worse is verifying a pre-set checklist that may have very little to do with a member's actual evaluation criteria. Instead, ask your members directly in transaction surveys, focus groups, or intercepts. Ask them by phone, online and/or mail.

Members will tell you the impact that trust, convenience, rates (or other factors) have on their relationship with you. Members will tell you how they liked doing business with you. Members will tell you why you are or aren't their PFI, why they joined, or are leaving, their concerns with security, and more. Shoppers can tell you none of these things with certainty.

What matters in gauging the member experience is what members themselves think of the experience. Member satisfaction and loyalty can only be truly conveyed by, well, the members. Mystery shopping can be a useful tool in the research arsenal. But as a sole scorecard or board report item on member service, a much better source exists. So when it comes to service quality and really understanding the member experience — don't ask a surrogate, ask your members.

Mike Anstead is SVP of Member Research a full service research/consulting firm serving credit unions. He can be reached at (949) 833-6901 or manstead@memberresearch.com.