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Case Study: Wells Fargo Puts Faith in Mystery Shopping




After making the news for unethical practices and pressure to increase revenue, Wells Fargo  announced it will use mystery shopping to gauge customer service levels and work to identify any unethical practices that may be happening. They are also dropping sales quotas in order to encourage positive, ethical service to its customers.

This is a good start, and I’m thrilled that the company has faith in mystery shopping programs to help them achieve their goal and try to reverse the damage they’ve done. All financial institutions can pay attention to Wells Fargo, as cross selling and pressure to perform have only increased in the industry.

It’s anticipated that it will come out that Wells Fargo is not the only financial institution to be in this situation, though perhaps none will be found to have the same magnitude as what we’ve seen this week. I’m sure many banks across the country are closely looking into their own internal practices too.

When banks are concerned and want to be proactive in their approach, mystery shopping programs can be very effective. There are a couple of ways this can be achieved:

Traditional mystery shopping: a standard customer service evaluation can be useful. Incorporate questions to include the shopper’s financial “profile” (useful in determining if the banker is attempting to incorrectly cross sell products), if the shopper felt pressure to open an account or add additional services, and commentary that allows for some subjective reporting.

Plant a shopper: a “plant a shopper” program can give a bank a wealth of information across the entire experience. Simply put, this program would follow a shopper through the entire journey, including:

  • The initial visit/call to the bank to inquire about checking/savings accounts
  • The account opening process
  • Interaction with the customer service representatives and other banking staff
  • Ease of use of online banking products and evaluation of accuracy in information posted online
  • Attempt to close the account after a period of time

Apples to apples mystery shops: As an example, each month mystery shoppers can be assigned a “profile” of sorts, which might include a specific age bracket, income level, family situation, and credit history. By conducting shops at all branches using the same “profile” it can be easy to see if a branch is potentially pushing products and services that are not needed or not in the customer’s best interest. Comparing apples to apples in this manner may shed some light on any issues before they become widespread.

Despite the varied uses for mystery shopping to uncover unethical practices, it is wise to make note of the fact that before mystery shopping can be effective, the company culture needs to shift. In the case of Wells Fargo, as I mentioned in a recent post, management was pushing staff hard and setting unrealistic sales quotas; if they were mystery shopping as this was happening and shoppers stated that they felt pressure to open accounts, it would have fallen on deaf ears.

Banks should look to Wells Fargo to learn how to do better and not fall into the same boat. Take a close look at expectations, make changes, and focus on the customer. Once this is done, then implement a mystery shopping program to ensure the bank doesn’t see the same fate as Wells Fargo.


When Is Mystery Shopping Not Effective?




A mystery shopping program is only as effective as its design and intent. Over the years we have worked with several clients to create an effective program that will help identify strengths and areas for improvement, and enhance the customer experience.

There are times though, when a program is ineffective. Here are the top reasons for mystery shopping programs not working:

The program focuses on the negative: they say it’s all in the presentation. This is certainly the case in mystery shopping. When companies present the program launch as a means to find things employees are doing wrong, it is set for ultimate failure.

Case in point: a retail store started a mystery shopping program and put pressure on staff and managers to ‘do well.’ They presented the program as being used as a part of employee reviews and stressed that low scores can warrant disciplinary action or termination.

What happened next? Employees were on edge, wondering if every customer was the shopper. When reports started coming in, managers came down hard on any lower performing evaluations. In turn, employees disputed many of the scores and questioned most of the reports. This caused frustration across the board, and the company wondered if it was worth continuing. Employees worked hard to try to identify the shopper each month and focused on who it might be and how to fight a poor evaluation rather than focusing solely on customer service.

The program does not match the company culture: It’s important that mystery shopping programs evaluate what is included in employee training – our motto is to “measure what you train on.” If your performance standards are not clear, or standards are not consistent across locations or districts, there is no clear way to evaluate employee performance. That being said, mystery shopping can be really effective at pinpointing these discrepancies and using the results to improve training procedures across the company.

Take another example that has been in the news recently – Wells Fargo has been in the limelight for fraudulent activity. Recent information was released that shows that Wells Fargo is incorporating a mystery shopping program to closely evaluate customer service going forward.

While this is great, imagine if they had a mystery shopping program prior to this – if mystery shoppers reported that they felt pressure to open an account, for example, it would not bode poorly for the bank employee. Why? Because this is what management expected them to do, despite how the customer perceived the experience. The bank’s culture (push customers to open accounts) did not match what is typical of a mystery shopping program (evaluate the customer experience and their perception of the company). Because their focus was profit driven, they would not be inclined to train staff to treat the customer any differently. In fact, it was reported that staff attempted to report their practices and it fell on deaf ears. In this case, a mystery shopping program may have been a waste of time and effort.

The results of the shops are only used superficially: it’s important to look at each shop report and identify areas of strength and weakness. However, if the company is not looking at overall data through the use of analytical reporting, there is a lot of valuable information that is not being fully utilized. You may miss trends or, conversely, see a couple of reports where an item is rated poorly and think it’s a trend even though it’s fairly isolated.

Making use of analytical reports gives deeper insight into performance levels. With enhanced technology, these reports are easier to use than ever. In the report sample below, heat mapping quickly identifies areas that may need to be addressed:



Mystery shopping is a valuable tool, but can often be misused or not used to its fullest extent. When used properly and coupled with other customer focused data points, it’s a treasure trove of information, right at your fingertips. If you have a mystery shopping program, it might be time to re-evaluate how you use it. If you are not using mystery shopping to evaluate service levels, there’s no better time than the present!


We’d love to hear from you! You can learn more about mystery shopping on our website or you can send us an email.


Lego Rep Offers Life Lesson to Young Customer




I love hearing great stories about companies going above and beyond, and this one is no exception.

When a 7 year old boy did not follow his father’s rules, he lost a figure in his Lego set. The dad, in trying to teach a lesson, essentially told his son he should not have taken the Legos out of the house and suggested he try emailing Lego to see what might happen.

The father could not have asked for a better response – not only did the company rep send the boy a replacement, but one that was “cooler” than what he had, but the rep included some life lessons – always listen to your parents, and keep the promises you make.