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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.