Mystery Shopping Studies 


Mystery shopping studies are widely used in the financial services industry to evaluate the sales skills, service quality and compliance practices of an organizationís sales force. Most major banks conduct in-person and telephone mystery shopping studies of their retail banking centers on a regular basis. Some organizations even incorporate mystery shop results into their incentive and compensation plans.

Since the publication of the Interagency Guidelines in the spring of 1994, mystery shopping studies have also been widely used to monitor and evaluate the "oral disclosure of risk" and other point-of-sale sales and compliance practices of registered representatives and licensed branch employees who sell annuities, mutual funds and general securities in the bank lobby. According to recent BISRA research, 90% of the largest banks in the country have conducted in-person mystery shops of their investment sales programs and over 60% do so regularly. Mystery shopping studies are also commonly used by the consumer and mortgage lending areas of banks to test for service quality, as well as possible discrimination in lending practices.

Sales Quality Group has extensive experience in the area of mystery shopping and has conducted well over 150,000 shops for over sixty regional and national banks and credit unions over the past decade. In addition, Sales Quality Group has created a large database of normative data, giving the client the added value of being able to compare areas of strength and weakness against national averages.

Investment Shops: In-person mystery shops are the single best way to evaluate a registered representative’s or licensed branch employee’s overall compliance, sales and service quality skills. We typically recommend shopping each full-time broker twice in order to better determine the broker’s performance if he or she has a "bad hair" day. Conducting two shops also tends to reduce or eliminate the defensive behavior we often see if a rep is only shopped once and does poorly on that single shop. A popular alternative to the two-shop approach is to shop all brokers once, then reshop those who score considerably below average. We typically end up re-shopping between 20% and 40% of the brokers, depending on the institution.

Our approach is a little different with Licensed Branch Employees. Instead of trying to shop all LBEs, we usually recommend shopping a statistically valid sample of the group – generally 20% to 40% – depending on the size of the sales force. We further recommend targeting the licensed bankers and branches that produce the greatest volume of sales. If we were to conduct 50 walk-in shops targeting 50 top-selling LBEs, for example, our shoppers would typically end up meeting with the targeted LBE in about 75% of the shops and non-targeted LBEs in the remaining interviews. This approach gives us a good read on the behavior and skill level of both groups.

Retail Bank Shops: Retail bank shops come in all shapes and sizes, from in-person new account shops, to teller shops, to call center and even email shops. In contrast to investment shops, retail bank and credit union shops typically focus primarily on service quality and selling skills.

While some banks and credit unions use extremely simple and low cost shops to monitor only rudimentary service quality skills, a growing number of financial institutions are expanding the scope of their mystery shopping studies to include more advanced needs assessment, product presentation and closing skills, similar to those tested in investment shops. Organizations such as Bank of America have invested heavily in advanced training and mystery shopping programs in order to take service quality and selling skills at the branch level to new levels. The banking industry today is more focused than ever on the concepts of exceeding their customer's expectation and establishing a brand loyalty in all customer interaction. The concept of mystery shopping is an integral part of all such long-term initiatives.

Pricing: Pricing of mystery shopping studies varies significantly based on the complexity of the study, the amount of shopper training required, geographic factors, and the volume of shops. Retail branch shops typically range in cost from $75 to $125 per shop, depending on the complexity of the study, the number of questions and the extent of narratives required, plus the cost of the project design and management reports. Investment shops are somewhat more expensive, with unit costs typically ranging from $190 to $250 each, plus project management and reporting fees.

If you would like additional information on Sales Quality Groupís In-person and Telephone Mystery Shopping Studies, please contact Jim Rensel at (480) 967-7500 or email Bill Gutkowski or Valentina Zeff.


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