Using Research To Protect Brand Reputation:
Video mystery shopping is a contentious research methodology. However, rarely does a month go by without hearing about another mis-selling scandal in financial services or some other regulated sector. Given the ramifications of the 2008 financial crisis you would expect more monitoring of firms behaviour. This is especially important in retail financial services where poor advice can be very costly to customers, It may have long term consequences on their lifestyle.
Given reputation and good will is critical in all businesses. It is essential that your customers have confidence that you have the right controls in place to identify when service levels and advice are consistently below expected standards.
MONITORING CUSTOMER INTERACTIONS:
In one of my research roles I came across a company who assured me that they could measure real customer interactions by sitting next to advisers and recording their telephone conversation with customers. I was told that this would not influence their behaviour because the advisers were dealing with business transactions. Sales management were also comfortable with this approach.
This is clearly a fallacy. There is plenty of research that indicates it is human nature to behave differently, as people are more careful to follow standard procedures. They want to portray themselves in a good light with everyone concerned.
A number of years ago I had to establish a programme of research to monitor service standards and identify training needs for an insurance company’s direct sales force. Each sales person was already evaluated on a regular basis during a normal sales visit. The vast majority of sales people passed these assessments without much trouble. The question was whether these observations were a true reflection of their normal behaviour.
EVALUATING FACE-TO-FACE SERVICE & ADVICE:
- To ensure an accurate and detailed evaluation of service standards and behaviour, I established a program of regular video mystery shopping surveys. We recruited people who met the basic customer profile and gave them a very simple scenario (customer need) to follow. This allowed the customer to use their own details as much as possible.
- Sales management and Legal were shocked by the findings. There was a total lack of consistency in the sales process and most advisers did not perform to expected standards. This was valuable feedback though. A great deal of effort went in to improving the customer experience and the standard of advice given.
IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH:
- Only video mystery shopping (using a hidden camera) can accurately capture every element of customer interactions. This ensures there is no disagreement about what was said and done. The sales process in FS is too long and complex to be able to rely on the memory of a mystery shopper.
- It is difficult for anyone to ignore video mystery shopping of poor or misleading advice. This is partly because video mystery shopping evidence can capture the whole sales experience. Regulators have access to material when they visit companies and they will expect to see evidence of corrective action.
- There was no correlation between customer satisfaction and the adviser’s compliance with basic standards for advice giving. This is perhaps not surprising as why should a customer understand details of the advice process. It also confirms that Voice of the Customer research should not be used as an indicator of the quality of advice provided.
- Video mystery shopping can be a powerful aid to change. The videos allow advisers to see the interaction from the customer’s point of view. They encourage changes in behaviour that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. Each adviser was able to view their video with their manager and agree a detailed personal development plan to address any issues identified.
- To evaluate the output from video mystery shopping you need the input of trainers to assess the quality of service. Each company has its own standards. You need a good understanding of regulatory requirements to accurately evaluate the service and advice.
- The findings suggested to me that the regulatory framework is too complex and prescriptive. The focus should be on giving customers good service and advice rather than ticking boxes and following set procedures. Video mystery shopping is the most effective way of demonstrating how complex the process is from the customer and adviser’s perspective.
- People need to be able to trust advisers, particularly when dealing with money issues. However, a minority of people will always have a tendency to cheat or cut corners. There also needs to be controls in place to spot such rogue behaviours. It is human nature and it happens in every sector. Video mystery shopping is an excellent tool it can capture the reality of the customer experience and the nature of advice given. With the correct controls in place it can be a catalyst for positive change in an organisation. It is a means for identifying potential mis-selling.