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Mystery Shop

Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH

Innovation Summary

What is it like to be a customer at one of CML’s 21 locations? We strive to provide exceptional customer service but how are we really doing? We hired a professional mystery shopping firm to find out; the results are fascinating and actionable!

Problem Statement

What is it really like to be a customer in the library? We know that it is critical to see our work from the customer perspective but face it - no matter how hard we try, we're not objective! We worked with a professional mystery shopping firm to develop a questionnaire covering key aspects of the customer experience from the appearance of the grounds and building, to the state of our displays and shelves, to the interactions with our staff. The firm "shops" each location once a month and we receive detailed reports on how we're doing. From these objective reviews we have been able to focus staff on improving in several critical areas and to identify areas for further coaching and training.


Like many libraries, we have conducted "secret surveys" of our locations over the years. Our primary focus has been on the skill and accuracy of our reference staff. We would pay "shoppers" to come into our locations during a two week period and ask a specific reference question. Staff was evaluated primarily on whether they got the right answer. Coordination of the program was time consuming and the limited time frame and obviously “hard” reference question took much of the secret out of the process. In 2012 we decided to investigate a better way to get an objective view of what it was like to be one of our customers. We contracted a firm that provides mystery shops to major retailers all over the country and worked with them to develop a customized questionnaire that their specially trained shoppers follow as they visit our locations. The firm sends us the results within 24-hours of the shop and we have access to an extensive dash board with lots of reporting options. Based on the results, we have been able to make quick, significant improvements in our customer service model and have gained insight into how to make the customer experience even more positive.


Results from the monthly shops are delivered within 24-hours of each visit and provide a customer-eye view of being in our buildings. Are the grounds neat and the parking lot accessible? Is there trash or clutter in the building? Are the public restrooms clean? How about the shelves and displays? Are they flush and inviting or barren and blah? Results thus far have been complimentary about all those aspects. However, we have seen less consistency in the most important gauge: the interactions with staff. This area tests a number of elements including being welcomed to the building, reader’s advisory and having departure acknowledged. The mystery shopper program has allowed us to benchmark current state and given us clear guidance on the coaching and training opportunities we need to focus on in order to achieve our goal of consistently providing our customers with exceptional experiences. We foresee utilizing this program for the long term and continuing to customize our questions as our services, and expectations, change and grow.