on Sep 14th, 2009 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 50 comments
Like most retailers, the Postal Service uses mystery shoppers — customers unknown to the retail staff who fill out evaluations on their shopping experience — to determine how well retail units are performing. Not every postal retail unit is visited by mystery shoppers. Only units with a certain amount of revenue are included in the mystery shopper program.

Mystery shoppers record how long they spent in line, how the retail unit looked, how courteous the retail associates were, and other details about their visit. For example, sales associates are supposed to ask whether a package contains anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous. Mystery shoppers are asked to note down whether anyone asked them this about their package.

Five weeks ago, Pushing the Envelope dealt with the topic of “upselling.” Some of the questions on the mystery shopper evaluation relate to which products sales associates promote to their customers. Given the variety of customers and types of transactions, the need for a uniform approach to customers is important. Is it appropriate, however, to include items generally viewed as “upselling” in the mystery shopper program?

What about the mystery shopper program in general? Is it effective or can it be improved? What do you think is the most effective way to ensure postal retail units provide good retail service?

This blog is hosted by the OIG's Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).


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I recently mailed a small parcel. At the beginning of the customer visit I told the retail clerk that the parcel contained only books. She offered me Priority Mail and Express Mail rates and associated special services. Parcel post rates were not quoted, but I could see them on the cusotmer display. I had to ask the retail clerk for the media mail rate--twice--before she would provide the quote. I mailed my parcel at the lowest available rate, medial mail.

for goodness sakes, you are tying retail clerks hands with this program, window clerks know how to do their jobs and do them well, while there are always those that arent so great, the majority are. instead of serving customers and chatting with them, i have to ask 30 questions and try to sell them overnight, which nobody wants except for the people that ask about it, knowing thats exactly what they want. you cut retail jobs, and then expect the ones left to serve the customers well and in a timely manner, then dump this garbage on them, not only that but it costs millions of dollars, that i guarantee arent being made back from "up selling". not only that but the apwu, along with naps and napus have all joined in the call to get rid of this system, but some ego maniac at a desk is insisting on keeping this going so they can justify their own job. get rid of it, and let the clerks do their jobs.

The mystery shopper program is a complete waste of customer's time. I stopped going to the PO because I feel like I am at a used car lot. I only patronize UPS stores to mail my letters and packages. I now buy my stamps at Costco. I am tired of getting harassed every time I try to mail a greeting card to a family member.

the current mystery shopper program must be eliminated... it is a turn-off to the customers and makes the usps/clerks look stupid. it is annoying to all those involved, employees and patrons. a better idea (than suggesting every possible service to every possible customer every time they set foot in a PO) would be to take turns, weekly or monthly, high-lighting/recommending our various services.

"Given the variety of customers and types of transactions, the need for a uniform approach to customers is important."

The above sentence is the problem. Doesn't a variety of customers and a variety of transactions necessitate a variety of approaches? The above statement is mired in a process over results, one-size-fits-all mentality. It's why lines move slow and customers are pissed.

There is a need for a shopper program, but not for disciplinary reasons, rather for ways to enhance the customer's experience with the Postal Service. The shopper will need to pay attention to the customers, as well as the employees. If the Postal Service wants to remain viable and relevant in the current economic climate, accommodating the customer -- as opposed to the customer accommodating the Postal Service -- is the way to go.

Either shop all PO's or none at all. Tired of hearing customers say-they never ask me that at so and so office. Are we not all the same post office?
This lame program needs to be let go. It's embarassing for the clerk and obnoxious for the customers to listen to over and over and over again. They can't stand it. I refuse to confuse elderly and foreign customers with the hogwash we have to say. Mystery shopper program is one of many blackeyes on the postal service just to justify some white collar overpaid job.

What a waste of time! You need to stop this program as soon as possible. No wonder why the lines are long. Let us go and mail our parcels without all the hubba bubba. We know how we want to mail it and don't need any upselling!!!

I do not work in a mystery shop office. I am routinely greeted by my customers with- "No, no, no, and no, I do not want insurance and I do not want Delivery Confirmation, and I do not want any stamps or packaging supplies. Just Mail my package the cheapest way."

That is before I say anything!

Regular customers are sick of this robotic nonsense, and dread facing the barrage of questions.

In smaller offices we know what our regular customers are Mailing, what services they want, and how to help them, without following a script.

They do NOT want to feel like they are ay McDonald's when they come to the Post Office.

When I was a window clerk at Manhattanville Station, I remmembered what the "regular" customer wants or needs. There were few customers who come to the office to buy stamps & money-orders about three or four times a month. Is it necessary to If they want packaging supplies, etc? There a few small businesses who send their employees to us to mail their packages; they always send them parcel post with delivery confirmation if the mailing areas are close or priority with confirmation when mailing out west or rural areas. Why try to upsell? My very last mystery shoppers "failed" me because I didn't make eye contact!! Since my window was at the head of the line, I would look the customer in the eyes and wave him/her to my window!! This "shopper" was fidgetting and wasn't speaking directly into the "speaker" in the glass partition. I had to crank my head to one side to hear. I Greeted the customer. I Inquired. I Suggested (aka upsell). And I Thanked the customer. The customer wasn't mailing anything so the HAZMAT question didn't applied. My supervisor punished me by not putting on the window!! The mystery shopper wasn't suppose to be used for disciplinary purposes!!

Here is the question: Should the mystery shopper program include items generally viewed as “upselling”? I don't know what it means. Should the shopper go in and ask for a product like Express Mail? Should the shopper ask a general question and write down whether the clerk tries to push Express Mail? So much for clarity.

The Postal Service should have a basic and fundamental assignment of trying to be helpful to people and telling them all reasonable options, even making suggestions thought to be helpful. Upselling is an attempt to take advantage of someone, for your own profit. That should be against any code of honesty or morality or ethics.

its the most stupid thing that i have to do. i mean come on is it liquid or hazardous when they are mailing a 1 oz flat. I fail the mystery shop every time. One time its for not describing what tape does or i didnt explain what insurance is for, please if you own a car or a house you know what insurance does. Just cut it out and see just how much revenue goes up in retail units. Im the steward in my office, I tell all window clerks when they fail the shop to say they asked the questions because its there word against the shopper anyway and disipline can be beat everytime.

The mystery shop program is a waste of money.Most window clerks know their jobs and can usually read a customer in the first few seocnds of a transaction. When a customer asks, "Send it the cheapest way." The window clerk should not be obligated to offer Express Mail first. Offer Priority Mail and the Parcel Post. Customers want a quick and easy transaction.

I resent trying to be sold things I don't want or need. I don't know how you could make more money by mistreating and losing customers.

It should not be part of the mystery shopper. Look around, if they want it, let them buy it. I feel less bombarded at the checkout in the grocery store. It looks like we were taken over by Big Lots now. Why are we so determined to be in the retail business??? Pictures, stationery, ties, colored boxes, handbags, pins, pens, and stuffed animals. When will it all end??? I just want a weight and a price and maybe a few stamps without the APC in the lobby. Next, please!!!

Nine (9) steps required for the perfect transaction, including asking the customer to consider renting a
P O Box, ironically, since our station is on the hit list and may be closing soon. This is way more than "Would you like Fries?". Customers are annoyed, SSA's (Window Clerks) are demeaned, and overall service declines. I do not like sounding like an autobot, but am given no choice, facing discipline for going 'offscript'. Please give SSA's a little credit for dealing with customers with intelligence and efficiency, and not treating the customers like an assembly line.

When the measure of a program is determined by how well the person hired by the Postal Service is treated,something is wrong.

Greet the customer. Ask them how soon they want the package to get there and then help them accordingly.

As a level 22 Postmaster
The mystery shopper program was a good idea in its time, but it is completly dated and obsolete.
1.The program should be revamped and done internally to save all the expenses associated with the program, Retail/Marketing programs in all Districts are already doing DIM weight and test mystery shops so why are we paying someone to do something we already do. This is something that the Business Development Team should be doing.
The program should do DIM weight shops, and incoporate a random verification of parcels at the offices to check for short paid items in the office to capture Revenue.
2. MOST IMPORTANT-customers hate standing in line, and often turn away WE need to incorporate the SSA Revenue Goal system into the mystery shop program and create an incentive for the sales associates to increase their productivity and revenue. These personnel need to be rewarded if they capture the most revenue and process the most transactions in a set time period. If sales associates had incentive to achieve a reward for moving the line and upselling we would ensure much more revenue. Right now the only incentive managers have is to issue discipline and as former sales person I can guarantee you that DOES not work in sales. We cannot treat the Retail Units like a Carrier Unit it just doesn't work and many of the upper level managers are operations people and need to be trained to think outside the box in Retail.

So you asked and everyone gave you about the same answer.The customer doesn't like it the workers are ashamed of it and the Union doesn't approve of it (the mystery shopper)when will the USPS ever listen to what we all have to say.Get rid of mystery shopper!Open your ears USPS! and listen.

30 years and counting as a manager and I have seen so many of these types of programs come and go and this one should go the way of all the others.
I do not agree that clerks should get a bonus for doing their job though!
The clerks are there to provide a service to our customers.... to get the customer through the line and to give them the answers to the questions they might have.
We do have to make sure what they are shipping is not hazardous though, but if it looks like a flat or letter than I do not think they have to ask the question.
My clerks feel as though they are stealing from the customers when they "Up sell"..............
I like the idea of local management or internal shops being done and having the clerks highlight a specific item weekly..........changing it so that the customers (regulars) just might listen to see what is new and not the "Same old Same Old" they hear now.........
You need to address this issue and stop this program as it now is done, but I feel you won't and you are trying yourself to justify your position within the Postal Service just are the "Others" are doing that make us do this day in and day out!!!!!!!!!!
Shame on them and shame on you for taking a paycheck every two weeks to justify such waste in a time when we should be looking at every dollar spent and the return that we get for each of them.

Excuse me. You don't agree that SSA's should get a bonus for "doing their job"? I wholeheartly agree. But I also don't think anyone on the management team should either. Aren't they just doing their jobs too?

I'm a manager and I agree with you wholeheartedly Chev. The NPA and bonus process for management is a perversion creating counterproductive incentives and encouraging bad behavior.

Like so many ideas that originate out of Headquarters the Mystery Shop program is a well intended idea gone completely awry. Like virtually every other measurement or benchmark we institute the measurement becomes the meaning rather than serving as a descriptive tool.
Many of these things play well in the theoretical environment of business or marketing classes but in the real world scripted selling just annoys people. Unfortunately this is just another instance where senior management assumes that everyone but them is stupid.
The problem isn't Mystery Shop or any particular problem, it's a hidebound, autocratic corporate culture that smothers initiative and independent thought. For years those of us in the field have been treated as if we're stupid, incompetent or thieves - that kind of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If there is anyone out there defending the mystery shopper program, please give me an answer! With all the management positions that look at numbers all day, tell me if the offices that get 100% all the time on their mystery shopper scores are selling more express or special services than other offices, as a percentage of there transactions. I am a relief clerk and work several offices and I can guarantee you that the robotic script followers are not up-selling any more express than I am. If management has some statistics to back up their program, I would like to see them. Instead of forcing us to use this ignorant, robotic, and mostly ignored dialogue, let us read the customer and up-sell what we think they will purchase. If management can't give me the figures to back up their program, then why are we wasting millions of dollars on it?

Rich, how much are you willing to bet that you will not be able to find the number of extra express mails that are sold by upselling? Funny how you never hear thses numbers, but will hear about the number of clerks who do not offer the service. Even if such a figure did exist, I bet it would turn into a benchmark that each office will have to meet (or be NON COMPLIANT). Another log to sign and fax to tell the POOM how many Expresses were sold that day and so on....

Mystery Shopper is a total waste of time and money.

I work at an office that is not shopped, and I rarely offer my customers Express. Why? Because when I was a clerk at a large office and did that, the customer would always give a negative reaction like "That's expensive". Like that is something we need right now in our financial state. The only time I would sell Express is if a customer had shown a sense of urgency (What is the fastest way I can get this there? or I have to have this there by Friday). Any clerk knows this, and will sell Express accordingly. If they don't want us selling Parcel Post, then why even have it?

Extra services- my way of selling extra services is "This didn't need any confirmation or insurance, did it?" It doesn't sound like an upsell, but instead it sounds like I am double checking with the customer to meet their needs. And I am sure I sell just as much in extra services, if not more, by doing this as opposed to using a robotic script.

Business Connect is another joke. I work in a level 11 office, where I have to make 3 submissions every month. I have only 5 businesses in my town. Can't go beyond my town because that would be considered "stealing revenue" from another office. Don't tell me that most PM's are not just making up half of these submissions. I just laugh when I see that our district has "brought in" $$$$ revenue from BC connect leads, since most of them are made up and the numbers are phony.

These can be excellent tools if used properly, and not meant as a disciplinary benchmark used to demotivate employees.

If the PS wants to really push Express Mail, then why not advertise it, instead of making it a forced upsell. Look at how successful the flat rate Priority campaign has been. The same can be applied to Express flat rate envelopes. Let the customers see the numbers if they are so great.

THAT is how you sell Express.

Every business focuses on making a profit or increasing their profits. Every retail store focuses on upselling customers. The PO is no different. But, there's a fine line between forcing something on every customer and upselling a product/service the customer could actually need and use. It would be a waste of time to say "upsell express mail." Clerks should be focused on helping the customer and upselling them at the same time. When done well it's very effective.

And the problem with using lines like the one above:

"This didn’t need any confirmation or insurance, did it?"

Is that it opens the door for a customer to simply say "no" and continue about their business. Upselling should require an actual response from the customer. Customers are programmed to say "no" to salespeople and clerks. We all do it.

Try using open ended questions to engage into customers wants and needs and suggest services/products that will benefit them based on their responses.

Just my 2 cents.

What happened to simply asking the customer 'when does this need to arrive?' Then the SSA can work on educating the customer with the services we provide and their associated time frames from the mailing area.

Because 95% (or more) of customers will go with the cheapest way.

Upselling is fine ....but enough is eoungh. At the end of the transaction I can offer stamps and shipping supplies but now I have to EXPLAIN WHY they might need these items? How patronizing.

get rid of this ridiculous program and let the clerks ..who know their customers do their job without mgmt trying to control things they do not understand

The main reason why I took an early retirement from the USPS after 28 years is the Mystery Shopper Program. I worked as a window clerk in a high volume office with only 2 or 3 retail windows open at a time and a line of angry customers staring at me all day. If management would worry more about generating revenue in a creative way and not be so concerned about punishing employees for not asking a litany of redundant questions; the Post Office might actually be a place customers WANT to come - and not a place thet dread. Once again, USPS management has ruined the once great USPS!

I think the only customer that the USPS cares about IS the mystery shopper. Why else would we be harassing every other customer with our robotic litany of questions just to get a 100% on our mystery shops. By the way, the only customer that DOESN'T matter is the mystery shopper, when he or she is mystery shopping. Our regular customers feel sorry for us clerks and what we have to go through when doing our jobs, especially our list of questions they hear over and over when they are waiting in line.

Here ia an Idea...If you must do a shop to teach your clerks to upsale for the good of the p.o.(which is what you claim) why not give insentive with $ and you could stop paying Maratz co. all of those $$ and use the light duty people to do this job...this would save alot of money.even..open up more jobs so maybe the excess people will have more places to go and help moral everywhere...perhaps there would be more smiling and selling!

My postmaster was very upset because he heard me complaining about the mystery shopper while i was on the phone. I was upset at first but why should i be if i do my job well everyday. What they should do is go by the amount of revenue that you make daily instead of complaining about the mystery shopper that comes in once a month.

Although I was trying to do a decent job on three different tours at two different PO's, I got a Letter-of-Warning for taking liberties with the script. I retired. Since then I've taken the same class at the local "Y" with four different instructors. They all do a good job in their own way. I rest my case.

Mystery shopping programmes should be designed to enable staff members to improve their service levels, identify training gaps and also motivate them. Employers should definitely avoid staff members feeling like they're being controlled. The programme obviously needs to be re-evaluated to give staff more of an input.

Here's a thought- The mystery shopper program as it stands is useless. Instead, just have the customers fill out an online survey, similar to how Home Depot does. Also, give the customer an incentive to fill out the survey- a gift card of some sort or maybe a roll of stamps to randomly selected participants. In the end, you will get the voice of the customer who counts, not the one who doesn't.

As a consumer, I find upselling to be rude. Don't push unnecessary goods or services on to your customers. Employees should naturally feel the desire to perform for their employer, using secret shoppers means that you have no faith in your employees; which in-turn, breaks the trust that personnel initially have when starting with the company.

I enjoy seeing these posts. Some of you in 'small' offices may know everyone that comes in your door. Although your office probably doesn't make enough revenue to pay your utilities plus your salary. Everywhere I go, I get asked "if I would like to open an account because I would save 10% on my purchases today or would I like fries with that?" Those people get paid $10 an hour and can follow a script. I say 'no, thank you'. I don't get mad like some people claim that customers get annoyed that they are asked how they would like to do business. If it's so burdensome bid to another job so someone who wants to come to daylight hours can. I've seen ideas on revenue generation or revenue possibilities for things other than USPS services....we can't even get our clerks to have faith in our own product!

Character, it is not so much the selling that is the issue for most of us, it is what we are being "forced" to upsell, and the script that we are supposed to use. Most customer are pretty easy to read, and you can suggest products and services to meet their needs with out sounding pushy. If a customer comes up to you and says that they don't care how long it gets there, why should you suggest Express? Why should we have to explain insurance when it is self explanatory?

We should simply ask the customer how quickly does it need to get there, like we used to do, and we can suggest the service that best suits thrie needs. Most regulars know exactly how they want to ship, so why suggest something that you and they know they won't use?

I'm not sure which point people are giving most thoughts to here, either the mystery shopping or being made to upsell?

The behaviour of mystery shoppers can sometimes bring out the worst in a person by using directional questions, which in most cases can be taken on to two different paths.

What everyone seems to forget is that is why these people do what they do, to test the ethical behaviour of staff as well as the knowledge they have on the business they are promoting.

The opposite side to the coin is the "upsell" theory which is being debated - and should it be something people are made to do?

The answer is simple - yes, they should be made to upselll products/services supplied by the business owners. If the position in the business is to sell, supply or finance, then as long as the ethics behind the upsell are right, then it should be a process which is followed.

Should it fall the other way and the ethical behaviour is not correct, then it is something which should be questioned if the morrals of the business owners are in doubt.

We run upsells within our business, but the one thing we keep in mind is that it is a process of upselling not just for money, but value to. If it helps the consumer and is cost effective, then we offer it as a standard process.

As a clerk in a level 18 post office, the mystery shopper program is a waste of time. The shoppers use the same boxes every month so you know when you are being "shopped." However, when you receive your score it is in the 80s. For example, we have had the same sign alignment in our office for the past 5 years. Points have never been deducted for this, but one shopper felt the need to deduct points for sign placement. I always ask the HAZMAT question and they say you don't. It's irritating that USPS takes the word of a stranger opposed to their own employees.

Also, upselling is okay if we can just ask if stamps or envelopes are needed. But does someone coming to mail a package really want to rent a P.O. Box? This suggestion is crazy and a waste of time.

The Big Bosses need to wake up and actually come to visit a smaller post office to realize how stupid this actually makes us look!

The concept of the Mystery Shopper is a valid one.

However, the point about "what" is being upsold is a good one. I feel disingenuous pushing something (a PO Box) to a customer who ALREADY HAS ONE.

This is an example of a good idea poorly executed. There needs to be more one-on-one observations by the supervisors to see that the clerks are following the GENERAL IDEA of the upsell, but please, drop the stupid offerings.

And who shops the Mystery Shopper? If their job is to keep finding mistakes, what stops them from making it up?

The reason for the MS program is to ensure we are making as much retail revenue as possible. The clerks need to change the mindset that it is just a rote procedure job, and start to engage their customers. It will result in more revenue, and happier customers. There are ways to do it, but first you need to try. Unfortunately, the USPS is stuck with a lot of employees at the Retail Window that only got there by seniority, not their sales or customer service skills. That is the sad truth, and the good clerks suffer through the MS program as a result.

I LOVE the idea of mystery shoppers.

The practice can help everyone: business and client

The business gets some constructive criticism (and sometimes an eye-opening slap in the face), and the customer gets a better overall experience after the problems are corrected.

BUT, it only works if the business takes that information and uses it to make changes for the better, instead of simply stacking the feedback forms in a big pile to serve as fireplace starter... Or worse, justifying the bad experience in some way (i.e. "We don't get paid enough to go the extra mile!").

Use the mystery shopper feedback to make REAL changes in the way your business runs, and you'll have clients telling their friends, family and co-workers about the outstanding experience they had with your business.

Sometimes i think that it is unfair to have mystery shoppers in certain situations. for instance if you are a shopper of food service what if they have a bus of 75 people. it is not a normal situation.

I had no idea the USPS used "mystery shoppers." I think it's a great idea. I love my local post office because the staff there is truly the best I've dealt with.

USPS - please use the Mystery Shoppers to observe the CUSTOMER SERVICE provided by Post Offices, not just their selling technique. While most service is wonderful, the Post Office at Decatur, Georgia has FREQUENT LONG LINES to the door. Fights have broken out in the lobby trying to get the Post Master to add clerks to the windows. That is what will sink the USPS, not how many add-ons they sell.

I love the idea of the post office using mystery shoppers! I think that mystery shoppers in general are one of the best ways for retail stores and government agencies alike to find out what really goes on and how the customer is really being treated. Kudos on the article!