Taking a Page from Retail: Secret Shopping for Academic Libraries


  • Kathryn Crowe University of North Carolina at Greensboro Walter Clinton Jackson Library
  • Agnes Kathy Bradshaw Virginia Commonwealth University





Objective – The University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) sought to gain feedback on the customer service experience beyond satisfaction surveys. After reviewing a variety of methods, it was determined to conduct a mystery or secret shopper exercise, a standard practice in the retail and hospitality world.

Methods – Two mystery shopper assessments were conducted in 2010 and 2012. Students were recruited from a Hospitality Management class to serve as the secret shoppers. “Shoppers” completed a rating sheet for each encounter based on customer service values established by the Libraries. Data was analyzed and presented to staff.

Results - Initial findings were generally quite positive but indicated that we could improve “going the extra mile” and “confirming satisfaction.” As a result, we developed training sessions for public services staff which were delivered during summer 2011. A LibGuide that included training videos was created for public services student employees who were required to view the videos and provide comments. In addition, we developed more specific public service standards for procedures such as answering the telephone, confirming satisfaction, and referring patrons to other offices. The Secret Shopper assessment was administered again in spring 2012 to see if scores improved. The results in the second study indicated improvement.

Conclusions - The mystery shopper exercises provided the UNCG University Libraries with the opportunity to examine our services and customer service goals more closely. Conducting the mystery shopper study identified several areas to address. We realized we needed more clearly defined standards for staff to follow. We saw that we needed to discuss what “going the extra mile” means to us as an organization. We also needed to develop a scalable training method for student employees.


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Author Biographies

Kathryn Crowe, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Walter Clinton Jackson Library

Associate Dean for Public Services

Agnes Kathy Bradshaw, Virginia Commonwealth University

Assistant University Librarian for Organizational Development Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries




How to Cite

Crowe, K., & Bradshaw, A. K. (2016). Taking a Page from Retail: Secret Shopping for Academic Libraries. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 11(1), 40–56. https://doi.org/10.18438/B85S6H



Research Articles