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Using Mystery Clients: A Guide to Using Mystery Clients for Evaluation Input

What are Mystery Clients?

Mystery clients are trained people (usually community members) who visit program facilities in the assumed role of clients, and then report (by completing a survey or through an interview) on their experience. For example, an adolescent might be sent to a healthclinic looking for contraceptive services, and then be interviewed to find out about the quality of the visit.

When is the Use of Mystery Clients Appropriate?

The use of mystery clients is primarily for the monitoring of site improvements, rather than as an evaluation tool. Information from the mystery client is fed back to the clinic so that the clinic can improve its service provision. It is recommended that clinics are involved in the planning of the mystery client visits, in addition to being informed of the potential visits (though they will not be informed which clients are the mystery clients), to increase the use of the findings (and thus improve service provision where necessary).

Mystery clients might be used in an effort to avoid the bias in the service delivery process that often results from having service transactions observed. They can also serve to gather a sufficient number of observations of service transactions when the actual volume of service visits is low.

It should be mentioned that some researchers believe that the use of mystery clients is problematic because the process involves misrepresentation. For example, though consent might be obtained from clinic management, service providers may not have given their consent and may find it deceitful. However, others believe that the benefits outweigh the concerns. Because mystery clients are used to assess and improve the quality of services, they serve the interests of both clients and the program by highlighting the ways that the facility can serve its target audience. Mystery clients should not undergo any type of medical exam or procedure during their visits.

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