MYSTERY SHOPPERS

REPORTER: ROHAN WENN

Free movie and theatre tickets, free petrol, free groceries, free holidays, free clothes -- it is a shoppers dream. And believe it or not, you can get paid to pick up all that free stuff if you're a mystery shopper. As the tanks of this secret army of spies grow across the country, so do the benefits that they can enjoy.

"Brenda" is a mystery shopper so we can't show you her face on television. At least five days a week, sometimes more, Brenda heads out to shopping centres, petrol station, the movies and the theatre to assess levels of customer service. And not only does she get paid, she gets to keep the stuff she buys.

"Bev" also works as a mystery shopper, and she loves it. Over the years Bev has tested customer service at literally hundreds of stores.

Both women work for Phil Prosser the boss at Gapbuster -- a company designed to bust the gap between the promise of good customer service and the actual service we receive in store. "An unsatisfied customer will tell ten times the number of people that a satisfied customer will. So they broadcast their unhappiness, it's not just the customer you've lost, it's what they do to the rest of your business", Phil said.

That's why global companies like McDonalds and the Body Shop pay Phil to send his mystery shoppers into their stores, to see the kinds of service their staffers are really giving. "They record the time it took to be served, the cleanliness of the environment, the friendliness of the staff, the ambience of the whole store, just the overall experience", Phil said.

And by far the most complained about situation, is when staff seem don't seem to care you're there. "It's not so much the bad service, where I've had service that is shocking, it's the service that was robotic, I was just another person in the cue, the indifference is the main factor, that's the main enemy of customer service", Phil said.

As well as staff who don't care, common complaints are staff that overcrowd you, staff who would rather talk on the phone than to you, staff who have little product knowledge, and staff who give dishonest advice.

Phil says more shops mean, more choice and that means most of us are a lot less willing to put up with bad service. And while our mystery shoppers say most staff get it right most of the time, they have both come across some pretty shocking service in the past.

The mystery shoppers get to choose their jobs online, picking the jobs that interest them the most. And now they've found a way to get paid to shop, both Bev and Brenda say they'll be living their secret double lives for a long time to come.

Gapbusters can be contacted online: www.gapbuster.com