Some secret shoppers now using hidden cameras

Hidden cameras are being used as a customer service training tool. (KEYE TV)

What rating would you give the customer service you get at restaurants or retailers? Good, fair, bad? Surveys show customer expectations are at an all-time high, but too often service isn't. Austin company Reality Based Group (RBG) is using an undercover operation to try to change that.

At Mighty Fine Burgers, the pace is frantic and the orders are non-stop. It's hard to spot a weak link in the production line, but if there is one Bruce Dixon is wired to find it. He is about to secretly record the lunch rush at Mighty Fine at Arbor Walk in North Austin.

"In Austin alone, there are about 1,500 secret shoppers," said Josh Stern, CEO of Reality Based Group (RBG). "In Texas there are 10,000."

RBG pioneered the video mystery shop as a reality based training tool.

"It's all about getting better," said Stern. "There is no more he said/she said when you have the video. That's for sure. Everyone can watch the film and agree what happened or didn't happen."

The best mystery shoppers don't stand out in any way. They blend with the customers and the gear blends with their clothes. That means the shops can't be recorded with a high-end camera or even a smartphone. The gear has to be invisible.

When Dixon goes up to the counter his camera is rolling. On his long checklist: a friendly greeting, eye contact, double-checking the order. From there, the food is the focus. It's Dixon's job to make eating at the restaurant even more appetizing.

Video shops might seem a little sneaky.

"Most of the time they have no idea," said Dixon. "Everybody thinks the cameras are in different places than they are."

The covert cameras let companies see through their customers' eyes.

"You've got to have the mindset you're helping people and just go with the flow and act natural," said Dixon.

After the shop, the audio and video is quickly sent to managers and employees who use it like coaches and athletes use game films.

"We've never fired somebody because of a bad game film," said Josh Moore, general manager at the Mighty Fine in Arbor Walk.

Secret shoppers are recording at thousands of restaurants and retailers across the state. If they're doing their job, the rest of us should have fewer reasons to complain.

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