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Mystery-shopping entrepreneurs spy profits in improving poor service.

This story appears in the October 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine.

They're everywhere: an army of rude clerks, waiters and sales staff who seem indifferent to just how irritating they can be. But as America's business climate becomes increasingly competitive, growing numbers of employers are realizing they can't afford to alienate even a fraction of their customers with poor service.

The need for businesses to know how the staff really treats customers when the boss is out of earshot has given rise to more than 500 mystery-shopping firms nationwide--double the number of just five years ago, according to Mark Michelson, owner of Michelson & Associates Inc., an Atlanta market research firm. Usually started on a shoestring by people who understand what the public wants, mystery-shopping firms hire subcontractors to go undercover and make a purchase, eat at a restaurant, visit a movie theater or apply for a loan, then complete a report about the experience.

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