Audit, Surveillance, and Customer Service

brown pants teach me about audit, surveillance, and customer service

I had a recent experience that shed some insight into the difference between audit, surveillance, and customer service.

It all started because I couldn’t find my pants. My favorite brown pants to be exact. I was packing for a trip and I couldn’t find them in the closet.

I could vaguely remember the last time I’d worn them. At a conference I had attended last month. But what happened to them between then and now. “The cleaners. They must be at the cleaners,” I told myself, half-heartedly.  Most of the time I take care of my clothes myself, but sometimes they are bad enough to warrant taking them to the cleaners.   I headed out to the car and looked at the clip-band on the visor. This is where I usually keep the tickets for items that are at the cleaners.  Nothing there. Unpersuaded, I decided I was going to check the dry cleaner’s anyway.

The next day I showed up at the dry cleaners bright and early. I’ve been giving my dry clean business to the same guy since 1997, when he opened his doors. We’ve been on a first name basis almost from day 1. He has saved shirts of mine that I thought were beyond all hope. When I need a rush job, he always obliges. On the other hand, I never try to abuse the privilege. If I don’t need a rush job, I don’t ask for it.  I gave him a 5 star review on Yelp.

I say all that not to give his business a plug. I actually don’t want to mention him by name. I say all that to convey the level of trust in him. So that when he looked up my records in his system, and told me, “Sorry Calvin, we don’t have anything of yours right now,” you’ll know that I completely and truly believed him. I was ready to turn around and leave, but he asked me to wait a minute.

I thought maybe he was going to check some sort of lost and found, so I hung around. He engaged into some furious tying on his computer, made a couple of quick mouse clicks and then spun around the monitor for me to see. He’d pulled up a screen shot of surveillance video of the lobby of the dry cleaners. It showed my at the counter with the clothes hanging right there as I paid for them. “This looks like the clothes you are looking for. This was when you picked them up on Friday.”

Now, like I said, I completely trust my dry cleaner guy. I was ready to walk out the door and take him at his word. But I could almost feel something happening in my head when I saw that picture. If there was any lingering doubt, it was now completely dismissed. Wherever those missing brown pants were, I knew that they weren’t at the dry cleaners.

The difference between Audit, Surveillance, and Customer Service

Given the story above, answer the following question:

This story is an example of:

  • A) Great customer service
  • B) A good audit control documenting a key point in a business transaction
  • C) A creepy example of surveillance done without me being notified
  • D) All of the above

There is no doubt in my mind that a sufficiently aggressive lawyer teamed up with an unscrupulous customer could turn the dry cleaner’s set up into a legal nightmare that would cost him tens of thousands of dollars in legal hassle and my friend the dry cleaner might very well lose. And even if he won, the PR costs would be a huge nightmare.

And yes, there’s no doubt in my mind that the screen shot of the surveillance video is a useful audit control point. The video isn’t prefect. It doesn’t show every single piece of clothing being picked up on screen. The items you are picking up are bundled together as a group of hangers and you only see the item on outside of the bundle. But for virtually everyone, myself included, seeing that picture would be more than enough to convince me I’d picked up all the items in the order. More importantly, I think that the screen shot would be more than enough to convince a judge in small claims court or, if it came to that, convince a jury.

But for me personally,  the right answer to the question above is A) Great customer service.  Not that I really needed convincing, but it dispelled any lingering doubt I might have had. I appreciated seeing the picture of me picking up the order because now I could wipe that possibility from my mind and concentrate on looking in other places.

Because I’d known the owner of the story for almost 14 years, because I’d had hundreds, maybe even thousands of transactions with this guy, because we know each other on a first name basis, because we’d traded tips on computers, phones, and cars over the years, his video camera screen shot of me didn’t bother me a bit.

So “D) All of the above” is the right answer. The difference between audit, surveillance, and great customer service has absolutely nothing to do with the technology involved. There’s no setting on the camera that can be dialed between Audit, Surveillance, and Customer Service mode.  Instead it has everything to do with the relationships between the people involved. The lesson I get out of this is whenever we talk about creating privacy protections for a technology control, we need to clearly understand the relationships between all parties involved and the level of trust they have with each other before we start prescribing controls to address the privacy issues.

And the pants? Yeah, I found them. hanging in the closet, still in the plastic wrap, tucked between two shirts that I had picked up at the same time.  At least I got a good story out of it.



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