Retail spying – for better customer service or customer information?

One of my constant pursuits, especially with writing this blog, is to promote and improve customer service. Technology has simultaneously both improved and hurt interactions with customers by de-humanizing the shopping experience but also ironically providing greater opportunities for human interaction after the sale. For example, in the past, I have discussed how effective Twitter can be for obtaining customer service, refunds, or other action when other other avenues are not available. Companies may be looking for ways to improve customer interaction in new ways to which we are beginning to learn and accept (or still remain oblivious).

Today was one of those circumstances that made me pause when I visited my favorite coffee company. At the counter, there was a reasonably sized sign that stated “Audio Recording in Progress.” I found that a little odd. Most stores now seem to have cameras for surveillance purposes, which we all have gotten pretty used to. But, I wondered for what purpose specifically recording AUDIO served? After I seeing the sign, I looked up and sure enough cameras and what appeared to be a microphone looking device were mounted above. Who were the cameras and microphones recording, me or the employees?

Spying on my daily coffee habit or improving customer service?

customer service

You might be watched while you shop

Taking a step back a bit, retail surveillance or “spying” is not necessarily new. A simple news search pointed me to multiple articles dating a few years back discussing how retailers “watch” customers in the store. Cameras, of course loyalty cards, and sensors have been prevalent for some time. But, again, why audio recording? I am curious if it’s to simply identify trends in what people order, say a “double, vegan, fat free, gluten free latte,” which is probably not necessarily entered exactly like that into the Point of Sale system each time. Is it to measure employee customer service? For example, if a customer was a bit tense in their order, or otherwise impatient, how did the employee react? Or, given that I live in DC, yet another way we are all surveilled?

As technology continues to advance, I anticipate more surveillance of this type will occur in retail establishments. Provided that employees and customers are well aware of this monitoring activity, as a consumer advocate, I can only hope that it will improve customer service, and even better, deals and discounts.

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