Friday, January 16, 2009

A challenging photo audit

I had an "open audit" not long ago. I was asked to visit one of those mall playgrounds with rides and check each ride. Each ride was tested (with a helpful rider I brought along), photographed, described and the overall platform was checked for safety issues. The mystery shopping company provided me with an authorization letter in case I was questioned.

While performing my audit, I noticed an older gentleman watching me very closely. When I got out my camera to photograph a safety issue, he got on his cell phone. Within moments, my daughter and I were being escorted to the mall cop office for questioning. I showed them my letter, which did not impress them. I explained the assignment, which did not impress them. I provided the phone number of the assigning company and my business card, which they pushed aside on their desk. I asked their concern and they said, "You can't be too careful nowadays. What if you're a terrorist taking pictures so you'll know the best place to set a bomb?"

National paranoia is running a tad high, which I can certainly understand. The older gentleman acted very wisely, in my opinion. He was alert to suspicious activity and reported it to the proper authorities. The mall cops even handled it well, and called the assigning company to verify my credentials...eventually. Everyone remained calm and non-threatening.

But those of us who work in stealth mode need to know that we are being observed, and those observations might raise suspicion. And we need to be prepared. Think through the scenario at least once every couple months in your career. What do you do if you are questioned by a store employee? A manager? A mall cop? A police officer? Each answer should be slightly different. I had an advantage in that this was an open audit and I felt free to discuss my assignment. Had I been "undercover," the situation might have been a bit pricklier.

It deserves a moment of your time to consider the scenario, however.

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