Finding the Right Balance

Aug. 25, 2014
Technological security advancements vs. human engineering in Loss Prevention


Human Engineering – 1: Defined as management of humans and their affairs, especially as it pertains to industry.

Technology – 3: A manner used to accomplish a task especially by using technical processes, methods or knowledge.

In 1994 – 95, a major luxury retailer was forced to adopt what we came to term a customer-service-based corporate security program due to a catastrophic internal theft that rocked the company to its very core.  As a result of this incident, we were tasked with coming up with a means of becoming more responsive to our customers’ needs, and to begin to repair the significant damage that had been done to the company by one of our own.  Through months of strategic meetings, focus groups and benchmarking, we implemented a program that reached out to all the people who had lost confidence in security - those who we were supposed to serve and protect.  The program we initiated was based on words like service, partnership, communication, exclusivity and quality. 

We first had to identify who our “customers” were. We travelled to our retail stores.  We had meetings with customer service center employees at all levels; we formed focus groups throughout the corporate structure, and determined that our customers were management, as well as the rank and file employees we once ruled with an iron fist.  Of course, we didn’t believe that until we asked them - and what they told us was painfully eye opening.   What the employees needed from a corporate security department and what we could do to assist them to help make their jobs as seamless and productive as possible was simple. We had to be better at communicating and listening when it related to security policies and procedures, and we had to be the best operational support group in the company.  

Keeping Your Perspective

We achieved our goal - what I consider to be the gold standard in loss prevention and corporate security.  Most of my philosophies regarding loss prevention stems from my belief of protecting people first.  I also believe that we need to provide leadership, guidance and partnership throughout our areas of responsibility.  We can best do that through verbal communication:  to be committed to and responsive to their immediate needs.  A computer just can’t do that.  A software program can’t do that, nor can an integrated CCTV system, no matter how sophisticated.  Technology can help, but one–on-one interaction with a real person remains loss prevention’s most effective tool.

As loss prevention and security professionals, we may have lost some of our perspective as we strive to keep up with all the latest technological advancement.  Does the stress of implementing programs that  increase our annual budgets, and/or get our capital expenditures approved come at the expense of providing hands-on service to the people we serve?  In many cases, people in our organizations require nothing more than basic human contact, real time communications and an intellectual approach to problem solving.

The simple answer is: yes and no.  Confused?   So let’s explore the most effective ways to layer technology into what is, always has been, and always will be, a people-based industry.  Who do we report to?  Who do we serve?  People - not just management and rank and file associates, but also our customers, as well as our stockholders and investors. 

In a previous corporate loss prevention experience, it became quite apparent that the entire corporate philosophy was centered on the use of myriad LP technology and programs as its most effective methods of driving down shrinkage.  It became immediately clear that the department’s single most important person was the corporate IT security manager.  Unfortunately, the individual tasked with driving these programs, getting us to embrace them and to obtain results had very poor interpersonal skills.  If we didn’t instantly understand and apply the programs as they were designed, we were labeled uninformed and deficient.  If we didn’t maximize our results or strictly adhere to the technological protocols and timelines for using these imbedded programs, we were labeled idiots.

Unfortunately he lost me -- his “customer” -- somewhere around week three and never won me back.   When I was originally asked to join this company’s LP group, I was tasked with one thing: bring a more humanistic approach to driving down shrinkage. The goal was to get store, district and regional associates to embrace the LP policies we believed would help them positively affect shrinkage. 

While some of us were ingrained to rely on the highly technological approach, others also seemed to embrace the very familiar “my way or the highway” mentality when it came to driving these policies.  I’ve learned over a 35 year career in loss prevention that heavy- handed and strict metrics-based concepts don’t always work, unless they are complemented with a basic understanding of how humans function. In other words, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.       

The one common and consistent refrain I heard from all of my store and district reports was that they needed someone to communicate with them, which amounted to promptly returning phones when and an issue arose, and to advise them on dealing with the day-to-day issues. It was apparent that staff and employees needed people manager and not data analyst.    

Managers have become obsessed with using rocket science to solve the most basic human issues and conditions.  So, what’s the answer?  How do we best steer the ship using the stars and the horizon, as well as the latest navigational technology?

Simply said, we need to strike a balance.  It may seem odd that I would take this stance in one of the leading technology publications, but it is my strong belief that LP professionals must not lose sight of the basic humanistic aspects that characterized loss prevention philosophy in the early days. 

This is not to say we should minimize the use of the technology available to us.  However, we must keep our perspective and recognize why we’re here, and why we became loss prevention professionals. Simple objectives include the help and protection of employees and customers, whether it be a brick and mortar store or an eCommerce.  If we don’t provide a safe environment, then sales associates won’t be able to maximize and convert sales; customers will bypass our venues and simply go to our competitors.      

Technology as a Tool, Not a Crutch

Technology advances have provided loss prevention professionals dynamic tools. The latest versions of exception reporting and sales auditing programs certainly expedite the ability to pursue cases by identifying abnormalities in POS register performance. Card access systems can restrict unauthorized access and reduce risk and liability.  In-house designed or off-the-shelf case management software packages can track and trend losses, and then help us to strategize our next moves. Integrated CCTV systems, with remote view capabilities, provide key evidence, and when coupled with EAS, can help reduce loss due to external theft. 

But they do not conduct the employee interviews for us.  They do not hold district meetings or personally interact with our retail, corporate or supply chain partners, and they cannot convince local and district retail managers to embrace policy or honor our compliance demands.  The power of face to face communication allows us to verbalize our needs, and subsequently turn those words into actions.   

Here are four primary functions companies establish loss prevention programs -- in no particular order:

  • To protect our most valued commodities - not our jeans, jewelry, fragrances, electronics or even our frappachinos; it’s to serve and protect our employees and customers or clients.  
  • To protect the brand and the company’s name within the industry and in the public eye. 
  • To prevent loss of company assets, or recover that which has already been lost. 
  • To ensure that the company achieves maximum profitability and market share, and to combat any negative issues to affect investor or employee relations.

To succeed, loss prevention professionals must commitment themselves to taking a balanced, evenhanded approach when it comes to technology and the human element.  Egos and budgetary aspirations should be checked at the door. 

One of my former bosses was extremely clear what his position on technology was when his loss prevention staff would return from LP and security conferences salivating for new stuff. He’d tell us in no uncertain terms that he was not about to become some vendor’s Guinea Pig, spending big dollars on new and unproven technology. Then he’d promptly tell us to hit the floor and catch some bad guys. The bottom line remains that technology is an asset, but personnel still is the heart of the loss prevention foundation.

About the Authors

 Stephen Schwartz is the Director of Investigation and Loss Prevention for CORR Protective Services in Union, NJ.  During a 35-year career working for such notables as Tiffany & Company, Tommy Hilfiger USA, and Kmart, Schwartz established himself as one of the top Undercover Operations and Organized Retail & Cargo Crime experts in the U.S., compiling an impressive track record of major investigative accomplishments.

Fern Abbott is a licensed Private Detective and NJSP-Certified SORA (NJ Security Officer Registration Act) instructor. She has been in the security field for over 30 years. Ms. Abbott is currently a site security manager in Northern NJ, as well as the director & chief instructor at AFI Security Training Institute in Rahway, NJ, where she trains security officers for SORA certification. Ms. Abbott has authored various articles on security management.  Visit her website to read those articles at