• Ekow Duker

The Terrorist Shopper




At Ixio Analytics, we’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we help organizations have meaningful conversations wth their customers. We came across a fascinating read in the Guardian, that describes new approaches to getting suspects in police custody to talk.


We’ve all watched televised police dramas where suspects are coerced or intimidated into divulging information. According to the article, ‘for years, any debate over what constitutes effective interrogation has been dominated by a pervasive folk belief in coercion. From NYPD Blue to 24 and Zero Dark Thirty, we are trained in the idea that interrogators get the job done by intimidating, demoralising and, when necessary, brutalising their subjects.’


Steve Kleinman, one of the US army’s most experienced interrogators is on record as saying that coercive tactics are counterproductive and lead to unsuccessful interviews. Why? Because they destroy trust. 


At first glance, a violent criminal or a heavily indoctrinated terrorist could not be further removed from a young mother browsing shop windows on a Saturday morning, cafe latté in one hand and shopping bags in the other. In certain aspects of their behaviour however, they are remarkably similar.


While retailers,  insurance companies and banks don’t usually attach live electric filaments to their customers’ private parts, the manner in which they engage with their customers can indeed erode trust.  We’ve seen a couple of ways in which companies do this:


Bombard your customers: Some companies will routinely contact all the customers in their data bases with undifferentiated messages in the hope that something will stick. Not only is this wasteful by definition, it risks alienating customers. 


Ignore your customers: Re-activating dormant customers is a classic use case in banking and other customer facing industries. However we often find that there’s been no communication with the customer whatsoever prior to the client calling us in to help. Unless carefully crafted to rebuild trust, subsequent approaches by the company can appear cynical and opportunistic.


Psychologists Emily and Laurence Alison from the University of Liverpool, were given access to almost 900 of hours of interrogation footage by the national counter-terrorism unit in the UK. Each of the at times harrowing videos, were painstakingly classified ‘according to an intricate taxonomy of interrogation behaviours’. Further statistical analyses revealed the most important contributory factor leading to a successful interrogation, success being measured in terms of the information obtained. That factor turned out to be… rapport.


Rapport refers to 'a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well’. Today, the Alison’s work is challenging the way in which police and military interrogations are conducted. The parallels with data science and marketing are clear.

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