Saturday, January 23, 2016

Customer Service in Digital Forensics

January 23, 2016

Customer Service in Digital Forensics

My first jobs as a teenager were in customer service.  The brief first foray into the world of customer service was at an amusement park, which ironically, was anything but amusing.  After 3 months there, I transitioned to a retail environment where I worked for several years and into college.  You might be surprised to learn that the transition from retail customer service to public service in law enforcement was not all that much of a leap.  The biggest overall difference is the personal danger aspect.

After leaving law enforcement to start my own digital forensic consulting company, I find that many of the lessons, skills and techniques I learned working in a retail environment serve me quite well in dealing with attorneys, clients and the general public.  This is an intangible that I propose often gets lost among both governmental and private sector digital forensic practitioners.  We all have customers -- from the crimes against person detective to the special agent accountant to the corporation who feels they’ve been the victim of intellectual property theft.  The natural tendency is for us to treat our customers like they need us.  They need our skills, our knowledge and our expertise to help analyze, interpret and explain what may have been going on in their cases.  But the truth is, we need them at least as much!

Customer Service in the Public Sector

For my friends & colleagues in the government sector, this can sometimes be a far leap.  You see, the reality is that many in public service don’t really have a sense of service at all.  Yes, that comment will undoubtedly bristle some of my public sector friends, but deep down, they all know it’s true.  There are folks working for the government that are there to pick up a steady paycheck, get decent benefits, not really caring to be pushed or challenged and doing (almost) as little as possible.  This article is not for them.

My purpose in this article is to refresh the sense of service of those in the government who enjoy their job and enjoy the rewards that come with doing a good job, even if it’s not always (or ever) recognized.  The homicide detective who brings you a cell phone or computer of a suspect is your first-line customer.  Without him, your job doesn’t exist and trust me, if no one is bringing you work, your superiors will eventually recognize that and start to re-evaluate your job.  Sometimes, even the most dedicated public servant sighs and gnashes his teeth when the detective (who sometimes fits the category in the previous paragraph) brings you evidence and wants you to solve his case for him.  But think about why you got interested in this field in the first place.  Think about what drives you and challenges you.  No two cases are the same.  Maybe this case will be the one in which you’ll be able to write a case-study or learn a new technique.  Maybe you’ll discover evidence that will lead to the rescue of a child or the arrest of a sexual assault suspect.  And while it’s true that the investigators are the first-line customers of the public-sector digital forensic examiner, the real customer is the innocent public and victims of crime.  They’re the ones you are there to help.  Never forget that.

Customer Service in the Private Sector

Being in private practice, you’d think having good customer service would be a “no-brainer”.  Well, in the past 18+ months since we launched Pro Digital full-time, I’ve been schooled in the fact that not every private practitioner really practices good customer service (or even knows what it is).  I’ve been pleasantly shocked to receive no less than a half-dozen referrals because of other practitioner’s lack of responsiveness and service.  I’m happy to serve their clients.  It gives Pro Digital a better reputation, expands our client-base and assures our place in the digital forensic market. 

Our customers (clients) range from spouses embroiled in divorce matters to plaintiffs or defendants in civil actions.  They all require different levels of communication, attention, education and technical expertise to help them through their cases.  Going a bit further, we help out indigent clients and accept court-appointed cases at reduced rates because our history of public service was not abandoned when we launched a private practice.  We know our clients need us to perform services they may have neither the skills nor the equipment to perform, but just because that fact is present and undeniable doesn’t mean we take our clients for granted.

Perhaps the best notion on which to hang the proverbial hat of customer service upon in private practice of digital forensics is trust.  Our clients trust us with their data, which is oftentimes very sensitive.  They trust us to be able to help them in their cases.  And they trust that we won’t over-bill or exploit their naiveté about digital forensics and investigation.  That measure of trust is one we do not take lightly, nor do we ever intend to forget.

One More Thought

I’d like to close by touching briefly on the public-private sector “rivalry”, or whatever term is appropriate to define the alleged philosophical difference in approaches between public and private sector practitioners.  Both as a digital forensic consultant and as a trainer, I’ve run into a segment of workers and “leaders” in public service with the overall mindset that what they do is of a higher calling and, because they don’t get paid as much as private sector practitioners, they are sacrificing some of themselves for the public good.  I’ve even experienced this as a contract trainer who teaches to law enforcement. 

To be honest, it makes no sense to me.  It may make some sense if I had never worked in law enforcement, but being that I also dedicated 15 years of my career to public service, I really don’t accept the notion that my counterparts in public service are sacrificing themselves for the public good.  The bottom line is, we all get paid to do a job.  (And please trust me when I say that many of you get paid much more than me!)  Government workers are paid by tax-payers to do a job, just like private practitioners are paid by clients to do a similar job.  We all have “customers” and we’re all answerable to them.  We’re all part of the system and the system needs us all to try to maintain fair and impartiality in investigations and court proceedings. 

We all have a role to fill.  Let’s make a common pledge to work together to serve everyone to the best of our ability by putting ego aside and working for the benefit of the digital forensic field, never forgetting the value of the customers we serve.  We’ll all gain from that mindset!

Patrick J. Siewert, SCERS, BCERT, LCE
Principal Consultant
Professional Digital Forensic Consulting, LLC
Virginia DCJS #11-14869
Based in Richmond, Virginia
Available Globally

We Find the Truth for a Living!

About the Author:
Patrick Siewert is the Principal Consultant of Pro Digital Forensic Consulting, based in Richmond, Virginia.  In 15 years of law enforcement, he investigated hundreds of high-tech crimes, incorporating digital forensics into the investigations, and was responsible for investigating some of the highest jury and plea bargain child exploitation cases in Virginia court history.  A graduate of both SCERS, BCERT, the Reid School of Interview & Interrogation and various online investigation schools (among others), Siewert continues to hone his digital forensic expertise in the private sector while growing his consulting & investigation business marketed toward litigators, professional investigators and corporations.
Twitter: @ProDigital4n6