Security Guards and Customer Service

An all too common utilization of security guards is customer service. Today’s age of shopping malls and intensified commercialization has exacerbated this seemingly overriding business need. At face value, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this business concept. After all, it is the security guard who is at the forefront of the interface between the business and the buying customer during office hours, or between the business provider and the business enabler outside these hours.

However, if not managed well, the ‘security’ in the oft-repeated service provider’s name may turn out to be just a front for a function that has nothing to do with security. This short article argues that business management, whether employer or client, must not lose sight of the primordial business need for the security guard which is to enable the business to operate not from a commercial standpoint but from a threat perspective. It therefore raises some observations that businesses anywhere are well advised to heed if they are to survive today’s emerging threats.

First on the list is the observation that few businesses seem to employ security guards based on their strengths. The guard is basically trained and experienced to protect life and property, in that order, and yet we often see guards merely going through the motions of ‘acting’ as if they are truly searching for threatening devices on people if they even know what these items look like. A guard cannot possibly and effectively check every person that enters a facility unless he is properly trained, equipped, frequently replaced to avoid operational fatigue, and given sufficient time to inspect each and every entrant as is customarily done at airports and embassies. In short, guards are often deployed to merely satisfy the effect of ‘window dressing’ as secret service agent Clint Eastwood uttered in ‘In the Line of Fire’. Well, as others would say, at least such probably deters the 95% amateur would-be threats that are easily intimidated by uniform presence. Still, how about the remaining 5%? As the intelligence community regularly teaches, ‘there is no impenetrable barrier to a determined intruder.’

Another observation is the frequent employment of security guards as anything but the guy who enforces security. How often have we seen guards acting like doormen, fee collectors, greeters, errand boys or girls, carry-on boys or girls, call center agents, drivers, or janitors? It may not be obvious to non-security practitioners but the fact is that each time a guard is made to do something totally unrelated to his function, the poor guard may be leaving a fixed post thereby creating a security gap that could be detrimental to access control in particular and to business interest in general. Each time a guard is made to pay more attention to opening doors or collecting fees, that guard begins to lose his edge about looking out for that threat who may do the company wrong. Eventually, these guards lose their professionalism altogether as they get confused as to what their actual role really is. How often do I see guards doing what they should not be doing or looking like a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group than a professional worthy of respect.

Thirdly, even guards become part of customer service indoctrination that puts too much emphasis on overdoing things to please customers which only manages to turn them off if not properly done. Being greeted repeatedly by product or service providers can be irritating to customers. Constantly asking customers what they need even without them asking can be harassing to these customers.

Finally, most business organizations do not have their guards reporting to a security professional or subject matter expert. If guards report to anything but a full-time security manager, it is not surprising for these guards to have an overemphasis of customer service as their constant marching orders. The problem with this set-up is that it actually has the effect of advancing two steps forward and then taking one step back. It has all the elements of supporting the business’ goal of satisfying customer need from a commercial standpoint but lacks the business enabling precautions that would come only from the informed and experienced eyes of the full-time security practitioner. Usually, these same businesses would claim that this needed oversight is already provided by third-party supervision. However, the business need of third-party providers seldom prompts them to adopt a position that contravenes that of the client’s. The day to day concerns of security are myriad: physical security, personnel security, information security, investigations, executive protection, supply chain security, disaster management, crisis management, etc. Customer service is inevitable in business and so is security. Balancing these two is best for business.