Customer service and situational awareness in the security industry

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When the customer definitely isn’t right. – by Tony O’Brien

The phrase “the customer is always right” has long been thrown around as the gold standard in every service role. But does it always apply to the security industry? What happens when the customer is obviously not right or is completely wrong?

For many years the security industry viewed itself as an enforcement role and those within it were responsible for enforcing rules, regulations and standards. To a certain extent this still forms a part of most security roles. However, I would like to think that we have moved on from this and the modern security professional now forms just as much a part of the customer experience as the sales advisor, bar person or receptionist in our place of work.

In general, a security operative will be the first point of contact for every visitor to your premises. They form part of the first impression that every person gets. They are also most likely the last person every visitor will interact with before they leave and form the last impression. Should there be an issue or emergency during their visit they will surely need security assistance.

The 3 basic principles of being Polite, Professional and Positive in customer service will work across the board and should get you through most interactions. But what about those tricky interactions where the customer is blatantly wrong? Do they still apply?
The short answer is yes, however a 4th and equally important principle also comes into play. That principle is situational awareness and can be the difference between a situation being resolved peacefully and a video with 2 million views on social media.

The security uniform and the situations in which we find ourselves place us in the public eye. In our interactions with the public our actions come under increased scrutiny because of the uniform. This means that we can’t just focus on the one to one customer interaction we are involved in but also the dozens of other customers who are in the area. This is where situational awareness becomes a huge part of customer service. Being aware of who is around and what the situation looks like from both the customer and the bystander’s perspective is a huge advantage. Being situationally and socially aware can help avoid and minimise many embarrassing situations for both ourselves and our employer. This is customer service in its totality. Being aware of our full range of customers including the person being dealt with, bystanders, the general public and our employer. These are all people to who we supply a service to and are therefore customers.

Let’s take a simple retail security scenario like an arrest. We walk outside the door to detain the shoplifter.
Who are our range of customers here?

The shoplifter: They have been in our store and availed of the premises and are (however unwelcome) a customer. Every good retail security officer will employ polite, professional and positive service skills in order to get the person to comply (hopefully) with their directions. Failure to use customer service skills in this interaction can lead to issues at the next level.

Bystanders: They are paying customers in our store and probably don’t want their shopping experience disrupted by an argument between a security guard and shoplifter. So we have to be situationally aware of these people watching and what their expectations are.

The general public: If things go wrong with the interaction with the shoplifter and we fail to be situationally aware of bystander’s expectations as customers then inevitably the situation will become public. Whether through eyewitnesses gathering to watch or camera phones spreading the message on social media. We are now at a point where our interaction is not just viewed by our immediate customers but can also influence future and past customers who witness it second hand. This can influence their perception of you as an officer, the premises you’re protecting and will be perceived as poor customer service before they even enter the store.

Finally, your employer or your client is also your customer. You provide a service and they pay you a price for it. How will your service be viewed when an incident like this escalates? Do you think it looks like value for money for the product they are paying for?

So going back to basics. Customer service is about providing a service that is fit for purpose in the circumstances. It means looking and acting professionally, being polite in your interactions and always looking for a positive outcome no matter how awkward the customer becomes. It is also being situationally aware of your full range of customers and what they expect. Finally, the essence of true customer care is in protecting your own personal brand, your reputation, your integrity, your industry and your job.


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