Events since 11 September last year have created an appreciation of the relevance and responsibilities of security personnel everywhere. Public attitudes to security and policing all over the world became refreshingly more accepting and considerate.
However, security cannot bask in this positive light indefinitely and public attitudes are already starting to turn. Where security is seen as unconcerned about performance levels and people's interests, the reputation of the discipline suffers and the image of security as professionals lapses. While I continually encounter people from security in meetings and training who have significant abilities and others who show immense potential for contributing to the industry, poor or unconcerned service delivery affects the reputation of everyone, not just those who display it.
There are two commercial banks up the road from where I live and both control access to the premises through a metal detection cubicle controlled by a security guard. In one, the security guard politely acknowledges you, courteously welcomes you to the bank, attentively lets you through, and generally portrays an effective public image that supports the staff and interior the bank is trying to create. In the other, the security guard looks up from where he is slouched over a counter reading a magazine or newspaper, presses a button to let you through, and disinterestedly looks back to what he was reading. Occasionally you are instructed to place your cellphone and keys on an area by the side of the entrance although the communication intercom is not clear and there is no consistent application of this procedure. Both banks spend millions on communicating an image of customer service and concern - yet for one of them, every time you enter the bank the professionalism of this image is seriously undermined. It is almost as if this bank's management believes that security falls outside of the bank service and it is only once you get to the tellers that service matters.
At an airport a couple of weeks ago when I was proceeding to another city with a security manager of a client organisation, passengers after checking in, had to wait in an X-ray clearance queue that stretched across the entire terminal check-in facility. The frustration of passengers at the prospect of a substantial wait after already enduring the check-in queue and their concern over making boarding times was plain to see. This was only alleviated when a security official decided to open a second X-ray machine to speed the processing up - something that could have been done 40 minutes earlier in the best interests of all concerned.
These problems probably rest in a number of areas but ultimately revolve around security as a service function. It is possible to ensure a secure environment and do so in a manner that people not only tolerate, but come to respect. I have seen situations where the exchange between security personnel at the reception areas of companies and staff is characterised by friendly greetings and personal interest from both sides. The guard has established a warm and relaxed environment with no compromise in his or her service delivery through a client centred approach with staff. Inevitably, when the security guard is positive, the staff reciprocate. Where things start off on a negative basis, this quickly spirals to situations neither are particularly happy to be in.
Part of the problem in service orientation of security personnel is that often security is not seen as a management concern or as part of the actual business process. Where this service orientation does exist, for example in the casino industry, security actions are expected to be in line with the highest standards of customer service provided by any other department. Where management see security merely providing a perimeter role which has no influence on the perceptions of service or staff morale, security personnel and functions become relegated to a role that inevitably diminishes both them and the credibility they have.
While general management may sometimes be to blame, security management cannot ignore their own responsibility. The contrast between service orientated security and those who literally do not care is so recognisable that it may as well be worlds apart. The question is not just how one ensures that things are secure, but how one makes clients feel good about the way you are doing it. The more you put people out, the more they are likely to react negatively to what you are doing. Simpler client centred procedures and processes go some way to make things work.
If things have to be more complex, improving the speed of services is an important component. If all else fails, a polite apology and acknowledgement of some of the problems may do wonders to restore the belief that security really is there in the interests of all. It is becoming increasingly important for client perceptions to be part of the performance management, selection and training processes within security service providers.
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