The customer service keystone in security delivery

customer service

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ISJ hears from Jennifer Ciolfi MSc, CSyP, Sr. Regional Security Manager, Snap Inc.

In May 2023, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to speak at the ISJ Leaders in Security Conference in Dubai, where I was permitted to discuss one of my favourite topics: Why customer service matters so much in security delivery.

I like the topic so much that I did my Master’s dissertation on this exact subject.

The customer service keystone

Throughout my talk, I was able to present some of the key findings that came out of the research I completed, but I didn’t have the time to dive into the implications of those findings.

Fortunately, ISJ offered to let me write some of my further thoughts on the matter.

We interviewed 100 people about their experience with security officers, their thoughts about those interactions and the value they place on the quality of service that they receive.

Of those hundred people, 98 of them stated that in the delivery of security services, customer service was either critically important or very important.

In stark contrast to the expectation clearly communicated above, 60% of our respondents reported having negative experiences with a security officer, with the highest rated responses, being “acted condescending” followed by “was overly aggressive” and “was rude”.

These were some of the shared feedbacks: Not interested in my issue.

Had a bag stolen at shopping centre; inflexibility, no empathy for customer; dismissive of line management structure; our University Security Officers were rude and difficult to work with.

In an industry where we continually struggle to demonstrate our financial worth to the business world, these are not glowing reviews and they represent the experiences of more than half of our sample size. How could we be getting things so very wrong?

I purpose that we are getting things wrong at the very beginning, globally.

In Ontario Canada, security guards must complete a 40 hour training program that includes four hours of “Effective Communication” and three hours of “Sensitivity Training”.

In the UK, the Security Industry Authority outlines seven areas of study that must be completed during a four day course.

None of the seven topics include customer service. In New South Wales Australia, a new security officer needs to complete 13 different modules; only one covers effective communication but does not specifically discuss customer service.

This is a global phenomenon – we appear to all be failing equally and the world is expecting better.

Why does it matter?

Back to our 100 eager responders.

We gave our subjects the following list of potential security training courses and asked them to rank them from one to nine in order of importance.

The results appear to be at odds with the current curriculum found across the globe.

  • Communications
  • Conflict Management
  • Customer Service
  • Defensive Tactics
  • Emergency Response
  • First-Aid
  • Law and Security
  • Security Procedures
  • Other

Once we finished our calculations, customer service landed in second place, second only to security procedures. The public’s expectation of security providers couldn’t be any clearer.

They want to be treated better. But, why does it matter?

Why should organisations adamantly insist on the highest quality of customer service from its security program? The painful truth is that poor customer service hurts the pocket book.

A study conducted at the Society for New Communications Research (Barnes, 2019) identified that almost 75% of their survey respondents stated that they either agree or strongly agree that they choose companies based on the customer care experience that others post online.

This opens up a large can of worms in the security industry; what if poor customer interactions with security are now being posted online and those posts are reflecting on the organisations?

Text from a Facebook post below manages to demonstrate these points:

‘Extremely intimidating & threatening security guards who have no customer service skills at all. How dare a member of your store team call me a liar? Further to the above point, I don’t care that these security guards are contracted. They wear a Tesco Security outfit so they are therefore representing your organisation and your core values. It seems to me that they do not receive any customer service training before joining your team. Do Tesco have such little regard for the safety and comfort of their lone female customers?’ (, 2013)

We know that people with bad experiences leave bad reviews.

This is not a new realisation, but what businesses and organisations might be realising is the impact that these reviews and these shared experiences can have on their bottom line.

In 2011, Professor Michael Luca, from Harvard Business School, published the results of a study in which he demonstrated that a one star increase in a business’s Yelp rating translated into a 5-9% increase in revenue.

In the past decade, the Yelp Effect has only grown to include more websites. Google reviews often get responses from businesses.

Organisations take the time to issue personalised responses to online reviews because they have learned that those reviews matter.

The definition of good customer service can vary, but in all my research this is my favourite definition:

‘A management strategy that focuses on meeting customer expectations. It is based on the concept that the organisation will reach its goals effectively and efficiently through satisfaction of the customer’ – Wagenheim, George D; Reurink, John H., 1991.

So, how do we guide and train our officers to deliver on this management strategy?

According to Akroush et al, we should focus on these five areas: Reputation Building Skills; Customer Service Culture; Non-Verbal Communication Skills; Verbal Communication Skills and Problem Solving skills  (Akroush et al., 2010).

Within these five different components of customer service, we find some very concrete skills that we can target for enhanced training.

Skills such as how to build trust, how to effectively listen, problem solving, customer complaint handling, negotiation and persuasive communications.

These skills target the very root of our interactions with all our customers, staff and members of the public alike.

We can train our officers to be more effective and more efficient at addressing people’s concerns and working through challenges to provide a satisfactory solution. 

In our survey, we also asked people how they weigh security interactions versus problem solving by asking people the following question: ‘Imagine that you have lost your wallet and have gone to see security to see if it was turned in.

Security checks lost and found, locates your wallet and returns it to you, with all the contents, including cash, still intact. Please rate how important customer service would be to this interaction’

63% of respondents stated that: “How I am treated is as equally important as getting my wallet back”. Only one person stated that they did not care how they were treated, as long as they got back their wallet.

We need to be training our officers to do a better job with how they are helping people.  This goes directly back to how we are training our officers to respond to conflict.

Research into conflict resolution styles offers insight that may help our officers create an environment of “you and me against the problem”, instead of the classic security interaction that generally devolves into “you versus me”. 

Research evidence supports that:

“Consumers who found the conflict to be task-based, had a tendency to focus on the facts or events that caused the conflict and generally adopted a solution seeking focus, looking for a practical resolution. Consumers who classified their conflict as personal based tended to make more wide sweeping assumptions about the entire brand and tended to utilise a more conflict style of resolution seeking which did not tend to produce a positive or practical solution” (Beverland et al., 2010). 

Changing the world

The good news is that we might be getting better.

More and more security customers are raising the bar.

Customers are willing to pay more to get a better trained officer. While the bargain basement security providers may be keeping the front page of YouTube supplied with a steady stream of cringe-worthy videos, most organisations are actively working towards elevating their own security officer standards.

Most contract security vendors are offering customer service training and more customers are willing to pay for the higher calibre training package. 

Every few months I complete what I like to call the “YouTube Temperature Check” and you can all feel free to join me.

Type “Security Guard/Officer” into the YouTube search bar – when the first page of results aren’t a depressing litany of overzealous, rude and over the top security officers, we’ll know that we’ve made some real progress.

But, the path to demonstrating the quantifiable value of security to an organisation is more than a courteous security officer.

Customer service goes further than being polite. It is about providing care for anyone who needs it; it’s about helping to solve problems.

And, it’s about helping the business achieve its goals by mitigating risk and providing a safe environment for work to thrive in. 

I’m hopeful though, every time I talk about customer service and its value, I see an ocean of agreeing faces.

I believe that our industry wants to do better and be better and – while I know that we still have work to do – I know that I am part of the change.

Together, we can change the world.

1-ISJ- The customer service keystone in security delivery
Jennifer Ciolfi MSc, CSyP, Sr. Regional Security Manager, Snap Inc.
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