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Changing of the guard

The role of the security guard has changed, from ‘heavy’ to brand ambassador, writes Jason Etherington, pictured, Managing Director of Security, at the contract services company Servest.

I think it’s fair to say that at one time security guards would simply be thought of as burly, bulky blokes, armed with bulging biceps, a sneer and a walkie-talkie. Thankfully, people’s perceptions of this crucial profession are shifting. Long gone are those rather archaic images of doormen, bouncers and population control officers. These days, there seems to be a wider appreciation of the vital contribution these individuals make to day-to-day business operations. In line with this attitudinal revolution, if you will, the job description for the modern-day security guard is also evolving.

Despite always standing on the front line of customer-client contact, employers have slowly realised that their guards not only protect places and people – but that they also play a key role in safeguarding an organisation’s reputation. Modern day security guards are, to all intents and purposes, brand ambassadors – the critical contribution of those who had routine face to face interaction with the community was clearly apparaent; in the army and especially on operations they were referred to as ‘strategic corporals’. Security guards, now referred to in Servest as security officers, are the first people shoppers encounter when they enter stores on the high street; the first faces clubbers see when they reach the front of the queue; the first voices to wish holiday-makers a ‘safe flight’ at an airport; the first welcoming smiles flashed at tourists setting foot into bustling museums and art galleries; and, in the business world, the first set of hands scanning the barcodes of all those conference badges. As we know, first impressions count. In fact, they can make or break the guest experience. If you subscribe to Warren Buffett’s belief that ‘it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it’, then you need to actively consider the impact of each touchpoint. The first of which is usually the security officer. If he or she stands there and looks disengaged – with their arms crossed, sporting a frown and stifling a yawn – then a warm welcome is out of the question. If guests encounter anything that can be considered hostile before they even get through the door that first impression of your business is in immediate jeopardy.

Modern security officers are tasked with not only providing base line security to the property and its assets, but also with delivering a five-star guest service. Considering that the realms of security and hospitality overlap, these individuals have to understand the brand, the customer and the premises; more so than ever before. It’s down to the management teams to give their security officers the power and the knowledge they need to be able to represent the company image correctly.

Recruitment plays a key role when it comes to honouring these shifting expectations. In addition to finding people that possess the necessary experience, you also need to hire individuals who reflect your organisational values. Assessing personality fit is imperative if your security team members are to act as brand ambassadors for your business. These soft skills shouldn’t be a secondary consideration; nor should ‘customer service’ be viewed as a desirable skill. It’s not. It’s one of the essentials. Once you’ve found the people with the right aptitude and attitude, you then have to nurture and develop that talent. Consider running bespoke hospitality training programmes that will teach your staff about the importance of first impressions and effective communication. We run a ‘11 in 10’ training scheme at Servest. Our colleagues undertake 11 modules, spanning various concepts – everything from how to offer service excellence to front of house fundamentals – all of which are delivered in ten minute punchy programmes. This keeps our teams refreshed and up to date, not to mention engaged.

Engagement is key. Remind your teams of the important role they play in enhancing the overall business experience; empower people to be proactive and to think about how they can make a difference. At Servest, we’ve seen our security officers, supervisors and managers go above and beyond the call of duty. Recently, one of our officers played a part in helping save someone’s life; they witnessed a serious injury and responded by offering first aid. This is a case in point that if your security teams are engaged, and if they’re encouraged to take part in learning and career development initiatives that sit outside of the “traditional” security sphere, then the security offering can make even more of a positive difference to the organisation in question.


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