Customer Service and Crime Prevention: A Converged Approach By Rob Kennedy
The role of the security officer often requires great customer service skills that contribute to both meeting and exceeding the customer's and client's expectations.
Every day we see examples of this. Evidence is shared on social media that showcases the fantastic work provided by a range of people across the entire private security industry.
Great customer service skills are undoubtedly a key attribute that every security officer should possess.
We have all received some form of customer service training at one point or another in our careers. This may have been delivered by customer service experts, and will most likely have been a very 'fluffy' approach to the topic.
As part of the SIA Security Officer and Door Supervisor qualifications, customer service is, somewhat disappointingly, only touched upon briefly.
The SIA qualifications do acknowledge, however, that the proactive use of customer service can reduce frustration, in turn preventing frustration from leading to anger – which can quickly result in aggression and violence.
The links between customer service and conflict management are obvious, however what about the links between customer service and crime prevention? What about the impact customer service can have with regards to countering the threat of terrorism?
Security models are designed to influence the behaviour of would be criminals. The security model recommended by Mark Button in his excellent book entitled 'Doing Security' (well worth the investment) utilises Luke's three-dimensional model of power applied to security to influence 'malefactor behaviour' (criminal behaviour).
Within this model, the Second and First dimensions highlight the importance of enhancing the human element. This model also incorporates the use of social deterrence methods and situational measures to refocus malefactor behaviour.
Situational methods will include Situational Crime Prevention (SCP) and Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) as described in my previous article in Edition 2 of TPSO.
The 'human element' within this model obviously refers to the security officer; I would imagine a motivated professional security officer is the expectation of this model.
Customer service skills form part of the security officers' role and responsibilities, with this being of particular importance to ensuring an effective layer of security. The reasoning behind this will hopefully be explained within the remainder of this article.
Hostile reconnaissance against the venues, assets and areas that we as security professionals secure is undertaken by both terrorists and criminals. This will entail numerous visits to the locations guarded by security during the planning stages of criminal or terrorist activities.
How many visits I hear you ask? Psychologists have researched 'Human Spatial Mapping' and determined that the average person requires between 4 to 7 visits to a location to imprint a map within the brain. This is usually mapped when we visit a new shopping centre, sports ground or such and our thought processes store the relevant information that we need to know, such as how to get to the place that sells the best coffee, beer, burgers, handbags etc.
This also applies to criminals and terrorists when conducting hostile reconnaissance.
For the purpose of this article, let's assume that criminals and terrorists will visit locations numerous times whilst conducting hostile reconnaissance – and as we have learned, a minimum of 4 visits is the lowest needed for the average person to imprint a map onto the brain.
This provides the security model – and the human elements within this model i.e. the security officer – numerous opportunities to influence the behaviour of would be criminals and terrorists.
Taking advantages of these opportunities will contribute to deterring the would-be criminals and terrorists from carrying out their act all together, or influence their decision to choose a softer target.
Customer service, combined with basic criminology, can then be utilised to enhance the safety within the environments we operate within.
Routine Activity Theory argues that three factors are required to enable crimes to be committed; a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian (security officer).
A security officer displaying great customer service skills across numerous interactions with the public would demonstrate a professional motivated individual i.e. a capable guardian. This would potentially take away one of the factors required for crime to flourish.
Rational Choice Theory (also explained in issue 2) argues that criminals and terrorists make rational choices and decisions to ensure the success of their activities. This is where we as security professionals can influence the choices and decisions that the potential criminal/terrorist makes.
During the hostile reconnaissance phase, when crimes and terrorist activities are being planned, those conducting such activity are often under acute mental stress, often due to the risk of being discovered. Such low-level indicators that would display this include:
- Fear & Anxiety
- Stimming, nail biting etc
- Clock watching
- Avoiding places where people are
- Avoiding eye contact with personnel
- Hesitation or indecision when entering a security or check point
- Exaggerated yawning (as the brain needs more oxygen when under stress)
- Subconscious traits
- Touching the face
- Head turning (panning)
- Exaggerated body movements
- Attention to detail
- Rubbing or wringing hands
This is when the human element within the security model can be effective in influencing the rational choices made by would be criminals/terrorists. This can be done by utilising customer service skills by approaching any individuals that are displaying such low-level indicators.
The approach will clarify to the security officer if the situation needs to be escalated (your gut feeling should always be trusted) and influence the would-be criminal/terrorist.
Considering the acute mental stress that the potential criminal/terrorist is experiencing, will an interaction with a security officer amplify this? There is a strong likelihood that the individual will believe that he/she has been detected.
This then provides the criminal/terrorist with a decision to be made; do they cease their plans altogether or target a different location?
Customer service is therefore another layer of security that can be utilised to support the security model and Defence in Depth (DiD).
In summary, hopefully this article has provided a different perspective to the purpose of customer service. In my opinion, the professional security officer should utilise this as a tool to enhance security and safety. Customer service skills utilised correctly can save lives and protect assets. This is done by influencing the behaviour of would be criminals and terrorists.
The objective is nothing new. The potential of customer service – which encourages interaction, contact, and a security officer's ability to detect criminal activity – to disrupt hostile reconnaissance has yet to be fully realised by those who deliver customer service training
As security professionals, we can change this.
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