I recently came across an article in one of the nation’s dailies that got my guts wrenching. It had
to do with two ladies who had come in from Europe and were looking for a place to hang out
one Friday. They settle for one of the nation’s finest hotels where they believed they could
savour some Ghanaian music in an African village setting. However the intended sweet trip
back to the Motherland turned extremely sour right from the gates of this prestigious hotel.
According to the writer, the treatment they received at the hands of the security officers was a
total disgrace to 21st century customer care philosophy. They were stopped at the gates and
refused entry into the premises until they had been pestered with the familiar, but not-so-
friendly question, “What are you coming to do here?” After much hassle with the guards, who
were insistent that they were “working with instructions,” the poor ladies were given a rude
security guard who escorted them from the gates through the reception all the way to the
What broke my heart were the unsavoury remarks this bloke subjected their new customers.
Although, a nice duty manager came in to save the ladies from further embarrassment from
these “highly dedicated and security-conscious” officers, it was too little too late as the ladies
left with a bitter taste in their mouths. I am pretty convinced that most of you great folks will
very much understand what these ladies went through. I personally do. I had one of such
encounters with an “overly enthusiastic” security man on a visit to an office of one of the
nation’s mobile telecommunications giants on the Osu Oxford Street.
That experience, together with many others narrated by attendees to our seminars, unveils the
extent to which these security officers lack an education in customer care. The number of
complaints against security officers range from those who are found sleeping on the job, to
those who demand money from customers of businesses and to some who straight-out steal
I perfectly understand the rising dependence on the private security industry to satisfy the
security demands of the private sector due to the limitations of the state apparatus to provide
policing resources for all citizens, be they private individuals or businesses. The use of private
security officers (PSOs) to protect private and quasi-public spaces is growing by the day in this
Despite this reliance however, there have been serious issues regarding the way some of these
PSOs treat the valuable customers of the businesses they are supposed to be helping. These
PSOs, I realized, sincerely believe they are doing the job that is required of them. They have
been sent to come and protect, and protect they will, BAMN (By Any Means Necessary)! This is
where the problem comes in.
On one side is a security officer eager to please his or her bosses whilst on the other are
customers who need to be treated with respect, without being made to feel they are suspects
when bringing their money to that business. Let us take a look at this problem from the PSO’s
point of view. When posted by their firms to protect a business, they are made to believe that
they have powers that will enable them perform well.
However, according to Mark Button in his book entitle “Security Officers and Policing: Powers,
Culture and Control in the Governance of Private Space” which was reviewed in 2007 in the
British Journal of Criminology, these powers include the universal powers available to all
citizens, including the power of citizen’s arrest and the right of freedom of expression to ask
someone to refrain from particular behaviour. In this regard, “a PSO is merely a person in
uniform, or a citizen paid to be in attendance.”
Aside from these universal legal tools, Button believes that the PSO as an agent of a powerful
individual or corporation, can use the powers that body has accrued in private law (e.g.
employment law, contract law, the law of property) to enable them make demands on people
within their social control net. From these private arrangements, PSOs can derive the right to
search (from employment contracts) and the right to remove someone from premises (as a
person who refuses to leave a premises when asked to do so becomes a trespasser who can be
removed using ‘reasonable’ force). This is the legalistic backing that our hardworking security
officers have, and rightly so.
The economic benefit of using private security mainly in preventing crime is a fact, and no one
can argue against that. Nevertheless, as indicated by Button, there is a point where the price
businesses pay for private security services can, and will, become too high. This is the point
where security officers, like the ones at this esteemed hotel, begin to ‘sack’ customers instead
of making their business interaction pleasurable. When security men and women begin to
frustrate customers, then the business is nearing this critical point.
I am aware that various types of security guards can be used in different situations. For
instance, the main goal for hiring a uniformed security guard is deterrence whereas the main
goal for hiring a plainclothes security guard is apprehension. A security guard is required to
deter and detect unusual or suspicious activity but from the behaviour of some of these PSOs,
one would think that all customers are unusual or suspicious.
Too much security, I have found out, destroys the customer experience. Using the law of
diminishing marginal returns one can assert that up to point there is a need for some level
security in a business place. However, beyond a certain critical point each additional security
feature that a business adds to its premises will cause the desirable consumer experience to
diminish, until a point is reached where additional security is no longer of any benefit.
Some businesses, understandably, need to be security conscious such as a company engaged in
printing of cheque books and other security documents. However, these are businesses that
should detach operational areas from customer reception areas. But for businesses that
entertain customers daily as part of their operations such as banks, insurance agencies,
hospitals, hotels, and entertainment centres, there is a need to realise that too much security is
menacing. The challenge therefore for private security firms and the businesses that use the
PSOs is to have well-trained security guards who are customer friendly.
This should not be too much of a Herculean task since some firms have seen the light and are
encouraging the concept of customer friendly security guards. Mark Button writes in his book
about a British leisure and shopping complex where security officers are referred to as
‘Customer Service Officers’ who wore uniforms “designed to make them seem more customer-
friendly and less authoritarian.”
I perceive an uprising among some of our local security officers if their “stars, stripes, badges
and medallions” are removed from their uniforms. This, after all, is what gives them the
authority to bully us, the poor customers. My mini-research revealed that most of these PSOs
were poorly-paid semi-literates who, not surprisingly, get their clout from their uniforms. With
all the regalia of a retried war veteran, who cares the quality of his language or depth of his
reasoning, he or she is sure to put some fear into anybody that approaches the business,
thieves and non-thieves alike.
I believe that what forward-looking private security firms need to do is to re-train their officers,
especially in the area of customer care. Many are badly in need of some expert training in this
area. A couple of them I interacted with confirmed that throughout their training too much
little, or no, emphasis was placed on good customer care. This is something I find worrying.
Such training is woefully inadequate for the era we are about to enter, or are already in.
The time is coming when consumers will begin to demand better services not only from
companies they deal with. This will force companies to use only the best-trained PSOs on their
premises. Private security firms, be they members of the Association of Private Security
Organisations (APSOG) or not, should hence heed this call and invest enough in the quality
training of their operatives.
I am of the strong opinion that the company that will take this positive step of re-training and
re-orienting their security officers (or guards) into “customer care guards or officers” will be
setting a trend that others will have no choice but to follow. This is because as consumers
demand better services and better treatment from businesses, the traditional security man
whose archaic thinking tells him to ‘push’ customers around will join the dinosaurs on the list of
Customers will decide where to do business; either with a business whose frontliners make
business interactions as painful as possible or with a company whose frontline staff (which
includes the security officers at the door) treat customers like they ought to be treated. These
‘modern’ security officers will be much sought-after by those firms with a 21st century outlook.
The modern security man should be in the position to apply the latest security strategies and
technologies whilst at the same time showing as much care as practicable to make the
customer feel welcomed.
If customers are the real owners of businesses, then who should the security guards be really
serving, the MD or the ones who pays the MD?
J. N. HALM
P. O. Box DS 2134