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 not only meeting, but also exceeding the customer and client expectations. Every day we see examples of this shared on social media that evidences fantastic work across the industry as a whole. Great customer service skills are undoubtedly a key attribute that every security officer should possess. We have all received some sort of customer service training at some point in our careers. This may have been delivered by customer service experts and most likely it was very fluffy. As part of the SIA Security Officer and Door Supervisor qualifications this is touched upon briefly. The SIA qualifications do however acknowledge that the pro-active use of customer service can reduce frustration, which in turn prevents frustration leading to anger, which leads to aggression then 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 lets assume that criminals and terrorists will visit locations numerous times (a minimum of 4 visits is the lowest needed for the average person to imprint a map onto the brain) whilst conducting hostile reconnaissance. 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. This may deter 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
  • Giggling
  • Touching the face
  • Head turning (panning)
  • Exaggerated body movements
  • Whistling
  • 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 to deny hostile reconnaissance from gaining intelligence by using customer service as an effective layer of security to deter and detect criminal activity is nothing new, sadly most that deliver customer service training do not have the ability to link this together.

As security professionals we can change this

Rob Kennedy BA(Hons) MSyI

Rob Kennedy BA(Hons) MSyI

A motivated and determined security professional currently studying for the MSc in Security and Risk Management with the University of Leicester.

Rob is a Training and Development Manager with SecuriGroup, an engaged member of the Security Institute, and a growing voice in the UK physical security industry.