Last week I discussed some critical frontline personnel who can easily cause reputational damage to banks. More than ninety-five percent of customers do not meet the managers because most of their needs are met by frontline staff such as Tellers, Sales and Customer Service and Loans Officers. Their first contact is usually with the Security Guard who welcomes them inside the premises. The Police Guard is usually not visible as they work quietly in surveillance around the premises.
They hardly enter the banking halls, since their mere appearance, when fully armed, scare some customers and the staff. In banks, customers meet managers only when they need business advice, loans and discussions on other ancillary services which may not be adequately handled by subordinates. This means that success of the customer service encounters of a bank lies heavily on the shoulders of functionaries on the shop floor.
Service encounters with customers should therefore be handled with tact and professionalism. Even though there is a saying that the customer is king, it does not mean that a customer who misbehaves should be man-handled. Whatever happens that causes a customer to ‘misbehave’ in the branch demands a deeper understanding in customer-complaint management. One key factor discussed last week was the need for effective communication and dissemination of information among the general staff to be abreast with certain issues in the company that warrant staff to be extra-cautious in their communications to customers.
The Role of Security Guards
In Ghana, physical security at the branches are handled by a combination of private security as well as armed police guards. They both play various roles to complement each other. A security guard or security officer is a person who is paid to protect property, assets, or people. They are usually outsourced from private security companies and are civilian personnel, while police guards are provided by the Police Service and are therefore armed.
These guards prevent risks and deter crime, watch out for looming danger, and report any crime they may encounter. They also provide monitoring services and a safe environment to prevent violence. A guard plays many different roles, but is primary task is to prevent crime. The presence of a security officer on the premises often serves as a deterrent to potential lawbreakers.
The following skills are required from Security Guards:
- Ability to interact cordially and communicate with the public
- Ability to assess and evaluate situations effectively
- Ability to identify critical issues quickly and accurately
- Know which situations in the bank premises require combat and those that require dialogue.
- Not take issues with civilians personally by engaging his or her weapon unnecessarily.
The Police Guard is the Automatic Resort in Physical Conflict Resolution
When I was a branch manager, I had apprehensions anytime a Police Guard did not report for duty. The staff felt ‘naked’ and vulnerable during such situations. I usually drove to the police station to request a replacement from the Police Commander or Station Master. I have always regarded police guards as partners in risk management and treated them with respect. As peace officers, I have relied on them to assist the bank with physical security as well as help manage recalcitrant customers or visitors who pose a danger to us. Let me recount the few scenarios when situations got out of hand, causing us to seek assistance from them:
- A strange man entered my office one day, angrily accusing our bank of wrongfully using his picture for an advert. After quiet persuasions from us that the picture in the advert was a staff of the bank, he angrily insisted that he would not leave unless we produced the digital picture to prove the date on it. He claimed that he had patronised the money transfer section in our Head Office once, and therefore felt his picture was taken from there. Due to the noise and aggravated situation, we had to call the Police Guard to assist in taking him away for disturbing the peace as he created a scene and threatened us. He was then forcefully taken to the police station, which was fortunately situated next door.
- We sought assistance from the guard when a fraudster presented a stolen cheque. As an obvious criminal, he was arrested by the police guard on duty. There was no scuffle as it was done quietly. We had to plan the arrest without disturbing other customers. We called the account holder for confirmation that his cheque was one of the reportedly stolen ones, and deliberately delayed the presenter. He was initially presented with the cash, and his arrest made just outside the entrance. He did not resist arrest and we had to drive him to the nearest police station. Fortunately, he was a middle-aged man and did not have much power against the police guard.
- A wanted fraudster and impersonator appeared in the branch and was quickly arrested by the police guard when he was alerted quietly. When it comes to resisting arrest it is another matter – best left entirely for the police to do the needful.
Outside the bank, we seek assistance from the Police Service in arresting fraudsters as well as recalcitrant customers for prosecution. Most police guards take their work very seriously and do not take the cases personally because they know that they are to work within the dictates of the law. They are also aware that banking is a service industry, and thus the need for bankers to show a duty of care toward customers as they also protect the bank’s assets and its customers.
I must say that they perform their functions under challenging environments. In view of several cases of armed attacks on banks, as well as thieves following customers leaving the bank with bulk cash, they find themselves being the first target for immobilisation during armed robberies. In some cases, they find themselves being the sole defender in such situations and end up firing warning shots in the air to ward-off attackers.
The Bad Nuts in the Police Service
Let us look at some bad nuts among the police guards, noted for the following:
- Reporting late for duty
- Sleeping on the job, or abandoning their posts without notice.
- Exhibiting a domineering attitude and creating fear as they approach visitors and customers.
- Colluding with criminals to follow customers carrying bulk cash and rob them
- Hostility toward bank customers and treating everyone as suspects.
It is expected that managers will report such bad nuts to their superiors in the Police Service. Many times, bank officials are scared of the armed police guards – but that is time to report so the Police Service does refresher training for its staff to ensure risk management is handled professionally.
Embedding an In-House Service Culture from Top to Bottom
While examining the need for effective communication with the security guards to prevent them going overboard when handling customers, there is a need for professionalism in handling customer complaints as well as managing crises. Central to this is the importance of banks embedding a culture that is committed to the fair treatment of their customers.
The quality of a bank’s complaint-handling is an important aspect of this, revealing the extent to which cultural drivers such as senior management engagement, decision-making and staff reward structures are delivering fair outcomes for customers. Carried out well, complaint-handling represents a valuable opportunity for firms to rebuild and enhance their relationships with their customers when something has gone wrong, and to use the information gathered to make changes which deliver fair outcomes for their wider customer base.
Using Relationship-building in Partnership with Security and Police Guards
Using relationship-building, I advocate the following tips in building a mutually satisfying experience for both bank staff and security guards:
- Appreciate the role of security and police guard as partners. They also do their own risk-profiling of visitors and customers, and can share their apprehensions and good feelings about their encounters with you.
- The security guard is the first point of contact with clients, while the police guard is not always seen – although he sees most customers as they enter the bank premises. Have a good encounter or relationship with them. A good encounter facilitates transactions. Customers have a good feeling even before entering the bank. Bad experiences make clients vent their anger on the frontliners.
- When there is a change of internal policy that affects their work, please inform them and solicit their cooperation – especially if they need to manage crowds or agitated customers. Typical examples are when a bank faces systemic failure, damages caused by acts of God, bank closures or bank runs.
Please enjoy your partnership with your security and police guards. They are your internal customers. They can save your career and even your life one day. However, ensure that they do not maltreat your customers. Your customers may walk away quietly without reporting to you. The next thing you hear is them venting their frustration through social media. You know the ripple-effect that can have on your bank’s reputation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies in training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.