Skills for Security Staff: Diplomacy & Communication

Business / Protection / SIA

22 July 2020

The last few weeks have seen important shifts in governmental advice about Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Shops have re-opened, as have many pubs and restaurants across the UK. But with the easing of restrictions have come new requirements upon businesses and their customers. These requirements – such as the wearing of masks in shops, and asking pub-goers to remain at their tables – require a change in behaviour, and for businesses, it’s important to enforce these changes as sensitively and professionally as possible.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the new rules and the touch-points they create between customers and security staff.

Shops and Public Access

On 15th June, all shops in England were allowed to open and, for many, it was the first time they had been allowed to trade since 23rd March. Wales followed suit on 22nd June and Scotland opened a week later, on 29th June.

In many parts of the country, big queues developed outside department stores such as Primark and TK Maxx before opening, leading to large crowds on pavements. On the same day, the BBC reported that “at Bicester Village, near Oxford, crowding was so great that 3,000 people signed a petition to close it.”

There was a chequered pattern of responses: in some areas, retailers reported orderly queues and a generally calm atmosphere; in others, shoppers were clearly failing to maintain appropriate social distance. Some of the larger high street brands hired extra security staff to manage the queues and here, dealing with people who had become accustomed to distancing in supermarket queues, behaviour was mainly very good.

The role of security staff is especially important at present, and not merely for enforcing new safety measures such as the wearing of masks and observing one-way systems through the aisles. According to a survey by Which? in June this year, 38% of consumers were still “not confident” about returning to shops while Covid-19 remained a threat. If nearly 4 in every 10 shoppers are currently staying away from the high street and making purchases via the internet instead, then this represents a massive threat for conventional stores. UK high streets have been in slow decline for years now, and any sharp drop in footfall could be catastrophic for many outlets. Clearly, then, the more they can do to reassure customers about the safety of their shopping experience, the more secure their commercial futures will be.

Part of that reassurance will take the form of physical safety measures: the clear plastic screens at checkouts; the floor markings denoting one-way systems and 2m distances at checkouts. But another key element is the presence of security staff who act as a visible reminder of everyone’s changing responsibilities. In such situations, security staff can make an important positive contribution to a retailer’s brand.

The same is true of pubs, cafes and other leisure outlets where people typically congregate for social reasons. Again, safety measures must be observed, and having friendly, approachable security staff on site can be an effective way for a business to demonstrate that it has its customers’ best interests at heart.

Public Engagement

Of course, there’s nothing new in the idea that a good security presence can have a positive effect on how customers view a brand. What’s new is the way that Covid-19 is changing security roles and making those roles more visible.

In general, consumers are happy to see friendly door staff keeping queues safe and orderly, managing the numbers of people inside retail premises and being on hand to answer questions. This all helps to reassure those 38% of wary late-returners who are so badly missed on the high street. However, there are inevitably some who will challenge the rules – denying the importance of masks or distancing, or crowding together in public spaces – and this makes particular demands on security staff.

Maintaining effective security is always about striking a balance between approachability and firmness, and good training will always place a strong emphasis on communication skills. Clear explanations of the rules, coupled with effective diplomacy, can often improve the tone of a potentially problematic encounter.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to be able to explain that the rules are in place to protect people – not just the individual who may be challenging the rules, but all those around them. The rules, like the security personnel themselves, are there to keep everyone safe and to ensure that everyone is operating as responsibly as possible. This is the understanding from which all conversations should start.

Good security staff have always relied first and foremost on good communication rather than physicality and that’s certainly true in 2020 – especially given the way that security roles are expanding and becoming ever more visible.

New Roles and Responsibilities

On 10th July, HM Government published new guidance entitled “Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in shops and branches.” A copy can be viewed here. The introduction notes that “This document is to help you understand how to work safely and keep your customers safe during this pandemic, ensuring as many people as possible comply with social distancing guidelines.”

The document lists many rule-changes, including relaxations and new requirements, and several sections note that these could have important security implications. One example, found on page 13, lists important steps to help minimise the contacts resulting from visits to stores or outlets. They include a requirement for:

“Managing outside queues to ensure they do not cause a risk to individuals, other businesses or additional security risks; for example by introducing queuing systems, having staff direct customers and protecting queues from traffic by routing them behind permanent physical structures such as street furniture, bike racks, bollards or putting up barriers.”

Here, as in other examples, security staff (whether in house or contracted) are increasingly being required to move out into more visible, interactive roles on the streets outside premises. As a result, there are more opportunities for conversations with customers, and there is more call for interventions to keep the public safe. Once again, good communication skills are vital.

Communication is a key element of security training and it’s worth reiterating that only trained, suitably qualified staff should be assigned these public-facing security roles. The Security Industry Association, which reports to the Home Office, produces a regularly updated guidance sheet that explains the licensing requirements for staff who are asked to manage queues. The document, entitled “Advice to Retailers Hiring Additional Staff to Manage Queues and Social Distancing” notes that:

“Many shops are asking customers to queue outside their premises to support social distancing. If you employ people to manage a queue like this, they may need to hold an SIA licence. If they do, and they don’t have one, they will be breaking the law.

 “Any person contracted from a third party supplier who performs a licensable activity must have an SIA licence (or a Licence Dispensation Notice issued by the SIA to an Approved Contractor).”

The document includes a simple flow chart to explain who will and will not require a licence. In general, however, it makes good sense for any brand-conscious business to ensure that only professionally qualified personnel perform these vital roles.

For advice about security planning, training or on-site support, please call us on 0800 035 6607. Alternatively, you can send us your questions via our enquiry form.

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