Magazine article Security Management

A Customer Service Survival Story

Magazine article Security Management

A Customer Service Survival Story

Article excerpt

In 1994, the corporate security department at Aetna Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut, began to consider whether the company could save money by outsourcing its guard operation. Aetna was looking for the best value, and while senior managers had no quarrel with the in-house security department, budgets were tight and hiring a contract service seemed a reasonable way to cut costs. The security department was feeling the heat of the spotlight.

The company's security managers began to think about what made the department different from a contract security provider. What function would so clearly set Aetna security apart that it would be assured of remaining the supplier of choice? The answer - customer service - resulted in a targeted training program that made security a team player and provided value beyond the bottom line.

A team of three security managers was assigned the task of developing a lesson plan. The team started with the department's mission and vision statements. In the statements were four elements: quality, integrity, teamwork, and customer service. It was clear that security was already providing a quality product. Officers were carefully selected and given comprehensive training - forty hours of orientation training that covered topics such as constitutional and criminal law, investigations, interviewing and report writing, ethics and diversity, emergency response, and safety and fire training.

This basic training program helped build and maintain the quality and integrity identified in the vision statement, but questions arose about the last item - customer service. Finding that the department had never really discussed customer service as an asset worthy of promotion, the training team set out to discover whether excellent customer service could set security apart from its contract competitors.

Assessing perceptions. The training team first examined the types of services provided by security and how often they were needed. For example, most training focused on the skills required to respond to life-threatening emergencies. But when managers tallied the number of life-threatening emergencies security responded to in a year, it was in the single digits. The truth was that people rarely saw security performing emergency life-safety skills. Many employees were not even aware that Aetna security officers were trained as professional rescuers.

Training team members asked Aetna staff what they thought security did. Time after time, employees noted only that the officers checked IDs in the lobbies and protected their cars in the parking lots. But these were only two of security's many functions.

The team realized that security's image in the corporation did not do it justice. Though well-trained in security-related specialties, officers were given no instruction in the one action they carried out thousands of times each day - interacting with people.

To determine whether customer service mattered to employees, security officers were asked during a test period to greet everyone who entered their area. The initial employee reaction was shock and surprise. This response quickly evolved into a friendly rapport. The team discovered that people liked to be acknowledged. With newfound appreciation for the importance of customer service, the team began work on a customer service training program.

Creating a plan. First, team members researched all the customer service training programs they could find, including those at L.L. Bean, Nordstrom's, Wal-Mart, and Saturn. They learned that many successful companies were focusing on service and using it as a selling point. However, the team also determined that many of the principles these companies applied could not be applied to Aetna. For example, many of the customer service techniques concentrated on telephone interaction, while security officers at Aetna dealt with people face-to-face.

From the research, the team created a lesson plan. …

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