Policies and Training

Training Security Staff to Deal with Difficult People

Security officers and receptionists are on the front lines of most client, visitor, vendor, or customer-contact interactions. Most people are cooperative when it comes to showing their identification (ID), signing visitor logs, or waiting for escorts. A small percentage of people can be impatient, manipulative, obnoxious, and even threatening. It can help to provide so-called “high-risk customer service” training to deal with them.

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Many frontline customer-contact employees know how to deal with reasonable people, but they sometimes lose their focus, or their tempers, or become flustered when dealing with aggressive or threatening people who want to circumvent usual security procedures for visiting and access control. It’s important that the reception and security staff members ask themselves a series of important question about these types of people before things escalate:

  • Does their behavior violate our security policies, or is it moving in that direction?
  • Does their behavior hurt our business or impact what we’re trying to do here in a negative way?
  • What do my instincts or my intuition tell me about how I should respond?
  • Do I need to get help to change the “ratio of confrontation,” or can I handle this myself?
  • Have other coworkers or customers complained about this person’s behavior?
  • Are other people suddenly afraid of this person because the situation is escalating?
  • Am I right in attempting to set limits and boundaries on this person’s behavior, like denying him or her access or asking him or her to leave?
  • Am I being “reasonable” (a court-tested phrase) in my interactions with this person?
  • Might I need to call additional security help or even law enforcement to help safely deal with this person?
  • Am I being firm, fair, consistent, and assertive when interacting with this person to best protect the company, the facility, my coworkers, and myself?

Through classroom and role-play training, we can help reception and security employees to ask these types of questions quickly, before the situation becomes more volatile or even violent. We know these questions are effective because we ask them in debriefing sessions after a situation with a visitor, vendor, or customer has turned violent.

One low-key customer service model that gets good results is Introduce/Explain/Ask.

Introduce yourself. Try to get the person’s name.

Explain why you came over or what you need the visitor, vendor, or customer to know.

  • “I noticed that you didn’t ….”
  • “The reason I’m here is ….”
  • “I’m sure you already know this, but ….”
  • “Our usual policy is to ….”

Ask for his or her understanding, cooperation, or compliance.

  • “I need to ask you to ….”
  • “Could you please step over here and ….”
  • “I’m sorry, but you can’t do that if you want to go past this point ….”

It may be necessary for the customer-contact employee to go through this three-part cycle more than once, since some self-important or angry people don’t hear these questions the first time.

These phrases tend to work better with angry people since they attempt to build empathy:

  • “I hear you and I’m ready to help you …”
  • “I can see you’re upset …”
  • “I’m sorry …”
  • “I’m not trying to make you mad …”
  • “You could be right …”
  • “It’s not me, it’s the computer …”
  • “Please help me do my job for you …”
  • “I can take your name and cell number …”
  • “I can get my supervisor if you’d like …”
  • “Our insurance won’t allow that …”