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Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Q&A: What Skills Turn Guards into Concierge-Minded Security Professionals?

Often the first and the last face that an employee, resident, or visitor will have of a facility, security guards manning a front desk provide an organization with the opportunity to set a tone that promotes its culture. Guards in these positions can create a professional niche by maintaining a concierge mindset—providing welcoming and helpful guidance or support while using interactions to assess potential risks.

Before transitioning into training and development, Brent O’Bryan spent 11 years in human resources at Allied Universal. During his time at Allied and in his current position as senior vice president for training and talent, O’Bryan has seen a demand across sectors for security professionals who come equipped with not only traditional security skills and tech savvy, but also the soft skills that can put people at ease. Whether it’s for a school, hospital, or high-rise in the center of a city, executive or interpersonal skills like communications, de-escalation, and empathy can help security professionals who are charged with protecting a facility, its staff, guests, residents, and culture.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Security Management (SM). What kinds of clients are usually interested in guards that must offer both security and concierge services?

Brent O’Bryan. What we’re seeing from clients in every sector is they want someone who can perform the security duties, but they have to be able to do it with really strong communication skills, which aligns with the idea of concierge. If you want to consider what a concierge is—that’s that person that’s connecting everybody with what they need, assisting them, guiding them, and doing all of that while maintaining the company culture—in those cases we would say the ones that lean more heavily toward that would be commercial real estate clients. High rises in particular, and in urban settings. Those high rises are in some cases commercial real estate, in other cases residential, and there’s always that fine balance when you work with those clients that you need to protect the tenant, the visitors, the customers, but you want them to come back. The only way they’re going to do that is if they have a good experience. The first and sometimes the last person they have an experience with is one of our security professionals.

SM. What are some unique challenges that security professionals in these positions face?

O’Bryan. With real estate and residential, there is a high expectation of that customer service or concierge type of approach. In many cases, our clients would like our security officers or professionals to refer to visitors by their name, which means our employees need to get to know people’s names. That’s hard to do when you’re talking about a high-rise in New York City or in Chicago or in Los Angeles.

But that is one of the challenges placed upon our employees—they have to get to know the people coming in and out. And that’s for two reasons. One, for that customer experience, so they feel really welcomed. But the other side of that, the reason the security directors that we work with want that to take place is because they know when our security professionals know the people who should be in their facilities, that means they’re going to recognize when they see someone who shouldn’t necessarily be in the facility. They can identify that and then address those individuals in a professional manner and determine if they’re a visitor, a new tenant, a guest, or are they perhaps a bad actor.

SM. So, it sounds like there’s an increasing demand for both traditional security skills and soft skills?

O’Bryan. Yes, very much so. Some of the components that even make up emotional intelligence, specific competencies within that, like social awareness, recognizing the people around you and what’s happening in that situation. That is an important skill, and I think we’re seeing more and more of that, especially in those areas where there’s high foot traffic within a facility.

We can even move that to healthcare. Our clients there recognize that most people who come into a hospital are either coming in as a patient (who probably don’t want to be there) or they’re coming in as a visitor, and that can be an emotional experience as well. These clients are working closely with us to make sure that our employees understand topics like empathy and other key components of emotional intelligence.

Part of executing good customer service is our employees also understanding the systems, processes, and post orders in place at each of their locations, whether that’s a visitor management system or access control system, that’s critical that they understand that piece of it. They have to have that piece down, which includes some technological skills and then balancing that with the empathy that goes along with that employee who forgot their ID and they’re really upset because they can’t get in.

SM. What are the essential training qualifications for a security professional in this position who is going to be successful?

O’Bryan. One, related to training—and it’s partly training and partly understanding—is appearance. Making sure our employees recognize that they will not get the respect, either from a security standpoint or a concierge, customer service standpoint, that they would like to have if they do not have proper appearance. Appearance includes presence—what is your presence? Are you demonstrating confidence in your approach, in your stance, in your posture?

The other is this idea of vigilance. Awareness is critical, but when I say vigilance, it’s so important from both a security standpoint and a customer service standpoint. The security standpoint: the vigilant employee will see that bad actor or the hazard. And the vigilant employee will also see that tenant who’s lost, that visitor who doesn’t know where they’re going. That vigilance can go in both directions.

The other ones we talked about are just general communication skills, which are critical on both the security side and the concierge side. The security side: communication skills are important in a couple of areas. One, written communication skills, because our employees need to complete reports. And then, of course, just being able to—on the security side on the customer service or concierge side—de-escalate a situation that might be more tense or increasing in intensity. Whether that’s a bad actor and an issue, or just someone who’s having a bad day. How do we deescalate that, how do we make sure our employees are being calm in that situation, and how do we make sure we’re also safe in those situations? So, we spend quite a bit of time and effort training in those areas. 


Sara Mosqueda is associate editor of Security Management