Good customer service positively impacts security

Dec. 22, 2021
The operational requirements of cannabis dispensaries are remarkably similar to a number of other similar high-risk businesses

Customer service is a vital part of any customer-facing business – it is an especially necessary part of the success of a retail business. Although often ignored as a security function, customer service is also an important part of the success of a security operation. While good customer service can significantly improve the satisfaction of a good customer, it can also be effective in stopping or reducing bad or hostile customer behavior.

The ongoing impact of Covid has impacted many public-facing businesses, especially those utilizing minimum or low-wage employees. I personally have had several recent bad experiences in restaurants involving poor customer service – some based on employees that were not knowledgeable about products and services and some based on businesses operating without enough employees to effectively conduct business.

It is Good Business

The operational requirements of dispensaries are remarkably similar to a number of other similar high-risk businesses. Casinos place a high degree of importance on making sure security personnel understand customer service. “Good customer service skills can deescalate a problem before it becomes difficult to manage,” says William Brooks, a former casino Director of Security and Surveillance. “In any situation where the potential for loss is great, whether a casino or a dispensary, tempers can flare when a customer has an issue or feels that they have been wronged by the business.” 

Casino patrons that cause trouble are often alcohol-impaired, and the potential for impaired dispensary customers is real as well.

“Additionally,” continues Brooks “any action that is taken against a customer has to be fair, because customers equal profit, and we may want the customer to continue to do business with us in the future…even if we have to remove a customer from the property – they generally want to come back.”

The ability to deal with angry people is essential. “People may be angry or upset for a variety of different reasons,” says retired Secret Service Agent Branch Walton. “Often for reasons unrelated to your facility. But the fact that they are angry or upset, and at your facility make them a problem that you have to manage effectively.”  

But, he adds, don’t confuse kindness for weakness. “Force isn’t always necessary,” continues Walton. Sometimes it’s better to convince a customer that they have a choice – it’s their choice, to leave quietly or be forcibly removed.”

Customer Service is a Culture

Customer service isn’t difficult, but it’s something that has to be ingrained into the culture of the business. If you have ever eaten at a Chick-Fil-A, you’ve heard the words, “My pleasure!”  Many security professionals tend to believe that force and fear work best. And occasionally, that is true, but we should talk someone out the door rather than drag someone out the door.

Customer service can be as simple as actively greeting everyone that walks through the door – from a sales standpoint that makes a customer feel welcome and from a security standpoint it shows that the customer has been seen and would be easy to identify later if needed. People looking to do harm or damage prefer to keep a low profile and not be noticed. Our goal should be to have customers that are potential troublemakers recognize that they have been noticed, and this alone can eliminate problems.

For retail, if a customer walks into your store and nobody offers to help them, it’s natural for that shopper to assume that nobody wants to help them. From that standpoint, acknowledgment and a greeting are essential – from a security standpoint, noticing a person that is liable to cause problems may cause them to reconsider.

McDonald's recently acknowledged to its franchisees that 20% of its customer complaints are about unfriendly employees. Friendliness and politeness are qualities that are almost impossible to train; your employees either are or are not.

First and foremost, to provide excellent customer service is to listen – whether it takes 10 seconds or 10 minutes. Let the customer talk so you can take in and understand what they are saying. There is nothing more frustrating to a customer than explaining what their issue is only to have the dispensary employee give a response that has nothing to do with what they are asking about.

Successful companies understand the importance of employees' soft skills, especially active listening and empathy. Listening to people that have an issue is the first step to quietly resolving their issue. This is just as important for security as it is for sales. This makes a person feel as if you are truly trying to help them. Your core reason for dealing with a hostile/unhappy/angry person is to quickly resolve or diffuse the problem.

Some Best Practices

There are many customer service skills to learn – the following are just a few:

  • When dealing with someone that has an issue, always ask, “What can I do for you?”  Always respond. If the question is reasonable, “I want to know why this is taking so long,” answer the question. Always be truthful and never lie to a customer. If the request is unreasonable, “I want you to refund my purchase plus give me $2000 for my trouble”, the response should be, “I can’t do that, what other option can we discuss?”  Always offer options.
  • Ask only relevant questions – get to the underlying issue so you can quickly get to a resolution or at a minimum a plan of action to get to a resolution. Stay on point.
  • Never argue with a customer. As you know, the customer is not always right. But your focus needs to remain on how to correct or alleviate the current situation, not making it worse.
  • Whether you are the retail person or the security manager, always act in a professional manner at all times. Refrain from using slang, childish or derogatory speech. Do not belittle or ridicule a customer. A customer with an issue may feel that their issue is significantly more important than you see it.
  • Speak to your customer with respect, even if you disagree with them. Speak to them, not at them.

Great customer service is not an accident. It takes effort, dedication and commitment. This commitment and support have to be required from everyone, especially the security staff.

To make this work, hiring the right security people is essential. Security people should be professionally trained from a security standpoint but should also receive customer service training. Often the first customer contact is with a security person. Choose employees carefully – look for security staff that is polite and friendly – listen to McDonald's.

We can train the security part. Make sure potential security employees understand that the benefit of customer service is both to help increase sales and reduce security problems. Provide quality training to your staff. The combination of friendly people with decent security training and customer service skills will benefit both your sales and your security.

About the author: Jeff Dingle is the CEO of the Security Advisory Group – a national consortium of providers of online security training. The Security Advisory Group is experienced in providing training in the corporate space, including casinos and cannabis. Dingle has an extensive background in high-end security management, including more than a decade as the Director of Protective Operations at the non-profit Emory University Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, the Manager of Corporate Security for The Home Depot and a Special Agent with the National Security Agency. Visit the or reach Jeff at [email protected]
About the Author

Jeff Dingle | Senior Consultant with Security Advisory Group

Jeff Dingle is a Senior Consultant with the Florida based Security Advisory Group.  A former federal Special Agent and Security Specialist, he had managed security operations and provided security audits for high-risk enterprises in the private sector, Federal Government, casinos and a FORTUNE 15 company.  Dingle can be reached at  [email protected]