Sponsored by Protos Security
As the contract security guard industry has improved and become more professional, it has become tougher to assign all the blame to it when security partnerships go wrong. This raises the stakes for loss prevention executives charged with selecting a guard vendor or management company. When problems arise, it’s no longer acceptable to say, “Well, it’s a contract security guard company—it happens to everybody.” Instead, a failing security guard partnership may suggest an internal failure: LP failed to ask all the right questions.
And problems do arise. While there is little debate that the contract security guard industry has made positive strides, in the most recent national guard firm rating survey, conducted by SDR/LPM, several executives expressed frustration with the quality of personnel deployed to protect their stores. “Horrid communications skills and little or no computer skills,” said one. “They only want to do the minimum of what is required,” said another. Firm management also took some hits: “It seems they will hire anyone just to fill an open position.” And: “The gentleman who handles the contract is not re¬sponsive. It takes me two weeks to get a call back. He does not listen.”
The industry has improved, but when it comes to contracting security officers, especially when choosing a national guard provider, the guiding principle remains “Buyer, beware.”
But what, exactly, should you beware of?
Communication built around invoices. “Clients should look for a contractor that is 100 percent transparent and has accountability built into their service,” said Patrick Henderson, co-owner and founder of Protos Security, a nationwide provider of security guard services, and Securitime, a cloud-based management platform for tracking and managing a security officer program. Too often, says Henderson, clients don’t get data they need to manage their program or fail to receive timely notification of events, such as instances of a guard’s late arrival to a shift. Instead, clients should insist on a provider that has a time-and-attendance system that guarantees they won’t pay for any time that a guard isn’t on duty and can immediately resolve the issue to prevent a gap in service.
The key? Closely examine the level of transparency that a guard provider has built into its systems.
“Don’t forget that it’s your guard program, and you want to be sure that you are getting access to that,” said Henderson. “If the only time you ever hear from your vendor is when the invoice comes, something isn’t right. That is a relationship to steer away from.”
Data does not guarantee insight, however. Indeed, a client overwhelmed with useless data may have only a slightly better picture of their guard program, according to Chris Copenhaver, the other founder/owner of Protos Security and Securitime. He suggests that clients should closely examine and compare the level of sophistication and user-friendliness of providers’ technology, as well as its ability to deliver constant operational visibility—insight into performance, activities, and status. It must be able to collect and organize all the data that a national contract generates. It must also be able to communicate issues to clients in an effective way that makes the data usable, with customized notifications that provide individuals the data they need in the way they want to receive it.
Too many points of contact. While a nationwide security contract is an extensive arrangement, clients should not assume that bureaucracy is an unavoidable byproduct. “You shouldn’t have to have multiple branch-level people involved,” suggested Henderson. You can—and should—insist on a one-stop-shop client account manager, he said.
Even as technology increasingly serves as the foundation of a strategic partnership, being comfortable with the people you’re partnering with remains vital. “The technology and processes are important, but if you don’t have the correct people behind it all, then it’s useless,” said Henderson. “A lot of firms will promise great personal service, but it’s just lip service.”
Lax standards. If a retailer is going to take advantage of a management company, then it needs to examine that company’s process for partnering with their guard vendors. Not all go to the lengths that Protos Security does to verify and vet its 4,000-plus guard vendors. “Make sure they properly vet and manage their subcontracted guard vendors’ certificates of insurance and state licenses,” said Henderson. Among other checks, proper vetting encompasses: checking references, conducting social media checks on guard vendor companies and owners, obtaining Dun & Bradstreet reports and other indicators of financial health, and researching histories of customer complaints, workers’ compensation claims, and lawsuits.
Because security personnel can reflect positively or negatively on a retailer, it’s imperative for clients to select a management company that only partners with providers that uphold high standards. It’s also critical that vetting is not a one-and-done, suggested Henderson. Protos Security has a team of vendor vetting program personnel who are dedicated to the continual vetting of guard providers, to ensure licenses are kept up to date, for example.
A ‘good-enough’ attitude. Clients should demand that their management company continuously look for ways to deliver clients better service more cost effectively. Complaints from retailers suggest that this remains an area in which the contract security guard industry is not meeting expectations. “They tend to be reactionary,” said one respondent to the SDR/LPM survey. “Not proactive enough,” said another. And one LP professional said that rather than trying to continuously improve performance, “I often feel like the mentality is ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’”
It is incumbent upon clients to assess whether a prospective guard management company will be able to deliver continuous improvement. “A client should look for a management firm that is going to make their guard vendors better,” said Henderson. He suggested some of the questions LP pros should ask: “How does the guard management company interact with their guard vendors? Do they have service-level agreements in place to ensure expected quality of service? Do they share punch reports and performance metrics with the vendor and the client? Do they have personnel continually performing quality assurance checks on client assignments for feedback on the guards? Do they continually evaluate vendors on key performance indicators based on attendance and incident reporting?”