Facilities might be able to physically secure an area with hundreds of cameras, the smartest access control systems and some streamlined action plans, but these won't always count on the human factor of impressions that come to play in shaping the public's perception of your building.

Visitors to facilities such as the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the Comcast Center and the Wells Fargo Center might become frustrated at certain policies, or they can even bring their outside problems with them. Borrowing techniques from the hospitality industry, leaders at these facilities are teaching their security staff to practice "verbal judo" to disarm their irate visitors with a few well-placed sentences. 

At the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the oldest pediatric hospital in the United States (founded in 1855), emergency rooms are often packed with parents tending to their young flu-ridden children. When a child arrives with a broken limb, perhaps an hour into a different family's wait on flu medicine, it isn't always easy to understand why they've been bumped down the list.

Domestic issues are also the hospital's number one problem, says Matthew Novacich, assistant director of security, parking and transportation at the hospital. Sometimes they're just verbal spats, and sometimes they aren't.

In either case, security staff works to use their verbal judo to relate to the patient and his or her family. Often, being outside the healthcare role, families have an easier time relating to the officers who can tell them, from a familiar perspective and in plain language, why certain rules are in place. By verbally de-escalating conflicts, the hospital can work toward fewer workplace violence incidents and have calmer patient procedures, especially in an emergency room that serves 85,000 visits per year. 

The Comcast Center (also mentioned in yesterday's blog on First Amendment considerations) has a security team that creates a concierge security concept. From the start, Mark Farrell, CSO of Comcast, and Jim Birch, director of security and life safety for Liberty Property Trust, recruited their officers, called "security ambassadors," from unconventional sources, such as from local schools of hospitality and the concierge association.

"Our theory was: we can teach anybody security, but we can't teach you to be happy people," said Birch. "So we wanted to go where the happy people were, and we could figure out security after that." 

And, in entering the Comcast Center, it shows. Our group was greeted by nearly all employees with a smile and a friendly salutation. Birch and Farrell worked with consultants to achieve a "five star atmosphere," and outfitted their new hires with clothing to match the skyscraper's executives. 

The social-focused positions, coupled with possibilities for overtime, advancement and premium training, leads to a very minimal turnover rate in the building's guarding services.

The Wells Fargo Center, home arena of the the Philadelphia 76ers and the Flyers, is also strongly centered around a customer service-based security, but here it's mostly due to the change of clientele. 

"(Visitors) are here for a reason; they're not here to steal," said Mike Hasson, vice president for security and services at the center. "Thieves aren't paying to get in." 

When Hasson first arrived to the sports security industry after leaving law enforcement in 1994, security guards were literally shoving misbehaving visitors out the front door.

Through a change in the dynamics of the center, especially in how well guards know certain visitors, especially season ticket holders, security has gained a sense of community. A seasoned officer will know the visitors in his or her section, and, through customer outreach and relationships, gain more information about stopping potential problems. 

When police come into an area, they're there to fix a problem, Hasson said. When his security walks through a section, they prevent issues from ever taking place. They check IDs, note levels of public intoxication, track crowd movement, report hanky-panky in public bathrooms (yes, an actual problem) and stop illegal scalping. 

But by treating their visitors with more respect and personable interaction, even the security personnel work to improve the reputation of the facility by reducing incidents, providing an upper-scale feeling to a popular lobby and even encouraging return visits from spectators. So while it might cost more to train these officers in personal interaction, it pays off in low turnover, a better reputation and return businesses — overall, higher ROI from a bit of customer service.


This blog is part of ongoing coverage of the ASIS 2012 media tour, a pre-convention guide to security leaders in Philadelphia, the host city for the ASIS International conference this September. 

Do you have anything to add to this story? Care to share an impression of concierge security efforts? Would these work in your business? Comment below, or send me a message at meyerc@bnpmedia.com