Horror stories are abound during this COVID-19 induced lock down in Uganda. Stories of customers at the mercy of security guards. Case in point, I arrived at a reputable establishment, went to the security desk to sanitize my hands and the security guard commands: “use the other one”, while pointing at a water washing point.
“Why, when I can use this one,” I ask, as I proceed to use the spray sanitizer in front of a visibly upset security guard; ignore her, enter the establishment, do business and come back out. As I pass by she says to her colleague: “kalina olugezigezi” (Luganda for “she is a wiseacre”). Back I go into the establishment, informed management, am mollified and assured that they will have a word with the security guard.
Days later, I return and as the two security guards see me approach, they quickly remove off their desk the spray sanitizer and hide it under. Smiled to self, got my personal sanitizer from my hand bag and used it and proceeded to enter the establishment. Sadly, the lock down has only emboldened them, but long before, in Uganda, it is the norm that businesses have ceded the first point of contact for customer care of their clients to security guards.
Indeed, similarly, in 2011, I did have a dust up with a security guard at an upcountry branch of a reputable bank; I went to the bank intending to withdraw some cash. I parked next to the bank leaving enough space between my car and the wall of the building. This left space for me to alight and walk into the bank.
Two security guards, employees of a Kampala based security agency armed with guns, were seated on the veranda of the bank a distance from the entrance. As I walked in, one of them, while seated, asked me to leave the bag I was carrying outside the bank as I could not enter with it.
I explained to him that I could not leave my bag outside because it contained my laptop which had archives of priceless information. He insisted that it was head office policy to check my bag and confirm its contents. I requested the security guard again, as is the norm, to let me into the bank but he still refused and blocked the entrance.
At that moment, I was the only customer who wished to access the bank and there were no signs of anyone who had left their bags outside the bank. I then requested the guard to allow me to speak to the manager of the bank and the security guard said: “It is not the manager who guards the bank!”
To cut the long story short, one of the managers, fortunately, heard the confrontation and came out. He tried to reason, actually had a shouting bout with the security guards coupled with threats to close my bank account. This was in addition to reporting the guard to his bosses in Kampala. I was finally let into the bank with my laptop.
On completion of my transaction, the manager in a bid to further mollify my displeasure at the way I had been treated, suggested that I should contextualise the security guard’s behaviour within the fact that the armed guard had “a low level of understanding”. I agree that the cognitive abilities of the security guard raises several questions.
And back then in 2011, I wondered why has the bank ceded the bank’s public relations and security to this man with such a low level of understanding? Similarly, in 2020, I wonder why this reputable establishment, which can afford spray sanitizer, moreover even the kind that comes with an auto dispenser, has ceded its public relations to a dim-wit.
Read my full analysis that was triggered by the 2011 incidence and which was published as the cover story of “The Management” magazine in May 2011, as an article titled: “Front Line Employees turned terrorists”. Nearly 10 years later, it remains a valid advisory for balancing matters of security and customer care in this era of terrorism by humans and viruses.