When a company talks about its frontline who exactly do they mean? It's become a bit of a cliche, but I guess it varies from place to place, industry to industry, maybe even country to country.
But we do have some commonality. Receptionists, front desk executives, secretaries, marketing staff, public relations types, bank tellers, and all sorts of people described by all sorts of alphabetic combinations. These and more would all come under a generic description of Front Line.
I am pretty sure we all have a story about an encounter with frontline staff representing an institution in Ghana. I'm not even going to go into specialised industries like health, where a nurse just might be your first contact with a health institution. If we start talking about nurses now...
I have noticed that some of the top end hotels in Accra have begun using dedicated staff as frontline in their reception areas. Golden Tulip comes to mind, and they are a positive reference here. For example, I've seen them handling airline staff who are just checking out, and by checking out I mean on their way to board an aircraft where THEY will be receiving customers. The hotel staff I have observed are exemplary (those smiles!), but some of the airline staff are not very nice. And I'm thinking, how on earth are they going to serve adequately onboard their aircraft when they can't be nice while still in Accra??
Anyway, back to the front line. And I mean the REAL front line. I am referring to the ubiquitous Security Man who you meet when you drive into most corporate car parks in Accra. This person, usually male but it could be female, is actually the first point of contact for most customers or potential clients. And boy do we have some real prizes amongst the ranks of these front liners! Permit me to mention a few that have settled in my memory over the last couple of years.
Search & Park
There's a savings and loans company that used to be at Roman Ridge. They had a rather narrow oddly shaped car park. And they had a security man who would wait until you had almost finished delicately manoeuvring into a space, and then come running to tell you to stop and park elsewhere. There is a hotel next to a Giant who have the most unsmiling security people in Ghana. They will conduct a search without a word or be breaking a smile, and as slowly as possible, totally oblivious to the traffic building up behind you onto the road.
Does the British Council have a special training program for its security at the gate? Unfriendly, unsmiling, unhelpful, bloody unbecoming! The Woolworth building now has a reverse only parking policy, for what reason I know not. It would help if the security men handled it better.
Earlier this year I parked at a government organisation in Kinbu. The security man casually used his thumb to broadly indicate where I should park as he chatted with a friend. The next time I went there another security man run to where he wanted me to park....and then did the oddest little dance....with his bottom!! Eish! It turned out he was indicating that I should reverse into the space....with my bottom, sorry, the back of my car.
What Am I Doing Here?
And there are those that just seem bewildered. The other day at WAEC the guy comes up to me as I stop at the gate, salutes perfectly, and then stands there staring until I offer to speak. At a GLO office recently a security man ambled over as I finished parking. I brought my window down, he stopped beside me, stared at me silently for a few seconds, and then ambled off. I suspect breakfast had not yet come into play.
Supposing they don't speak English? I'm pretty sure one guy at the Academy of Arts & Sciences didn't. No matter what question I asked about the event taking place he just pointed and shouted, "Park!" And he was sitting down.
There's a Nigerian bank with a branch in Labone, where the security man waves his directional flags like he bears a grudge against each driver. I take particular delight in ignoring him. There's another bank with it's Head Office in Ridge where I was directed by a security man with his mobile pressed hard against his ear. I really couldn't tell if his gestures were directed at me or at the person on the other end of his call. The same bank used to have a security man at their old Head Office who started out quite differently.
He would use directional flags like they were accessories for a dance, and it was quite innovative. People would stop and stare, and I heard customers would tip him well. Then one day, as I emerged into the road, he almost caused an accident. He was using his flags way too dramatic and I couldn't tell whether he was telling me to stop or go. I saw it happen a few more times and decided that he was actually a traffic hazard.
Another bank, an indigenous bank, protected the parking spaces at its annex like they were environmentally special grounds. What's the point of telling me that even though there's no space anywhere else, I need to move, because "Boss will be here very soon!"? At Vodafone in Cantonments, the security guard came and leaned on the car while I was sitting in it and very casually indulged in a shouted conversation with a woman beside him. At another government office in the Airport Residential Area, I emerged to find a security man sitting on the bull bars at the front of my car. Did you hear me? SITTING ON THE BULL BARS AT THE FRONT OF MY CAR! To add insult to injury he was totally immersed on his phone, and didn't hear me arrive until I asked, "Do you do this often?"
Just Too Bad
Have you ever had a security man with a bad case of body odour lean into your car to ask if he can search your car, and then proceed to search the car....while you quietly suffocate? And back to the hotels, I hate it when your vehicle is stopped at the entrance, your boot is opened wide, and everyone sitting in traffic behind you at that entrance can see your stuff. You need to be careful what you have on display in your boot at some hotel entrances.
The worst security man I have ever experienced was at a company in the insurance industry. I drove into 'his' car park around 7:40 am one Friday morning. I had an appointment at the company the following Monday and because I didn't know where they were situated I had come to find the location. I drove into the car park, through a raised barrier, paused for a few seconds to get my bearings, and turned to leave. This creature refused to open the exit barrier for me.
He said their car park was not to be used as a place for U-turns. Nonsense! At first, I calmly explained what I was doing there, but he continued to object to my 'u-turn', and in a very angry voice indeed. So I responded in kind and said I was not moving an inch and I would be quite happy to spend the day with him, blocking his driveway. This idiot finally opened the exit barrier. The day I get business from his employer I shall inform them of his behaviour....for free!
The security personnel who I cannot seem to get over are the ones who strive to help you park, especially when reversing your vehicle, and stand square in your vehicle's path while saying, "Come, come!" Come? When do I stop? When I hear the crunch as my car reverses over your skull?? And those who actively solicit tips while pretending to do their job. Sheesh! "Boss, I dey watch your car for you, fine fine!" Well, it's in your car park, innit?! And some will break their own rules just to solicit a tip, as I experienced at Heritage Towers; the guy almost allowed me to park in the lobby. One guy 'harassed' me with obsequious behaviour over a long period until I gave in and tipped him....and now he lets me enter his hotel car park without any search.
But I am also guilty of expecting the worst. One day at Total House I was reversing into a space and a guy came running up to me. I instantly assumed he was coming to stop me, and I put a ferocious scowl on my face. Imagine my shame when he very nicely helped to guide my car into a tight space. Ebei, Rami! My face die, rough!
How much do we invest in training security personnel? Can we not see the effect they have on customers (actual and potential)? The first person you see in the car park is creating the first impression of that company, whether he is employed by that company or a security firm.
Some of them seem to be ex-servicemen and I suspect part of their problem may be an inability to take instructions from ordinary 'civilians'. Hence the all too common situation of asking someone "not to park here" after said person has stepped out of their car.
So what do we do about some of these recalcitrant front liners? Ignore them? But you might visit that establishment again and again. Advise them? A word of caution? Well, do we have the right? At least once to salve your conscience maybe. Report them to the company they work for? Most of them do not work for the company they are representing in a car park; they are from an outsourced company.
Hope (Ghana Style)
The news is not all bad. There were two guys attending to the car park at MaxMart 37, and they were loudly singing Ga songs as they directed. I'm still not sure if that was a good thing, but at that moment it was rather charming. Loud Ga songs charming?? (Okay, I just had a strong drink.) Then there were two guys at separate times at Movenpick. The sticker on my dashboard made the first guy smile so much he let me drive on without a search. And he was an Arsenal fan too. The second guy began searching my glove compartment and I told him that if he found any money he should let me know so we could share it. He was still laughing when I drove out some time later.
I guess that's the bottom line for the front line. Speed the customer on his way with minimum fuss, happy, well-directed, and keen to return to the company. The best I've seen in recent times are security men at Unibank on the Ring Road, Joy FM in Kokomlemle (a very tight car park), and at Mary Mother of Good Counsel Church. Cedi House security personnel used to be really bad (because they are opposite the British Council maybe?), but they have improved sensationally. I can't praise them enough.
But you know the best way to create a good atmosphere with a security man? As you drive in to ask him where to park with a smile on your face. If you get it right he'll polish your shoes as you walk to the entrance...
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