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Security concerns challenge customer service operations

From the May 3, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published May 3, 2013

By Fallon Forbush
Communications Assistant
How can community-owned utilities maintain an open yet secure presence? This issue was recently raised on the Hub, public power's online meeting place.
Customer Services group members shared their thoughts about the posted question: "What are the best business practices used for security in a customer service lobby?"
It can be challenging for a community-owned organization to maintain an open presence while keeping everyone safe, said Joseph Sollecito, manager of customer care for the Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant in Massachusetts. His utility minimized problems by redesigning the customer service center counters to protect against "over-reach" by customers. "We have panic buttons throughout and also have security cameras throughout the walk-in center," he said.

"We asked our local police department to come and inspect our offices and provide safety training for our employees," said Amy Burris, customer service manager for Richmond Power and Light in Indiana.

An original open, atrium-style lobby made all parts of a public agency readily accessible to the public, but incidents occurred that showed the need to limit this accessibility, said Dawne Howard, credit and collections supervisor for the Eugene Water and Electric Board in Oregon. Multiple measures to secure her utility’s public entry area included:
  • large, cement planters to block a vehicle from breaking through;
  • an electronic security badging system for entry to all points beyond the public space;
  • portable plastic shields between customer service representatives and customers;
  • a requirement for staff to keep "throw-able" objects (phone sets, staplers, tape dispensers, etc.) out of reach;
  • cameras and panic buttons for public area workstations;glass doorways with height-determining lines;
  • an "Incident Response Team" was formed to carry radios and report to the lobby to aid in crisis situations; and
  • an open stairwell leading to higher floors was closed off.
"We've been making small changes as we can to our walk-in offices to ensure the safety of our (customer service) specialists," another member said. "We have panic buttons, security cameras, and have moved toward counters that are taller with plastic barriers in place to avoid reaching over from either side.  We are also in the midst of formalizing a ‘hostile customer policy’ that outlines consistent parameters for all our specialists to follow."
The Hub has more than three dozen discussion groups, designed to allow personnel from public power utilities across the nation to pose questions to colleagues and share ideas. APPA members can visit the Hub and sign up for the groups that reflect their interests.


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro