Is the executive protection (EP) industry ready to talk openly about quality? We think so.
In this blog, we discuss why the drive for quality has been underprioritized in EP, explore the essentials of quality management, and illustrate the potential benefits of better-quality management systems in enhancing the EP industry’s future and overall customer experience.
The executive protection industry has grown significantly over the past 10-15 years. More programs and more people are working within the industry than ever before. We’ve made significant progress towards professionalization through more and better training opportunities, greater knowledge sharing and networking opportunities through organizations such as ASIS and IPSB, sharper competition from providers big and small, and a growing awareness and scrutiny from customers seeking EP services. New efforts are underway to establish standardization and accreditation benchmarks – something that’s been argued for and against for years, which will soon become more concrete and, hopefully, beneficial for clients and providers alike.
While it’s clear that professionalization has significantly improved many aspects of our industry in recent years, it’s less certain that the quality of executive protection services has seen the same evolution. Is the quality level of EP generally better now than it used to be, the same, or not as high? Of course, we have our opinions, and you have yours…but who has the answer to this question, really? Is it we, the providers, or is it our principals and their organizations? How could anyone know when there are no objective criteria to benchmark against and an EP company’s reputation for quality is only as good as its latest program, detail, or night shift?
CAN QUALITY IN EXECUTIVE PROTECTION BE QUANTIFIED?
Quality can be tricky to quantify, particularly within service industries like executive protection.
When discussing quality in a product-based industry, metrics are relatively straightforward. It’s about how efficiently you can churn out flawless widgets. In service industries, however, we’re selling experiences, not widgets. The question isn’t only whether our product can do x, y, and z, but also, how our customer feels when our team does x, y, and z.
Measuring widgets’ defect rates and production efficiency is hard enough. In the EP industry – where quality management can be as elusive as knowing whether our protective services are effective even when no immediate threats are present and as hard to define as entry-level agents wearing the right colored socks and abstaining from certain types of comments – measuring quality can be downright tricky. But that doesn’t mean that quality management in EP is impossible or shouldn’t be pursued. It simply means we might have to try harder.
WHY AREN’T MORE EP PROVIDERS MANAGING QUALITY?
One major factor contributing to the need for more utilization of quality management in the EP industry is resistance to change. In our industry, like many others, getting stuck in traditional ways of doing things is all too common. It’s not just that many in our industry have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. Far too few providers think about program quality proactively; instead, they reactively focus on service quality only once they get into trouble. As the industry matures and competition intensifies, this will change.
Another explanation for the industry’s slow adaptation of quality management is standardization and accreditation. The lack of universally agreed standards in the EP industry hampers the implementation of simple quality management systems. Some worry that when (and if) these standards do get established, the bar may be set so low that the lowest common denominator becomes the norm – not the highest achievable quality. At any rate, when there are no apparent ways of benchmarking or clearly defining best practices, designing quality management systems for EP services is more complex than determining whether a widget conforms to prescribed tolerances. But “complex” doesn’t mean impossible. It just means that we, as an industry, haven’t yet tried hard enough.
THE FUTURE OF EXECUTIVE PROTECTION
WILL ALSO BE ABOUT DIFFERENTIATED QUALITY
The future of executive protection will undoubtedly be characterized by many new combinations of people, processes, and, not least, technology. EP will likely see plenty of growth worldwide. We don’t have a crystal ball but are confident in making another simple prediction: quality will play an increasingly important role as the EP industry matures.
For one thing, we’ll see that perceptions of quality in executive protection will become more differentiated. Instead of competing primarily on aspects of price or scalability, providers and clients will increasingly become aware of and focus on quality parameters. The result will be a competitive landscape more clearly demarcated by the perceived quality of protective services. We are not there yet, not least because the quality parameters of EP are still too complex for most people to articulate or compare. This, too, will change.
Consider the car industry as an illustration of more easily understandable quality differentiation. There is a market for all kinds of production cars, from Lamborghini Venenos (up to $4M.) to Kia Rios (as low as $16K) – and many, many other options in between. Sure, you pay more for a high-end brand, cutting-edge bells, whistles, and top speeds, but they all get you from A to B. The difference? The experience of perceived quality. That doesn’t mean Lamborghini makes “good” cars and Kia makes “bad” cars. They’re both great cars for their target customers. It just means that different customer segments want and are willing to pay for different things. As long as enough people find current cost and perceived quality are in balance, there is a market for both car brands.
The EP industry has yet to mature to the degree that the automotive industry has. We need to see the simple tables car brands use to compare their features and prices in RFPs for EP services. It’s no wonder customers have difficulty distinguishing the quality of executive protection services when many providers struggle to do the same. Expanding the widespread use of solid quality management systems will help EP customers and companies articulate their perceptions of quality and lead to a market for our services that is more differentiated according to more broadly shared quality parameters… and better quality management systems.
In addition to vehicles, car manufacturers are famous for their quality improvement and management systems. Many industries have also worked to adapt things like Six Sigma, Kanban, kaizen, and ISO 9000, and the EP industry can do the same. We won’t go into all that here, but we will give our dumbed-down version of what many of these approaches have in common.
At an elementary level, quality management is all about managing expectations: saying what you’re going to do and doing what you said you’d do. When quality expectations are not met in executive protection, it’s due to one of two reasons. Or, too often, unfortunately, both:
- Customer expectations were not clearly stated or understood well enough: We think the responsibility to ensure this doesn’t occur is on us, the providers. If we don’t go the extra mile to understand the principal’s needs for physical security, reputational security, and productivity – all in a way that aligns with his or her lifestyle preferences – then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Of course, other stakeholders (e.g., significant others and family members, EAs, procurement and accounts payable departments, to mention just a few) hold expectations that we must understand and meet, too. This example of failed expectations also includes situations where providers agree to provide Lamborghini levels of protection on Kia budgets.
- Customer expectations were understood, but providers failed to meet them due to poor talent, training, or management: Again, this is on us, the providers. Of course, things like rock-solid standard operating procedures are part of this, but so is recruiting and developing the people who carry out the SOPs. Ultimately, this comes down to the quality of leadership in designing and delivering the best possible mix of people, processes, and technology for the agreed budget. Unfortunately, some providers promise Lamborghini programs, but their quality management is far below the standards that Kia faithfully delivers for more than a million cars annually.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your views on quality management in EP, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. DM us in PSA’s member community or ping us on LinkedIn – and stay tuned for more blogs.