SPARTANSBURG, S.C. — CPI Security Systems has sent notices to more than 80,000 customers in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, warning that deceptive sales reps from another security provider may try to sell them an upgraded alarm system.
Within the past two weeks, the Charlotte, N.C.-based integrator has received about 50 alerts from its clients here who were visited by salespeople posing as representatives of CPI, reports wspa.com. The imposters allegedly approach CPI customers promising to upgrade their security systems. Unknowing clients then end up signing paperwork, which turns out to be a contract with a third-party company.
“This is probably the fifth or sixth year that we’ve been dealing with this,” CPI Customer Care Manager John Shocknesse tells SSI. “We’ve had incidences where individuals have said, ‘We’re selling equipment for CPI’ or ‘We bought CPI.’ Some years are worse than others, and this year we’ve seen some pretty significant activity.”
The majority of affected customers are unsuspecting elderly who are easily duped by misleading statements, Shocknesse says. As a result, some patrons become responsible for two bills from two separate companies. In some instances, CPI has lost business over the confusion.
Consequently, CPI is accepting affidavits from its clientele who have been affected by deceptive sales tactics.
“We’re passing the affidavits along to the proper authorities,” Shocknesse says. “And we do notify the summer sales model companies involved in the situation to give them the opportunity to correct their business practices. Our goal, however, is not to take any legal action; it would be something we’d rather not do.”
One company caught in the middle of the controversy is Provo, Utah-based Vivint, which operates one of the largest door-to-door sales programs in the United States. However, Vivint Director of Media Relations Megan Herrick refutes claims that the company is involved in the matter, noting that Vivint, too, has been a victim of unethical sales practices.
“There have been companies that have pretended to be Vivint,” Herrick tells SSI. “It’s obviously a free market. If somebody wanted to knock on the door of someone who already has an existing system and say, ‘Hey, if you’re not happy, would you be interested in going with us,’ that’s fair game. But it’s definitely not right to misrepresent another company. We don’t train our guys to take advantage of someone, and we definitely don’t condone any kind of aggressive or misleading sales tactics.”
Having been on the other side of the fence as a company accused in engaging in questionable sales tactics, Vivint has taken steps to avoid allegations in the marketplace, company COO Alex Dunn tells SSI.
For example, before its sales force can go out into the field, Vivint requires all its employees to complete extensive online training. The company also implements pre- and post-installation survey calls to confirm that customers understand the sales agreement they have signed.
“All those calls are recorded,” Dunn says. “There is no way that the system will be installed until the customer goes through the pre-installation survey successfully.”
Lastly, Vivint holds its employees accountable by tracking every complaint made about a sales representative.
“By doing that, it’s easy to see if a pattern emerges with our sales force,” Dunn explains. “Once the complaint comes in, we notify the sales rep. After the second complaint, the rep will receive a verbal warning. If another complaint comes in that similar to the past grievances, that employee will be let go. That helps us to correct any problems that come in.”
Dunn and Shocknesse both agree that it is important for salespeople to wear a company uniform and carry company identification badges that clearly indicate the company they represent. For his part, Shocknesse has warned his clients how to identify a fraudulent salesperson in his warning notices.
“A lot of times, fraudulent salespeople don’t were anything that signifies them as actually working for a different company,” he says. “They’ll either wear nothing that stands out or clothing from an alarm system manufacturer.”
Through industry associations, such as the North Carolina Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NCBFAA), Shocknesse hopes to work with summer sales model companies in the future to offer tips to improve the relationships between firms that use traditional sales techniques. However, that’s easier said than done.
“It’s difficult to find the representatives because they’re always moving around. But I want them to get active with the association and talk about what’s good, healthy and ethical competition versus flat out lying and deceiving business practices,” he says. “We’ve tried many times, and it’s very tough in the nature of how businesses are run.”
Ashley Willis is associate editor for SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. She can be reached at (310) 533-2419.