The cover story of August’s SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION features the leadership of Custom Alarm proudly showing off the company’s trophy signifying it as 2011’s Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) award winner. Having first brought the PDQ concept to SIAC’s Stan Martin and FARA‘s Larry Dischert eight years ago or so and seeing how it has blossomed into one of the industry’s most important programs has been extremely gratifying for me. And participating in the award presentation at this year’s ESX event in Charlotte to see firsthand how much the honor meant to Custom Alarm CEO Leigh J. Johnson and his daughter, COO Melissa Brinkman, was a pure joy. I again congratulate the company not just for its recognition but for continuing to represent our industry in such a professional manner.
For the August feature I interviewed Brinkman and her sister, Director of Marketing and Vice President Nikki Johnson. Much of what they had to share can be read in the magazine but there was much more conveyed that follows below in a blog exclusive. Enjoy, emulate their dedication and best practices, and be sure to enter the PDQ award program for 2012.
What modifications to your false alarm management plan had to be made along the way and why?
Melissa Brinkman: Several changes in the timing of our follow-up calls have been made over the years based on success rates of connecting. More and more we stress the importance of discussing service for false alarms at every opportunity, especially when a key holder calls back to report on the alarm they just responded to.
Some enhancements we have made to our systems and procedures have been to review the call list while out on inspections with customers. We have also started reviewing the current user list in the customer’s keypad. This ensures there are no old user codes still active in the system and that everyone new has been added. We have found that most customers don’t realize that when someone leaves a business or stops needing access to someone’s home, that it is important to also delete these codes.
It is also important to have a current authorized user add someone new to the list by contacting us. We want to avoid the case where there is an “authorized” person in the home or business, but they either don’t have the “password” to cancel the police or they don’t remember their disarm code. This can be a nuisance to the police when we have to dispatch due to unverified user onsite. We also call all dispatches that we had the previous day and find out if there is anything we can do to assist with their alarm system. We find out if it was a “false alarm” what we can do on our end to avoid that in the future and offer service or training.
What are some of the areas you would still like to see improvement in and what are you doing to achieve it?
Brinkman: We would still like to see improvements in having consistency across the board with all of our customers calling in when they leave town and calling when change in staffing. This is something that continues to be a struggle and some customers are very good about it, while others either don’t see the need to do it or the importance of it. We send out reminders in our E-newsletters and on our Web site and in new customer flyers that are sent out, but it is something that can still be improved upon on both ends.
Has the bad economy impacted your false alarm efforts in any ways?
Brinkman: The only way that we see the “bad economy” impacting our false alarm efforts is where companies have downsized or realigned resources and people are no longer the contact person in case of an alarm and we are not aware of this change. Many companies have moved a lot of responsibilities to a corporate office that is out of the area where the alarm is activated. Oftentimes corporate forgets to notify the alarm company to change the emergency contact person. When our dispatchers call on the enhanced verification and the two people are no longer with the company, we have no choice but to dispatch the police because there is no one to verify the alarm. This is largely out of our control, but when we are aware of it, we are working to update the contact people on our end.
How difficult was it to get Custom Alarm’s personnel to conform to the new policies and procedures?
Brinkman: Initially it was a challenge to get people used to a new way of performing their jobs. However, as they learned the importance of it they quickly adapted. They realized they were contacting the police less and were able to verify the alarm as a false alarm without having to contact the police.
What were the challenges in implementing the plan on the customer side?
Brinkman: The main challenges we see both from implementing as well as maintaining is that there is a lot more staffing turnover with our commercial customers. This is particularly true in the fast-food and restaurant/bar industries. These accounts tend to have the alarms late at night as someone is closing and we receive an alarm right after someone arms their system. Having a good relationship with the local owner is important as we need to remind them to notify us of any staffing changes immediately so that their account can be updated. On the residential side, we often have situations where someone is going out of town and they don’t notify us that someone is staying or checking the house while they are gone and that person sets off the alarm. Regarding enhanced call verification, we have had some customers that still insist on not making any additional calls and only want the police notified. We make those notations on the account and follow them as the customer has instructed.
What were the challenges implementing the plan on the law enforcement side? How did you get their buy-in? Did you win over any skeptics?
Brinkman: We try to find the safest way to respond to actual alarms and to verify any and all alarms prior to dispatching law enforcement whenever possible. Both our County Sheriff’s department and our city police are committed to working with us in responding to alarms. At law enforcement’s request we have had occasion where we have eliminated the ECV in the middle of the night. This occurred when there had been a rash of burglaries and law enforcement was trying to dispatch the police/sheriff quicker. In this specific instance, the police had waived any false alarm calls against the business as they are working to apprehend the perpetrator. We were able to get their buy-in because we have a reputation of working with law enforcement and the local fire departments.
We have a proven history of ensuring our customers have reliable alarm systems. If there is a problem we are committed to working with our customers to resolve it so that they have a reliable system. We all live, work and stay involved in our community. Law enforcement sees that we really care about our customers and that if we don’t work with them, they will go elsewhere. We invite them to tour our site and welcome their ideas and suggestions on how we can improve. We partner with them where appropriate and share statistics with them on a monthly basis. We report on how many dispatches we had, how many were actual dispatches and how many were false. We also report on how many service calls were created as a result of the false dispatches.
How have the results meshed with your projections and expectations?
Nikki Johnson: Our goal is to have the lowest possible false alarm rate each and every day and to be an industry leader. Our goal has been to efficiently monitor our customer’s accounts while maintaining a solid relationship with our local law enforcement. We have been successful in reaching these goals year-over-year. The PDQ award has helped us set a more structured program goal. Each year we evaluate the program as a whole and then review what we are doing and what more we could be doing. We always are sure to review the program of the PDQ winner to see what more we could be doing for our own program. We evaluate our program and add things year round. Sometimes things work and other times as we move forward we see processes need to be tweaked to be more effective and efficient so we have to keep our program flexible and adjust with our needs.
Do you believe your approach/plan should serve as a blueprint for other alarm companies to follow?
Johnson: Using our plan as a blueprint would certainly get someone heading in the right direction for building their own false alarm reduction program. I believe we have many successful components within our program. Companies should take the parts and pieces that make sense for their business and develop them into a program that fits their goals and scope of their company. Not unlike what we have done over the years as we have reviewed the past PDQ winners programs. We have taken parts and pieces and added them into our program to help make ours stronger each year.
Looking at the industry, what do you believe is going to happen with police response to burglar alarm systems? Is the situation getting better or worse? How will the landscape change and what will be the catalysts for this change?
Johnson: We share reports with law enforcement each month summarizing the dispatch activity. The key to a successful relationship is working together for the same result, keeping burglars off the street and low false alarm rates. When local law enforcement sees the efforts we are doing to help prevent false alarms they want to continue to work with us. Technology has helped with the cause as well. Today’s technology helps prevent false alarms and gives us a leg up over prior years. There may be legislation to try to change the way dispatches are handled but we hope that it will work in everyone’s favor. We need to work to make sure that people are safe and know they will receive the help they need in the event of an emergency.