The February issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION includes the feature article “Service With a Recurring Revenue Smile,” which addresses how to successfully incorporate service and maintenance agreements into an installing company’s portfolio. One of the sources cited in the piece was Matthew Ladd, president of Exton, Pa.-based The Protection Bureau.
Ladd is widely viewed as one of the industry’s most savvy CEOs and has much to offer on this valuable topic. Following is the second of a two-part Under Surveillance interview (see Part 1 here) on effective service and maintenance practices. Here, Ladd discusses account takeovers, standardizing equipment and changing alarm communications.
Do you service systems that aren’t served by The Protection Bureau?
Matthew Ladd: We often are approached by prospects and people who we don’t do business with now to take over the service and maintenance of their systems, and we do take over a great deal. We usually end up, depending on the size of this system, sending a technician or engineer out to review the system to determine what shape it’s in now. Sometimes we might take over the system by requiring an inspection first and then developing a service plan afterward. Or [we’ll have them] sign up for a service plan with the understanding that at our first initial inspection, anything that is not operational at that time would be fixed on a fee basis, and from then on it would be covered underneath the service plan. But we find that many of times we are called into existing systems where they are not satisfied with the level of service that they are getting now, or they are having issues with their systems that they would want our services for. Many times, we’ve been able to go out, find out what the problem is that’s been causing them the frustration of the system and fix it right away. Maybe the previous company just didn’t have knowledge enough for the system or capabilities to handle it at the level that we can do it.
What about with the switch over for communicators with the move away from landlines and so forth. Is that a big service area?
We’re seeing that more and more because clients are going away from your basic standard analog lines and either doing away with everything all together or going to more of an IP style. So, there is additional business that has picked up. We have a program where we have cellular dialers that we can put on the systems that lose their analog lines or they decide to give up their analog lines. Actually, a way to show a return on investment to the client that if they do end that cost that they were paying for a phone line, they can go to a cellular service and when the data plan and systems are put together, they can actually do it and have a very quick ROI on going to a cellular or IP type of communication.
If you take over an account with types of equipment you don’t generally use, does that present some service challenges?
If we have an application where a client wants us to take over, let’s say it’s an alarm panel and it’s a product that we’re not comfortable with, whether we don’t have the training on it, we will actually upgrade at our cost, the panel. So they might have an ABC type panel, and we would come in and replace it with a system that we’re much more capable with, have multiple stock on. What we found is the amount of time that you can struggle in taking over a system, arranging for lockout codes or anything like that, you’re better off replacing it to begin with. So that’s another proactive approach that we take so that our guys are much more competent when they go out to take over the systems. When you get into some of the higher end systems, it’s not quite as simple, especially some of the larger access control systems because you have a tremendous amount of fieldwork change. We have found that some of our service plan customers have panels that are no longer manufactured, and in some cases, not even supported anymore. If the client does have a service plan with us, we will, at our expense, upgrade that panel if it needs to be replaced.
What measures do you take to meet service needs even in the face of all the inclement weather you see in your area with lines freezing and such?
Living up in the Northeast, you will always deal with inclement weather in the wintertime. The Protection Bureau never closes, especially since we have our central dispatch and remote managed service station. But we have cases when we do get bad weather, a lot of the technicians are dispatched from their homes. We do, of course, notify the clients first to make sure they’re even there because sometimes they close their businesses. But again, we have a set program already in place that our people know what the status is of Protection Bureau and our response to service and how we’re going to handle that. Even through some of the toughest weather, we are still out there to take care of our clients, and at the same time never putting our technicians in any type of jeopardy. The thing is having a plan in advance, not trying to make it up as you go along. We have a special personnel program of people who must come in. We have four-wheel-drive vehicles that we dispatch if need be. The technicians have chains on their vehicles and are there and available to respond because they all understand the importance of the systems we provide, and that our clients are relying on us for their safety.
Having service plans as part of your contracts I would imagine helps minimize false alarms?
It does. We’ve always found throughout the 30-plus years we’ve been around that any system that is properly installed, and most importantly, properly maintained, does alleviate false alarms. That’s what the inspections help create to make sure the systems are working properly at the time, so you can alleviate that. A system with a service plan, when you look at everything at the end, services with a client is the best because they have fewer issues.