A winning team: Custom Alarm President/CEO Leigh Johnson is flanked by COO Melissa Brinkman (left) and Director of Marketing and Vice President Nikki Johnson.
The 'C' in Custom Alarm could just as well stand for its commitment to excellence, outstanding customer service or continuous improvement. The latter ingredient, along with three others — deploying SIA CP01-compliant control panels and enhanced call verification (ECV), and proactive internal and external communication — played particularly prominent roles in the company capturing the 6th annual Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award. The honor validates Custom Alarm's efforts and success in effectively managing alarms, minimizing false dispatches and partnering with law enforcement.
Established in 2005 by the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA) and SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION (SSI), the PDQ program raises industry-wide awareness, motivates alarm companies to be proactive and provides workable models for others. The PDQ Award annually recognizes the security company that best demonstrates an enthusiastic, cooperative and successful effort in alarm reduction strategies. Three judges grade applications that address 15 categories.
This year, Custom Alarm edged out finalists Monitronics and Bay Alarm for the trophy, which was presented at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in Charlotte, N.C. In its winning 43-page submission, Custom Alarm listed a 2010 police dispatch rate of .19 within the Rochester, Minn., area where its headquarters and UL-Listed and FM Approved central station are located. That rate was verified in a letter of support from the chief of police.
"False alarms take police away from real emergencies, risk lives, and make each alarm seem less credible," wrote Chief Roger Peterson. "The Rochester Police Department supports the attention that Custom Alarm gives to false alarm prevention. Custom Alarm has maintained a professional and cooperative relationship with the police department in working toward a mutual goal of minimizing false alarms so officers can spend their time on the street responding to emergencies and working proactively with the community in addressing crime."
Founded in 1968 by President and CEO Leigh Johnson, the residential and commercial security and sound systems provider employs more than 70 people, and has branch offices in Winona and St. Paul, Minn. Brinkman is one of two of Johnson's daughters — along with Director of Marketing and Vice President Nikki Johnson — who has helped build a successful enterprise whose accolades extend beyond PDQ honors. Custom Alarm has also received notices from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Notifier, Bosch, United Way and SSI's SAMMY Awards.
In the case of the PDQ distinction, Custom Alarm kept pushing forward and strengthening its alarm management program after having been a runner-up on several previous occasions.
"The first time we came close to winning this award we were simply honored to be mentioned among those finalists," says Nikki Johnson. "With each passing year, we became more determined to earn that top award. We worked harder on evaluating our program, the changes we could make and what more we could do. Having come so close all these years and worked so hard to get here makes winning all the more special to us."
Alarm system owners and responders alike are now benefiting from Custom Alarm's finely honed approach. These techniques and policies apply to outbound communications, marketing materials and contracts; sales and installation practices; customer and installer education/training; industry-established standards like CP01 and ECV; follow-up on false alarms and problem accounts; and working closely with local law enforcement.
Keep Customers' Eyes Wide Open
Once an installation is complete, a Custom Alarm technician shows the customer how to use their new system properly, discusses exit and entry delay times, and how to prevent false alarms.
Often the first representation a company has to a prospect is through its advertising and marketing materials. Thus, it is important ads and literature provide a realistic portrayal of how alarm systems function, and what response procedures are when an alarm occurs. This clear message must be consistently carried through the entire customer experience, including sales pitch, contractual agreement, installation, monitoring, and ongoing service and maintenance.
Custom Alarm gets clients off on the right foot by spelling out its alarm dispatch and false alarm procedures, and false alarm prevention program in its contracts. In addition to outlining standard terms and customer responsibilities, the monitoring agreement discusses ECV (also known as two-call verification) and includes a section covering false alarm charges that the salesperson reviews with the customer. An emergency contact information form, or call list, explains alarm response and how to prevent false alarms.
Custom Alarm has found exercising ongoing vigilance to keep call lists up to date can be critical for nipping unnecessary dispatches in the bud. The company counsels customers on how to select keyholders and seeks mobile, home and office numbers for each person. In 2010, account verification letters and forms were mailed to all monitored alarm customers to check accuracy of the information on file. The initiative drew a participation rate of 82 percent, most of which involved account changes.
"We have a systematic way of updating and then logging changes to ensure the updates are done on each response," says COO Melissa Brinkman. "We feel the ROI [return on investment] outweighs any costs because our dispatchers have more confidence in the people they are contacting and know they are able to verify alarms prior to dispatching law enforcement. The peace of mind knowing if a customer's alarm goes off we can reach someone to verify it prior to dispatching the police is immeasurable."