On March 31, I again had the distinct honor of being able to reveal and present the Police Dispatch Quality (PDQ) Award’s annual winner. This year it was Atronic Alarms of Lenexa, Kan., with Custom Alarm of Rochester, Minn., and ADT Security Services of Boca Raton, Fla., being the other finalists. You can read all about it in the May issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION.
The PDQ program is near and dear to my heart as it developed out of a concept I presented to Stan Martin, now executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), and Larry Dischert, now retired but at the time director of industry and regulator liaison for ADT, during an ISC West show earlier this decade. A couple of years later the vision was realized with the addition of the False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA).
Established jointly in 2005 by SSI, SIAC and FARA, the PDQ program aims to curtail the false alarm problem by recognizing installing and monitoring companies that follow established industry best practices and partner with law enforcement to achieve the highest quality in police dispatch requests. The goal is to raise industry-wide awareness, motivate alarm firms to be proactive and provide models that work for others to follow.
As is often the case, I gathered far more material than could possibly be shoehorned into the print article and so here I give loyal Under Surveillance readers the fifth and final part of bonus postings covering this year’s PDQ program. This installment delves into the intricacies of Custom’s false alarm reduction methods as detailed by the company’s director of marketing, Nikki Johnson.
A lot of people talk about reducing false alarms, but you really did something about it. What makes Custom Alarm different?
Nikki Johnson: I am not sure we see ourselves as all that different. We just strongly believe that our customers are not simply buying an “alarm system” from us, but a monitored security system. Each of our customers are set up to have their systems automatically test to our central monitoring station either daily or weekly. If we receive a “no test” we are on the phone with them working to resolve it. We take pride in our dispatchers and the way they work with each alarm signal that comes in. Each alarm and trouble signal is responded to and the proper steps are followed to correctly dispatch when necessary. We do call all residential customers upon receiving an alarm even if we receive a cancel simply to verify that all is OK. If there is no answer, but a cancel came in, we log it off as an electronic cancel. We log each of the false alarms to track for common denominators and offer service to customers that have recurring alarms to avoid them turning into nuisance alarms.
Who are the primary people responsible for developing, implementing, fine tuning and maintaining the program?
Johnson: The primary people are our two central station supervisors, our director of customer services and one of our overnight dispatchers. Together, they work to keep this program moving forward, making any changes that seem appropriate. Periodically, different local law enforcement communities (LECs) have had us handle dispatching differently for a short period of time due to a spike in burglaries in the area. Having such a good relationship with the local police departments is key to us being successful with our false alarm reduction program and key in assisting in capturing/preventing actual burglaries.
How costly of an undertaking was this; how did you budget for it?
Johnson: It actually was not costly at all, mainly procedural. We made changes to our monitoring contracts, although those are all printed as we need them for each prospective sale so there is no paper cost associated with those updates. We adopted the “enhanced verification” and call it “two-call verification” to make it easier for our customers to understand.
How does it fit into ROI terms?
Johnson: Our ROI is off the charts since we had hardly any actual hard costs in this program, simply soft/labor costs and those were minimal. It was one of the smartest programs for us to all get behind and really embrace as everyone appreciates the efforts we make to ensure our customers are properly secured and monitored and serviced when their system is not operating properly. The various LECs enjoy working with us as they see the extra steps we take to work with them on verifying alarms to minimize the number of times we send them out to alarm calls that appear to be false.
Custom Alarm dispatchers call customers to find out what happened following each false alarm incident.
How difficult was it to get Custom’s personnel to conform to the new policies and procedures?
Johnson: We had no difficulty as none of our dispatchers want to send the police when it is not necessary. They liked the ability to have two phone numbers to call prior to dispatching the police where the customer prefers that procedure. None of the dispatchers like to send the police and then have to call back and cancel; we would rather make one more quick call to verify before calling the police.
How do you coordinate efforts on the monitoring side of your business? Is there an advantage to handling your own monitoring?
Johnson: Custom Alarm houses our own UL-Listed and FM-Approved central monitoring station in our main office. We truly believe this is one of the keys to our success is that we are all housed in one office and monitor all of our own accounts. We have more control over how well our customers are taken care of and how our dispatches are handled.
What were the challenges in implementing the plan on the customer side?
Johnson: The biggest challenge was educating the customer that their security was not being comprised. A lot of our customers worried that if we made a second call prior to dispatching the police that their home or business may be even more damaged or burglarized. Each of our dispatchers who encountered customers with these concerns did an excellent job of explaining how quickly we can call and get to the next<